The Motorcycle Diaries.

Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado set off on a vintage Norton around the Americas. Book describing the formative journey.

An epic journey that awakened a Revolutionary.

It was while drinking sweet “mate” that two friends decided to set off on an epic motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires in 1951. They were sitting under a vine in Alberto’s place drinking mate and discussing recent events, including Ernesto having recently quit his job, as had Alberto, that the discussion turned to travelling to remote countries and oceans, that a decision was reached: “Why don’t we go to North America?”.  “North America? But how?” “On La Poderosa, man”.

That’s how the formative journey of the famous Revolutionary, Ernesto Che Guervara and his friend Alberto Granado was decided upon. La Poderosa was Alberto’s old and extremely unreliable Norton 500 that the friends started their journey on. It was destined to fail on them and after nursing it through Argentina and Chile and Peru, it was beyond repair. The friends completed the journey by raft, plane,train, truck, bus and for the most part begged and worked their way around the Americas, eventually ending up in Miami, before flying back to Argentina.

Ernesto was a medical student and Alberto a bio-chemist who had experience of working with lepers. The two doctors were moved by the abject poverty they witnessed on their journey and helped beggars and lepers along the way when they could. They were horrified by the conditions of the miners in Chile, many of whom “didn’t even own a blanket”. Guevara, who also suffered from asthma, commented on an old woman, dying from tuberculosis, asthma and a heart condition, “only a month ago this poor woman was still earning her living as a waitress…it’s at times like this that a doctor is conscious of his complete powerlessness,  that he longs for a change”

After their journey ended, Guevara returned to his studies, graduated as a Doctor and embarked on another journey around South America. In Bolivia he experienced the Bolivian Revolution and came in contact with a Cuban revolutionary, with whom he maintained contact.  In 1954 he saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Guatemala, by U.S. backed forces and then joined Fidel Castro to wage guerrilla warfare against the despotic Batista dictatorship in Cuba. The Cubans call all Argentines by the nickname “Che”, and “Che” Guevara was regarded by them as a military hero and leader, particularly when his leadership resulted in a massive victory and the end of the Batista regime. He was appointed to high position in the Cuban Revolutionary Government and represented the Country internationally on many occasions. He addressed the United Nations in 1964. He was eventually murdered by U.S. backed Bolivian Forces when he was captured while on a secret trip to promote the revolution in Bolivia.

The motorcycle journeys Guevara undertook, his first on a bicycle with a small motor attached, and the later one with Granado, on the 500cc Norton, bear no resemblance to the modern adventure motorcycling that is the biggest thing in biking in decades. It is an industry all to itself now. It’s all about the power of the bike, the suitability of the tyres. The best accessories and equipment so that nothing can go wrong. Alberto Granado had a slightly different take on their motorcycle adventure, when in 2004, he said: “The trip would not have been as useful and beneficial as it was, as a personal experience, if the motorcycle had held out. This gave us a chance to become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continued travelling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors”.

Review of the book “The Motorcycle Diaries” written by Ernest Guevara and published by Harper Perennial in 2004.

Musings on Medieval Kilkenny

Kilkenny is a great old city with lots to offer the visitor including some new experiences in beer.

New discoveries in Kilkenny City including the Growler

Some motorcyclists wash their motorbikes and put them away for the “winter” months at the end of September. This time of year can be a really great time for day-trips and even longer rambles. dsc05300This year the weather in October (and now in early November) in Ireland has been exceptional and there is no excuse for not kicking it into gear and twisting the throttle. A really great destination for a trip in Ireland is Kilkenny, a city in the south east of the country on the banks of the Nore River. Kilkenny is about an hour and a half from the ferry terminal in Rosslare Harbour, if you are coming from Uk or Europe, and about the same distance from Dublin. If you are planning on staying, there seems to be an endless supply of accommodation here.

 Kilkenny Castle, ancestral home of the Butlers, is now a great place to visit. The grounds and ornamental gardens are fantastic and are particularly worth a visit at this time of the year when the trees are turning dsc05330their beautiful golden autumnal colours. It’s a little bit late in the year to enjoy the full potential of the formal rose gardens with the fabulous fountain, but it’s still worth seeing. The inside of the castle is a great tour too, and among it’s treasures is the fantastic art gallery, part of the National Gallery of Ireland. Across the road from the castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre, in what was the coach and stable yard of the castle. It is now an internationally renowned centre of excellence for many craft workers and artisans.

