Just Finished Reading: Travelling with Che Guevara – The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado (FP: 1978)
29th December 1951. After much dreaming and even much planning qualified Doctor Alberto Granado and his best friend Ernesto Guevara who was soon to take his final medical exams start the journey of a lifetime. They fully expect it to be a journey spoken about in the years and decades to come as a watershed in their lives, as something which helped to define them both as men and as Latin Americans. They were not to be disappointed. Travelling at least part way on Alberto’s 1949 Norton 500cc motorbike they left their native Argentina to begin circumnavigating the Southern continent. Along the way they would meet with adversity, they would have accidents, run out of money, get in trouble with the authorities, get lost (many times) and need to throw themselves on the mercy of strangers. Luckily for the two young friends they had the luck, the charm and the reputation as doctors to assist them on their way. But throughout their months long odyssey one theme emerged time and time again: the most generous people they met where also the most poor and the most oppressed. Those with little or nothing shared everything they had. Those with the most either begrudged anything they gave or simply gave nothing. Everywhere they went, throughout the whole continent they saw deprivation, oppression, enforced servitude, unnecessary poverty and exploitation both by Latin American against Latin American and, more seriously, of Yankee against indigenous populations. The land they travelled through was often rich but the people working the land and digging in the mines were invariably poor. Time and again they were met with the reality of things and, day after day, they resolved that something must be done to alleviate the plight of the poor. Only one route presented itself to Ernesto – later known throughout the world as ‘Che’ – violent armed revolution.
I’ve known something about and been interested in Che Guevara since at least the 1980’s and maybe as far back as the 1970’s. Who with leftwards learnings wouldn’t have been? But until comparatively recently I knew little about the man himself. So when the 2004 movie ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ came along (based on the book of the same name by Che and this by his best friend) I had to see it. None of my friends were interested so I went to see it myself and sat in the theatre with 4-5 other people on Saturday afternoon entranced by the journey, at turns dramatic, funny and dangerously naïve, undertaken so long ago faithfully recreated with the aid of the author who advised the director Walter Salles during the filming. You could really see an already disaffected and politically knowledgeable young would-be Doctor come to the conclusion that his originally chosen career just wouldn’t be enough and wouldn’t help enough people to make a difference. So he chose the revolutionary path, a journey that brought him to world prominence and, probably, an eternal place in the left-wing Pantheon. Both the film and the book (indeed both books) are well worth delving into and they (all three) give some insight into what made Ernesto into the legendary Che Guevara. Much more Che to come.
Translated from the Spanish by Lucia Alverez de Toledo