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.

Author: Motorcycle Rambler

A motorcycle rambler with an interest in motorcycles and motorcycle adventures, food, travel, movies, photography and more.

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