“Every generation needs a story; every generation needs a story about what it is to be transformed by geography, what it is to be transformed by encounters with cultures and people that are alien from yourself.” – Jose Rivera
It’s the perfect time to get on a motorcycle, with a friend or lover, or to cruise into the sunset with your brother riding next to you, to just get hit the road, to put on your backpack and just go get lost in the world. In January of 1952, two friends set out on such an adventure across the entire continent of South America on a Norton 500 motorcycle (pictured above). Their main purpose was initially fun and adventure, but the journey would unknowingly alter the fabric of south american society and many parts of the world. A semester before Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara, aka “Che”, as he was later entitled by his Cuban comrades, was due to finish his medical degree in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he and his older friend Alberto Granado, a biochemist, left the country in order to traverse South America. With a short-term goal of exploring the country and setting out to complete some volunteer work in a leper colony in San Pablo, Peru, the two had the insatiable desire to ride. They wanted to see as much of Latin American as they could break away from the confounds of their Argentinian schooling, economical systems, and societal customs. They wanted adventure and could taste the breeze on the tips of their tongues. Alberto Granado’s dilapidated 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle christened La Poderosa, i.e. “The Mighty One,” would do just the job, but in this case, this bike was some what of a bet. They knew it would most-likely break down and have issues along the way, possibly stopping their journey altogether at some point. It is the unexpected of every journey, the things out of control, that make it sometimes dangerous but exciting all the same. In any case you risk it and you go anyways.
Ernesto & Alberto
Granado once wrote: “First we wanted to know the world, after we wanted to change it.” This is something that moves many travelers. The desire to know the world that pushes further and further beyond your initial horizons into the sunsets and starry nights with only a single headlight and the moon illuminating the way. This is a good way to live.
“There is one Che. Maybe he was able to change the world, or a piece of the world. But this is not the point. The world is changing even while traveling, because knowing, learning, sharing, you change the way of being and living, to bring it closer to a way that goes beyond the territory. Traveling is to understand that the boundaries of States are only a political factor that over time has become cultural. The topography and hydrographic boundaries are not so often the same as the political ones.” – Dario Sorgato.
Ernesto and Alberto planned to travel more than 14,000 kilometers or about 8,699 miles in just four and a half months. Their route and adventure plans were nothing short of ambitious, something all motorcycle riders and travelers alike can appreciate. They traveled through a large part of Western South America. In total, the journey took Guevara through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, and to Miami, before returning home to Buenos Aires. By the end of Guevara’s trip, he came to view Latin America not as a collection of separate nations and people, but as a single and unified entity which he believed would require a continent-wide plan of liberation and freedom.
The Journey (and an incomplete travel summary)
(1) Sante Fe Province , (2) Buenos Aires, Argentina
Guevara and the 29-year-old Granado soon set off from Buenos Aires, Argentina, astride the 1939 Norton 500 cc motorcycle with the idea of eventually spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo Leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River.
(3) Miramar, Buenos Aires Province
Their first stop: Miramar, Argentina, a small resort where Guevara’s girlfriend, Chichina, was spending the summer with her upper-class family. Two days stretched into eight, and upon leaving, Chichina gave Guevara a gold bracelet. (Which I believe he had to pawn to get by on his journey later on!)
(4) San Carlos de Bariloche, Rio Negro Province, Argentina
(5) Osomo, Chile , Thursday, February 14th, 1952
The two men crossed into Chile on February 14. At one point they introduced themselves as internationally renowned leprosy experts to a local newspaper, which wrote a glowing story about them. The travelers later used the press clipping as a way to score meals and other favors with locals along the way.
(6) Valdivia, Los Rios Region, Chile
(7) Temuco, Araucania Region, Chile
(8) Santiago, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile
(9) Valparaiso Region, Chile
(10) Antofagasta Region, Chile
(11) Chuquicamata Region, Chile
One of the most important places they were to arrive in, in both body and heart, was to be Chile. Here they encountered penniless and persecuted people that helped ignite their adventurous spirit even higher, but it also marked a deep transformation in the soul of Ernesto and awakened his humanitarianism which solidified his revolutionary spark.
