Copyright 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press

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Copyright 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at

Preface, by Aleida Guevara 1

Preface to the first edition, by Aleida March 4
Biography of Ernesto Che Guevara 5
Brief chronology of Ernesto Che Guevara 7
Map and Itinerary of The Motorcycle Diaries 11
Introduction, by Cintio Vitier 15


So we understand each other 31
Forewarnings 32
Discovery of the ocean 34
...Lovesick pause 35
Until the last tie is broken 38
For the flu, bed 40
San Martín de los Andes 44
Circular exploration 47
Dear Mama 50
On the Seven Lakes Road 51
And now, I feel my great roots unearth, free and... 53
Objects of curiosity 55
The Experts 57
The difficulties intensify 60
La Poderosa II’s final tour 62

Firefighters, workers and other matters 64

La Gioconda’s smile 67

Stowaways 73

This time, disaster 76
Chuquicamata 79
Arid land for miles and miles 82
The end of Chile 84 Chile, a vision from afar 86
Tarata, the new world 89
In the dominions of Pachamama 94
Lake of the sun 98
Toward the navel of the world 100
The navel 103 The land of the Incas 105
Our Lord of the Earthquakes 111
Homeland for the victor 113
Cuzco straight 115 Huambo 118
Ever northward 123
Through the center of Peru 126
Shattered hopes 129
The city of the viceroys 133
Down the Ucayali 140
Dear Papi 145
The San Pablo leper colony 146
Saint Guevara’s day 148
Debut for the little Kontiki 152

Dear Mama 153

On the road to Caracas 158
This strange 20th century 160
A note in the margin 163

Appendix: A child of my environment

(Speech to medical students, 1960) 167


so we understand each other
This is not a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic;

at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives running

parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.

In nine months of a man’s life he can think a lot of things, from

the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing

for a bowl of soup — in total accord with the state of his stomach.

And if, at the same time, he’s somewhat of an adventurer, he might

live through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard

record might read something like these notes.
And so, the coin was thrown in the air, turning many times,

landing sometimes heads and other times tails. Man, the measure

of all things, speaks here through my mouth and narrates in my

own language that which my eyes have seen. It is likely that out of

10 possible heads I have seen only one true tail, or vice versa. In

fact it’s probable, and there are no excuses, for these lips can only

describe what these eyes actually see. Is it that our whole vision

was never quite complete, that it was too transient or not always

well-informed? Were we too uncompromising in our judgments?

Okay, but this is how the typewriter interpreted those fleeting impulses

raising my fingers to the keys, and those impulses have now

died. Moreover, no one can be held responsible for them.

The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his

feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and

polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once

was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A”

has changed me more than I thought.
In any photographic manual you’ll come across the strikingly

clear image of a landscape, apparently taken by night, in the light

of a full moon. The secret behind this magical vision of “darkness

at noon” is usually revealed in the accompanying text. Readers of

this book will not be well versed about the sensitivity of my retina

— I can hardly sense it myself. So they will not be able to check

what is said against a photographic plate to discover at precisely

what time each of my “pictures” was taken. What this means is

that if I present you with an image and say, for instance, that it

was taken at night, you can either believe me, or not; it matters little

to me, since if you don’t happen to know the scene I’ve “photographed”

in my notes, it will be hard for you to find an alternative

to the truth I’m about to tell. But I’ll leave you now, with myself,

the man I used to be…



It was a morning in October. Taking advantage of the holiday on

the 17th I had gone to Córdoba.1 We were at Alberto Granado’s

*At the time a national holiday to commemorate Juan Perón’s 1945 release from

prison. General Perón was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and from

place under the vine, drinking sweet mate2 and commenting on

recent events in this “bitch of a life,” tinkering with La Poderosa

II.3 Alberto was lamenting the fact that he had to quit his job at

the leper colony in San Francisco del Chañar and about how poor

his pay was now at the Español Hospital. I had also quit my job,

but unlike Alberto I was very happy to leave. I was feeling uneasy,

more than anything because having the spirit of a dreamer I was

particularly jaded with medical school, hospitals and exams.

