The Motorcycle Diaries
A Photo Essay & Movie Review
I’ve taken only three trips to South America: once to Peru, once to Chile, and once to Argentina and Chile to do our ExpeditionPlus! bicycle tour across the continent. As I watched The Motorcycle Diaries for the second time I was struck by how much Che Guevara and I overlapped in our explorations of this vast and fascinating continent. The photos in this essay try to document that overlap while giving you some suggestions of where you might consider going if you plan a trip.
The Brazilian film director Walter Salles has given us a new opportunity to get to know Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the iconic 20th century revolutionary, by resurrecting this early diary of a trip taken by the young medical student and his friend, Alberto Granado, around South America in 1952. The adventure was to be undertaken on a 1939 patched-together motorcycle which, seriously overloaded, proved the wrong choice for the bad roads and length of the trip. The two novice travelers crashed their motorcycle a dozen times before finally destroying it less than halfway into their trip.
Some critics of the film complain that the film stops short of portraying the life of Che, the revolutionary. Indeed, the movie ends with Che and his traveling companion parting ways in the Amazon basin as one heads off for a medical internship in Venezuela and the other heads back to Argentina to complete his studies. But the film is surprisingly true to Che’s diary and shows the subtle steps he took to becoming a socialist revolutionary who would eventually become Fidel Castro’s spokesman to the world after the Cuban revolution.
The journey of these two young men began in Buenos Aires in January 1952 and proceeded to the south, then clockwise around South America, across Patagonia, up the length of Chile, into Peru to Machu Picchu, down the Amazon basin, ending, eventually in Venezuela. Che eventually went back to Argentina to finish his medical degree while Alberto stayed on and worked in Venezuela.
Che Guevara’s motorcycle diaries are the starting point for anyone wanting to understand the odyssey that eventually led this young revolutionary to Guatemala, Mexico and to the Sierra Maestra Mountains of eastern Cuba where Castro’s revolution began in 1956.
We owe Walter Salles our gratitude for bringing this story to light since most non-Spanish speakers would remain ignorant of Che’s early travel diary without this film. We can look forward to another film, as well, in the next couple of years as Salles’ is collaborating with Francis Ford Coppola on a film of another iconic travel diary, that of Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road. Stay tuned for that one!