They visited the Chuquicamata copper mine, the world’s largest open-pit mine and the primary source of Chile’s wealth. While getting a tour of the mine he asked how many men died in its creation. At the time it was run by U.S. mining monopolies of Anaconda and Kennecott and thus was viewed by many as a symbol of ‘imperialist gringo domination. A meeting with a homeless communist couple in search of mining work made a particularly strong impression on Guevara, who wrote: “By the light of the single candle … the contracted features of the worker gave off a mysterious and tragic air … the couple, frozen stiff in the desert night, hugging one another, were a live representation of the proletariat of any part of the world.”
(12) Tacna, Peru, Saturday, March 1st, 1952
In March 1952 they both arrived at the Peruvian Tacna. They hitchhiked on trucks filled with local Aymara Indians as they headed up into the Andes toward Lake Titicaca. Due to Poderosa’s Breakdown, they are forced to travel at a much slower pace.
(13) Torata, Peru
In the hard scrabble town of Torata Ernesto wrote “A beaten race that watches us pass through the streets of their town. Their stares are tame, almost fearful, and almost completely indifferent to the outside world. Some give the impression that they live because it is a habit they can’t shake.”
(14) Juliaca, Peru
(15) Cuzco, Peru
Cuzco made an impression on the young doctors as they spent time studying the architecture and wandering the cities museums and libraries. In Cuzco a local doctor provided them a Land Rover to take them to the Valley of the Incas.
(16) Machu Picchu, Peru
From the Valley they procured tickets on the train to Machu Picchu. It was along this ride that Ernesto began to show his disdain for the ‘Yankee’ tourist who he thought were the cause of much of the misery he was seeing in the local populations. Here he “somberly refocused” to how the indigenous civilizations of Latin America were capable of building such beauty could be destroyed of the eventual polluted and over-populated urban decay such as the near by city of Lima. The Che of depicted of the film The Motorcycle Diaries at this point in their journey, which the real Alberto helped film, is spoken to by his traveling companion, to which he shares a dream he had to peacefully revolutionize and transform modern South American, to which Guevara quickly retorts (and most certainly realizes by now): “A revolution without guns? It will never work.”
(17) Albancay, Peru
After leaving Cuzco, the two men stayed at the hospital in Abancay were they gave some lectures in return for room and board. During their stay Ernesto had a very serious asthma attack that required adrenaline shots.
(18) Huancarama, Peru
They traveled on to Huancarama a small town near the Huambo leprosarium. It was here that they learned about the founder Dr. Hugo Pesce, director of Peru’s leper treatment program and prominent communist. They stayed for a couple days but due to Ernesto’s aggravated asthma they decided to move on in search of proper treatment.
(19) Andahuaylas District, Peru
Ernesto spent two days at the hospital recovering from his asthma attacks. Once he had recovered they jumped a truck bound for Lima. It would be ten days before they reached the capital.
(20) Lima, Peru, Thursday, May 1st, 1951
On May 1st they arrived in Lima, Peru and during this time Guevara met doctor Hugo Pesce, a Peruvian scientist, director of the national leprosy program, and an important local Marxist. They discuss several nights until the early morning and years later Che identified these conversations as being very important for his evolution in attitude towards life and society. In May, Guevara and Granado leave for the leper colony of San Pablo in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, arriving there in June.
(21) Pucallpa, Peru
From Lima they took a week long bus ride to reach Pucallpa and the Rio Ucayali where they boarded the boat La Cenepa for the seven day journey to Iquitos.
(22) Iquitos, Peru, Sunday, June 1st, 1952
The pair arrived in Iquitos on June 1st. For six days Ernesto battled recurrent bouts of asthma. After recovering they set out on a two day river journey to San Pablo on the river boat El Cisne.