Along the roads of our daydream we reached remote countries,

navigated tropical seas and traveled all through Asia. And suddenly,

slipping in as if part of our fantasy, the question arose:
“Why don’t we go to North America?”

“North America? But how?”

“On La Poderosa, man.”
The trip was decided just like that, and it never erred from the

basic principle laid down in that moment: improvisation. Alberto’s

brothers joined us in a round of mate as we sealed our pact never

to give up until we had realized our dream. So began the monotonous

business of chasing visas, certificates and documents, that

is to say, of overcoming the many hurdles modern nations erect in

the paths of would-be travelers. To save face, just in case, we decided

to say we were going to Chile.

My most important mission before leaving was to take exams

in as many subjects as possible; Alberto’s to prepare the bike for

the long journey, and to study and plan our route. The enormity of

our endeavor escaped us in those moments; all we could see was

the dust on the road ahead and ourselves on the bike, devouring

kilometers in our flight northward.

1 At the time a national holiday to commemorate Juan Perón’s 1945 release from

prison. General Perón was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and from

1973 until his death in 1974.

2 The Argentine national drink, a tea-like beverage made from the herb mate.

3 *Granado’s Norton 500 motorcycle, literally “The Mighty One.”


d i s c o v e r y o f t h e o c e a n

The full moon is silhouetted against the sea, smothering the waves

with silver reflections. Sitting on a dune, we watch the continuous

ebb and flow, each with our own thoughts. For me, the sea has

always been a confidant, a friend absorbing all it is told and never

revealing those secrets; always giving the best advice — its

meaningful noises can be interpreted any way you choose. For

Alberto, it is a new, strangely perturbing sight, and the intensity

with which his eyes follow every wave building, swelling, then

dying on the beach, reflects his amazement. Nearing 30, Alberto is

seeing the Atlantic for the first time and is overwhelmed by this

discovery that signifies an infinite number of paths to all ends of

the earth. The fresh wind fills the senses with the power and mood

of the sea; everything is transformed by its touch; even Comeback*

gazes, his odd little nose aloft, at the silver ribbons unrolling before

him several times a minute.

Comeback is both a symbol and a survivor: a symbol of the

union demanding my return; a survivor of his own bad luck — two

falls from the bike (in one of which he and his bag flew off the back),

his persistent diarrhoea and even getting trampled by a horse.

We’re in Villa Gesell, north of Mar del Plata, enjoying my uncle’s

hospitality in his home and reliving our first 1,200 kilometers —

apparently the easiest, though they’ve already given us a healthy

respect for distances. We have no idea whether or not we’ll get there,

but we do know the going will be hard — at least that’s the impression

we have at this stage. Alberto laughs at his minutely

detailed plans for the trip, according to which we should be nearing

the end when in reality we have only just begun.

We left Gesell stocked up on vegetables and tinned meat

“donated” by my uncle. He asked us to send him a telegram from

Bariloche — if we get there — so that with the number of the

telegram he could buy a corresponding lottery ticket, which seemed

a little optimistic to us. On cue, others taunted that the bike would

be a good excuse to go jogging, etc., and though we have a firm resolve

to prove them wrong, a natural apprehension keeps us from

declaring our confidence in the journey’s success.

Along the coast road Comeback maintains his aviator’s impulses,

emerging unscathed from yet another head-on collision. The

motorbike is very hard to control, with extra weight on a rack behind

the center of gravity tending to lift the front wheel, and the slightest

lapse in concentration sends us flying. We stop at a butcher store

and buy some meat to grill and milk for the dog, who won’t even

try it. I begin to worry more about the little animal’s health than

the money I’d forked out to pay for the milk. The meat turns out to

be horse. It’s unbearably sweet and we can’t eat it. Fed up, I toss a

piece away and amazingly, the dog wolfs it down in no time. I

throw him another piece and the same thing happens. His regime

of milk is lifted. In the middle of the uproar caused by Comeback’s

admirers I enter, here in Miramar, a...
*The English nickname Ernesto has given to the little dog he’s taking to Chichina,

his girlfriend who is holidaying in Miramar.


