Motorcycle Diaries showed the travels of Ernesto Guevara as a young medical student across South America and the injustices he witnessed on this journey. The movie is a fairly historical accurate depiction of Guevara in his youth. During his travels, Guevara encountered political, social, and economical unrest in the many countries he visited, which later resulted in his role in the Cuban Revolution.
Though Motorcycle Diaries presents Guevara’s journey across South America as his first, he actually traveled extensively in his teen years, according to Eduardo Elena. However, it was this journey that marked the beginning to his “political awaking”. Ann Zulawski writes that through the journal entrees he wrote during his travels, readers can see Guevara transform from a middle-class student to a “serious supporter of revolutionary movements”. Guevara wrote in his journal that he was no longer himself, that “his America” had changed him more than he thought possible. Elena informs that when Guevara took trips when he was younger, he often hitchhiked and that he was also exposed to many books. From this exposure, Guevara became familiar with the works of many leftist writers, including Karl Marx that would influence him later in life.
During the 1950’s tourism was at a high point in Argentina, Guevara’s home town. Traveling in style was a luxury now available to middle-class citizens as well as Peronist authorities and the wealthy. However, according to Elena, Guevara went against convention and “roughed it”. Through this method, he was able to connect more with the land and its people. Guevara began interviewing refugees he met on his journeys who told him of the political injustices they had experienced. One striking scene in the film that captured this atmosphere was when Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado met the mining couple. When the two friends asked why the couple was traveling they replied it was for survival, and when the couple asked the friends the same question, Guevara and Granado replied they travel just to travel. Though the two friends could afford this luxury, they lived off a minimal budget and avoided the traditional tourism behavior and destinations. According to Elena, through this type of travel, Guevara was able to truly detach himself form Peronism tourism and notice the political injustice happening around South America. In the Motorcycle Diaries, whether intentional or not, in the beginning of the film, Ernesto does not observe much social unrest. He is wrapped up in the beauty of the land, the company of his friend, and the excitement of visiting his girlfriend. It is not till later that he starts to slowly notice the refugees and begins talking with them.
Two other places Ernesto Guevara traveled were to Peru and Bolivia. Guevara visited Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel Odria. Paulo Drinot writes that Odria had three pillars of policy: elimination of political opposition, liberal economic policies that benefited from a favorable international economic context, and social reform aimed at middle and working classes. Though certain polices would later benefit the country, Peru was not ready for Odria’s ambitions or social agenda. As Drinot states, the people wanted cheap bread over social benefits. In his journal Guevara comments on the exploitation of the Indians by the whites. He wrote that Peru awaited “the blood of a truly emancipating revolution” and Guevara believed the revolution would have to be bloody. In the film Guevara stated a revolution could not be won without guns. Drinot states Guevara wrote in his journal that the revolution would have to “be led by people capable of emancipating those who could not emancipate themselves.” This belief would later be part of the doctrine of the Cuban Revolution.
Guevara also took this philosophy with him when he returned to Bolivia to aid in their revolution. Ann Zulawski writes that during his first voyage there Guevara wrote that only a “controlling armed force would prove necessary to take control of the state”. His violent ideologies would be acted out in Bolivia as Guevara led guerrillero type warfare.
Guevara is still an inspiration to people all over South America. He viewed the people as one nation and not as different citizens divided by political borders. He hated the imperialistic exploitation of foreign companies and gave his life to end those types of political systems. Though he became the great leader Che Guevara, his ideology and want for retribution began to form on his journey across South America with his friend Alberto Granado on the back of a motorcycle.