(23) San Pablo de Loreto, Sunday, June 8th, 1951
Ernesto and Alberto spent the next two weeks helping at the facility. During his stay Guevara complains about the miserable way the people and sick of that region have to live. Guevara also swam once from the side of the Amazon River where the doctors stayed, to the other side of the river where the leper patients lived, a considerable distance of two and a half miles. He describes how there were no clothes, almost no food, and no medication. June 14, 1952, Guevara turned twenty-four, and the entire leper colony put on a celebration that he described in a letter to his mother Celia:
“On the 14th, they gave me a party with lots of pisco, a kind of gin which makes you beautifully tipsy. The medical director toasted us, and I, inspired by the booze, replied with a very Panamerican speech, which earned great applause from the eminent, and eminently drunk, audience. The scene was one of the most interesting of our trip. An accordion player with no fingers on his right hand used little sticks tied to his wrist, the singer was blind and almost all the others were hideously deformed, due to the nervous form of the disease which is very common in this area. With the light from lamps and lanterns reflected in the river, it was like a scene from a horror film.” Guevara paraphrased his recollection of the ‘very Panamerican speech’ as follows: “Although we’re too insignificant to be spokesmen for such a noble cause, we believe, and this journey has only served to confirm this belief, that the division of America into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mestizo race with remarkable ethnographical similarities, from Mexico down to the Magellan Straits. And so, in an attempt to break free from all narrow-minded provincialism, propose a toast to Peru and to a United America.”
(24) Leticia, Amazonas, Columbia
After giving consultations and treating patients for a few weeks, Guevara and Granado leave aboard the Mambo-Tango raft (a gift from the staff) for Leticia, Colombia via the Amazon River. They entertained the idea of traveling all the way to Manaus but after floating past the town of Leticia and losing their fishing gear they made landfall and convinced some locals to row them back up river in exchange for the raft.
(25) Bogota, Columbia, Wednesday, July 2nd, 1952
On July 2, Ernesto and Alberto caught a Catalina flying boat to the capital. While visiting Bogotá, Colombia, he wrote a letter to his mother on July 6, 1952. In the letter he describes the conditions under the right-wing government of Conservative Laureano Gómez as the following: “There is more repression of individual freedom here than in any country we’ve been to, the police patrol the streets carrying rifles and demand your papers every few minutes.” He also goes on to describe the atmosphere as ‘tense’ and ‘suffocating’ even hypothesizing that a revolution may be brewing..
(26) Caracas, Venezuela
Later that month the two men set out for the long bus ride to Caracas, Venezuela and from there Ernesto and Alberto decided to part ways. Ernesto would catch a ride on a cargo planed owned by his uncle that would pass through Miami and then head back to Buenos Aires and Alberto would stay on in Caracas and work at the leprosarium. On July 26th the friends parted ways.
(27) Miami, Florida
However, prior to his return, he travels by cargo-plane to Miami, where the airplane’s technical problems delay him one month. To survive, he works as a waiter and washes dishes in a Miami bar.
(28) Buenos Aires, Capital Federal
Ernesto arrived back in Buenos Aires at the end of August after spending a month in Miami. He returned to medical school by October.
Total Distance: 11,722 Miles (18,865 km)
The spirit of adventure. Ernesto and Alberto traveled for many months. Their journey changed their bodies and minds along the way. They saw and experienceed the cultural and societal structures bend and break and harden into iron gates along the landscapes. They moved through the nations of Latin America with vigor and ambition and learned much of the South American continent. In the end, this journey sparked the Cuban Revolution which also spread into Bolivia. Che would later be assassinated as he attempted to further unite the people of South America. His aspirations and revolutionary goals would not be forgotten. Importantly, his motorcycle journey is a small insight into where the adventurous spirit that is innate within all of us can help lead and weave into other’s lives, sparking changes in the world that echo throughout history. Where might a motorcycle take you and what dreams may become of your journey?
By Daniel Muschiana , Social Media Director – Parts Pit Stop Resources: Senor Dario Sorgato and his Travel Blog, Travelline.com For more information about motorcycles, atvs, utvs, personal watercraft parts, accessories, or maintenance tips please see our sponsor at: PartsPitStop.com . #partspitstop #che #motoadventures #chile #argentina #bolivia #venezuela #adventure #norton #motorcycles #revolution #guevera #aftermarketparts #oemaccessories #aftermarketaccessories