…lovesick pause

The intention of this diary is not really to recount those days in

Miramar where Comeback found a new home, with one resident

in particular to whom Comeback’s name was directed. Our journey

was suspended in that haven of indecision, subordinate to the

words that give consent and create bonds.
Alberto saw the danger and was already imagining himself

alone on the roads of America, though he never raised his voice.

The struggle was between she and I. For a moment as I left, victorious,

or so I thought, Otero Silva’s lines rang in my ears:

I heard splashing on the boat

her bare feet

And sensed in our faces

the hungry dusk

My heart swaying between her

and the street, the road

I don’t know where I found the strength

to free myself from her eyes

to slip from her arms

She stayed, crying through rain and glass

clouded with grief and tears

She stayed, unable to cry

Wait! I will come

walking with you.*

Yet afterwards I doubted whether driftwood has the right to say, “I

win,” when the tide throws it on to the beach it seeks. But that was

later, and is of no interest to the present. The two days I’d planned

stretched like elastic into eight and with the bittersweet taste of

goodbye mingling with my inveterate bad breath I finally felt myself

lifted definitively away on the winds of adventure toward worlds I

envisaged would be stranger than they were, into situations I imagined

would be much more normal than they turned out to be.

I remember the day my friend the sea came to my defense —

taking me from the limbo I was cursed with. The beach was deserted

and a cold onshore wind was blowing. My head rested in the lap

tying me to this land, lulled by everything around. The entire universe

drifted rhythmically by, obeying the impulses of my inner

voice. Suddenly, a stronger gust of wind brought a different sea

voice and I lifted my head in surprise, yet it seemed to be nothing,

a false alarm. I lay back, returning once again in my dreams to the

caressing lap. And then, for the last time, I heard the ocean’s

warning. Its vast and jarring rhythm hammered at the fortress within

me and threatened its imposing serenity.

We became cold and left the beach, fleeing the disturbing presence

which refused to leave me alone. The sea danced on the small

stretch of beach, indifferent to its own eternal law and spawning

its own note of caution, its warning. But a man in love (though

Alberto used a more outrageous, less refined word) is in no condition

to listen to such a call from nature; in the enormous belly of

a Buick the bourgeois side of my universe was still under construction.

The first commandment for every good explorer is that an

expedition has two points: the point of departure and the point of

arrival. If your intention is to make the second theoretical point

coincide with the actual point of arrival, don’t think about the means

— because the journey is a virtual space that finishes when it finishes,

and there are as many means as there are different ways of

“finishing.” That is to say, the means are endless.

I remembered Alberto’s suggestion: “The bracelet, or you’re not

who you think you are.”
Chichina’s hands disappeared into the hollow made by mine.

“Chichina, that bracelet… Can I take it to guide me and remind

me of you?”
The poor girl! I know the gold didn’t matter, despite what they

say; her fingers as they held the bracelet were merely weighing up

the love that made me ask for it. That is, at least, what I honestly

think. Alberto says (with a certain mischievousness, it seems to me),

that you don’t need particularly sensitive fingers to weigh up the

full 29 carats of my love.

*Miguel Otero Silva, left-wing Venezuelan poet and novelist, born in 1908.


until the last tie is broken

We left, stopping next in Necochea where an old university friend

of Alberto’s had his practise. We covered the distance easily in a

morning, arriving just in time for a steak lunch, receiving a genial

welcome from the friend and a not so genial welcome from his wife

who spotted the danger in our resolutely bohemian ways.

“You have only one year left before you qualify as a doctor and

yet you’re going away? You have no idea when you’ll be back? But

We couldn’t give precise answers to her desperate questions and

this horrified her. She was courteous with us but her hostility was

clear, despite the fact that she knew (at least I think she knew) ultimate

victory was hers — her husband was beyond our “redemption.”

In Mar del Plata we had visited a doctor friend of Alberto’s who

had joined the [Peronist] party, with all its consequent privileges.

