The Motorcycle Diaries – 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries is a 2004 film about Ernesto “Che” Guevara based on his journal of the same name. The film covers the lengthy trip that Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado make across the South American continent. The journey is planned to be around four months, departing from Argentina and traveling up through Chile, Peru, and finishing in Venezuela. The trip transforms both men, especially Guevara, after they see the hardships and toils of many Latin Americans. Diaries covers the time that the two spent at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru, where a depiction of Guevara giving his first semi-political speech is given and a metaphorical “final journey” occurs when Guevara struggles to swim across the river from his camp to the colony. The movie ends with Guevara and Granado separating in Venezuela and references Guevara’s life with authentic pictures and a mention of his assassination.

Although Che Guevara led a long, well-documented and controversial life, this focus will remain on his early years of travel and influence. Guevara’s parents both came from influential families, and Che was blessed with a privileged upbringing. Due to his serious asthma, Guevara spent large amounts of time indoors, reading all sorts of literature from his parent’s library, which included classics, propaganda, and even writings from Karl Marx. This attachment to reading and writing would lead to Che’s love for journaling his adventures, such as his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries. A lot of Guevara’s youth included moving around Argentina quite a bit with his family, and later on included his own travels by any means possible. Before his first large Latin American journey with Granado in 1952, Guevara hitchhiked, walked, biked, and eventually motor-biked around much of Argentina, establishing his love of being a drifter and broadening his scope of the world through his own hardships and the observed hardships of others. These early travels already opened Che’s opinion on social differences, and in his travels he avoided cities and “touristy” locations in favor of the countryside and indigenous lifestyles.

Now that Che Guevara’s interest in social differences had been established in his wanderings around Argentina, it is interesting to uncover what he learned in his experiences in other countries that would get the ball rolling for his ambitions later in life. Part of Guevara and Granado’s journey included working at a leper colony in Peru, but other experiences in Peru shifted Guevara’s mindset. The 1950s Latin America was an interesting place, having been treated as an afterthought by the United States after World War II. Peru was in an odd limbo between the end of economic growth in the 1930s and the impending revolutions that would take place in the coming decades. Guevara wrote little about the economic and political changes in Peru compared to his writings about Chile and Bolivia, but it is assumed that his observations of the changes happening in Peru factored into his future political beliefs, most notably his favoritism to socialism. Guevara did write extensively about the indigenous in Peru, and he marveled at how contemporary cultures could ruin the impressive Inca culture after Che visited Machu Picchu. These little observations fueled what would become a hate toward capitalism and the United States.

Another country Guevara visited, influenced, and influenced him was Bolivia. Just like Peru, Bolivia was heading toward revolution when Guevara visited in the 1950s. And just like Peru, Bolivia had a problem with racial diversity, and the indigenous were looked down on harshly. These social and racial discrepancies, in Bolivia and across Latin America, inspired Guevara to help lead revolutions later in life. His successful revolution came in Cuba, and upon his return to Bolivia in the 1960s, Che would be assassinated before a revolution could fully take place.