Kilkenny seems to be a Mecca for tourists, which is not a big surprise when you see the numbdsc05335er of great cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and tea rooms as well as the large number of historic buildings and other attractions on the “medieval mile” which is a tour that includes the Castle, Rothe House, the Smithwicks Experience, Saint Canice’s Cathedral and many more interesting attractions. The town itself is a great shopping town and the old passageways such as the Butterslip, many still with the original flagstones still in existence from centuries ago, bring you through an archway, under the buildings and down to a lower street below. There are quite a few of these passageways that are reminiscent of the medieval city.  It’s also famous for too many festivals to try to tell you about them all, but there are festivals celebrating food, arts, theatre, comedy and beer, and more.

A beer festival? Yes indeed. Kilkenny had a very famous beer festival and it drew large crowds a few decades ago but it was discontinued only to be recently revived as the Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival. In 2017 it will be held from the 5th to 10th July. I suggest you mark it in your calendar. If you are looking for a reason to visit Ireland or Kilkenny it will be worth your while mulling those dates to plan a visit, especially if you like your beer. If you’re a biker and you want to visit a biker friendly place in Ireland, this might be the trip for you, as there always seems to be lots of motorcyclists here.  Kilkenny has always been famous for its brewing industry.  The Monks of Saint Francis Abbey started brewing their own here around the 13th century and brewing caught on in in a big way in Kilkenny. Richard Cole and John Smithwick started a brewery in Kilkenny around 1705 and their Smithwicks ale was brewed there up until a few years ago. The Guinness Group purchased Smithwicks in the 60s but the brewery and the Smithwicks experience is still there, at least as a visitors centre.

There are some great eateries in Kilkenny but a recent discovery for food and beer needs to be shared here.  First established in 1702, the Sullivan brewery was the biggest in Kilkenny, a city known for brewing and it has re-opened in recent times at John Street. dsc05354The Tap-room opened in August this year and it is a worthy pilgrimage for beer drinkers. A couple of recent visits have convinced me that this is a destination with many added benefits when I swing the leg over the bike and try to figure out which direction to take. Thdsc05366e Sullivan’s ale is a great drink and far superior in my humble opinion, to another well-known ale that was formerly brewed in Kilkenny.  I was reliably informed by a pretty young lady behind the bar that the beer is so superior in taste because they use four different barleys which are there on display beside the Growler dispenser, more about which I will explain shortly. It seems that a number of varieties of hops are used too, to get the great taste that doesn’t have that crafty beer after-taste that many people profess not to like. The Sullivan’s Brewing Company has a lot of Smithwicks names associated with it. I met and briefly spoke with Paul Smithwick on my most recent visit. It would seem that Smithwicks and Sullivans, once great rivals in the brewing industry, may have thrown their lot in together to revive the famous tradition of beer crafting in Kilkenny and it seems likely to be a resounding success.

There were some added benefits to my visit to The Tap Room as well. An offer of a wood fired pizza, made right there, and a great pint of the brew, which is called Malting Red I believe, for a tenner is a great idea. Jalapeño peppers, pulled beef and other tasty bits on a thin crispy base along with the delicious beer was a great lunch and the pièce de résistance was the aforementioned Growler. Now, this is a new experience for me, and one that has already enticed me to revisit there.  A Growler is a container for draught beer. In this case, it’s a seal-able litre bottle that the dispenser first removes the air from and replaces  with CO2 (I think), and then fills it with the tasty draught brew. dsc05370It meant that when I had finished my lunch I could fetch the Growler that I had brought back with me from my previous visit, from the top-box on the bike, and get a refill. This task was performed admirably by the helpful young lady behind the bar. I then had a litre of the delicious draught brew to bring home to enjoy in my own time. So guys, if you are looking for a place to head to when you are out for a blast, I recommend a spin to Kilkenny and if you fancy a bit of lunch, and if your taste in beer and pizza runs is a similar vein to mine, I suggest you stop in Sullivan’s Tap Room, on John Street, Kilkenny.