This doctor in Necochea remained faithful to his own — the Radicals

— yet we, however, were as remote from one as from the other.

Support for the Radicals was never a tenable political position for

me and was also losing its significance for Alberto, who had been

quite close at one time with some of the leaders he respected.

When we climbed back on to the bike again, after thanking the

couple for our three days of the good life, we continued on to Bahía

Blanca, feeling a little more alone but a good deal more free. Friends

were also expecting us there, my friends this time, and they too

offered us warm and friendly hospitality. Several days passed us

by in this southern port, as we fixed the bike and wandered aimlessly

around the city. These were the last days in which we did

not have to think about money. Afterwards, a rigid diet of meat,

polenta and bread would have to be followed strictly to stretch our

meager finances. The taste of bread was now tinged with warning:

“I won’t be so easy to come by soon, old man,” and we swallowed

it with all the more enthusiasm. We wanted, like camels, to build

our reserves for the journey that lay ahead.
The night before our departure I came down with a cough and

quite a high temperature, and consequently we were a day late leaving

Bahía Blanca. Finally, at three in the afternoon, we left under a

blazing sun that had become even hotter by the time we reached

the sand dunes around Médanos. The bike, with its badly distributed

weight, kept bounding out of control, the wheels constantly

spinning over. Alberto fought a painful battle with the sand and

insists he won. The only certainty is that we found ourselves resting

comfortably in the sand six times before we finally made it out on

to the flat. We did, nevertheless, get out, and this is my compañero’s

main argument for claiming victory over Médanos.

From here I took over the controls, accelerating to make up for

precious lost time. A fine sand covered part of a bend and — boom:

the worst crash of the whole trip. Alberto emerged unscathed but

my foot was trapped and scorched by the cylinder, leaving a disagreeable

memento which lasted a long time because the wound

wouldn’t heal.
A heavy downpour forced us to seek shelter at a ranch, but to

reach it we had to get 300 meters up a muddy track and we went

flying twice more. Their welcome was magnificent but the sum total

of our first experience on unsealed roads was alarming: nine

crashes in a single day. On camp beds, the only beds we’d know

from now on, and lying beside La Poderosa, our snail-like dwelling,

we still looked into the future with impatient joy. We seemed to

breathe more freely, a lighter air, an air of adventure. Distant

countries, heroic deeds and beautiful women spun around and

around in our turbulent imaginations.

My tired eyes refused to sleep and in them a pair of green spots

swirled, representing the world I had left for dead behind me and

mocking the so-called liberation I sought. They harnessed their

image to my extraordinary flight across the lands and seas of the



f o r t h e f l u, b e d

The bike exhaled with boredom along the long accident-free road

and we exhaled with fatigue. Driving on a gravel-covered road had

transformed a pleasant jaunt into a heavy job. By nightfall, after an

entire day of alternating turns at the controls, we were left with more

desire to sleep than to continue with the effort to reach Choele Choel,

a largish town where we had a chance at free lodging. So we

stopped in Benjamín Zorrilla, settling down comfortably in a room

at the railroad station. We slept, dead to the world.
We woke early the next morning, but when I went to collect water

for our mate a weird sensation darted through my body, followed

by a long shiver. Ten minutes later I was shaking uncontrollably

like someone possessed. My quinine tablets made no difference, my

head was like a drum hammering out strange rhythms, bizarre colors

shifted shapelessly across the walls and some desperate heaving

produced a green vomit. I spent the whole day like this, unable

to eat, until by the evening I felt well enough to climb on the bike

and, sleeping on Alberto’s shoulder, we reached Choele Choel.

There we visited Dr. Barrera, director of the little hospital and a

member of parliament. He received us amiably, giving us a room to

sleep in. He prescribed a course of penicillin and within four hours

my temperature had lowered, but whenever we talked about leaving

the doctor shook his head and said, “For the flu: bed.” (This was

his diagnosis, for want of a better one.) So we spent several days

there, being cared for royally.

Alberto photographed me in my hospital gear. I made an

impressive spectacle: gaunt, flushed, enormous eyes and a ridiculous

beard whose shape didn’t change much in all the months I

wore it. It’s a pity the photograph wasn’t a good one; it was an acknowledgment

of our changed circumstances and of the horizons

we were seeking, free at last from “civilization.”

One morning the doctor didn’t shake his head in his usual way.

That was enough. Within the hour we were gone, heading west toward

our next destination — the lakes. The bike struggled, showing

signs it was feeling the strain, especially in the bodywork which

we constantly had to fix with Alberto’s favored spare part — wire.

He picked up this quote from somewhere, I don’t know where, attributing

it to Oscar Gálvez:* “When a piece of wire can replace a

screw, give me the wire, it’s safer.” Our hands and our pants were

unequivocal proof that we were with Gálvez, at least on the question

of wire.

It was already night, yet we were trying to reach human habitation;

we had no headlight and spending the night in the open

didn’t seem much like a pleasant idea. We were moving slowly,

using a torch, when a strange noise rang out from the bike that we

couldn’t identify. The torch didn’t give out enough light to find the

cause and we had no choice but to camp where we were. We settled

down as best we could, erecting our tent and crawling into it, hoping

to suffocate our hunger and thirst (for there was no water nearby

and we had no meat) with some exhausted sleep. In no time,

however, the light evening breeze became a violent wind, uprooting

our tent and exposing us to the elements and the worsening cold.

We had to tie the bike to a telephone pole and, throwing the tent

over the bike for protection, we lay down behind it. The near hurricane

prevented us from using our camp beds. In no way was it an

enjoyable night, but sleep finally won out over the cold, the wind

and everything else, and we woke at nine in the morning with the

sun high above our heads.
By the light of day, we discovered that the infamous noise had

been the front part of the bike frame breaking. We now had to fix it

as best we could and find a town where we could weld the broken

bar. Our friend, wire, solved the problem provisionally. We packed

up and set off not knowing exactly how far we were from nearest

habitation. Our surprise was great when, coming out of only the

second bend, we saw a house. They received us very well, appeasing

our hunger with exquisite roast lamb. From there we walked

20 kilometers to a place called Piedra del Águila where we were

able to weld the part, but by then it was so late we decided to spend

the night in the mechanic’s house.
Except for a couple of minor spills that didn’t do the bike too

much damage, we continued calmly on toward San Martín de los

Andes. We were almost there and I was driving when we took our

first real fall in the south [of Argentina] on a beautiful gravel bend,

by a little bubbling stream. This time La Poderosa’s bodywork was

damaged enough to force us to stop and, worst of all, we found we

had what we most dreaded: a punctured back tire. In order to mend

it, we had to take off all the packs, undo the wire “securing” the

rack, then struggle with the wheel cover which defied our pathetic

crowbar. Changing the flat (lazily, I admit) lost us two hours. Late

in the afternoon we stopped at a ranch whose owners, very welcoming

Germans, had by rare coincidence put up an uncle of mine in

the past, an inveterate old traveler whose example I was now

emulating. They let us fish in the river flowing through the ranch.

Alberto cast his line, and before he knew what was happening, he

had jumping on the end of his hook an iridescent form glinting in

the sunlight. It was a rainbow trout, a beautiful, tasty fish (even

more so when baked and seasoned by our hunger). I prepared the

fish while Alberto, enthusiastic from this first victory, cast his line

again and again. Despite hours of trying he didn’t get a single bite.

By then it was dark and we had to spend the night in the farm

laborers’ kitchen.

At five in the morning the huge stove occupying the middle of

this kind of kitchen was lit and the whole place filled with smoke.

The farm laborers passed round their bitter mate and cast aspersions

on our own “mate for girls,” as they describe sweet mate in those

parts. In general they didn’t try to communicate with us, as is typical

of the subjugated Araucanian race who maintain a deep suspicion

of the white man who in the past has brought them so much

misfortune and now continues to exploit them. They answered our

questions about the land and their work by shrugging their shoulders

and saying “don’t know” or “maybe,” quickly ending the conversation.

We were given the chance to stuff ourselves with cherries, so

much so that by the time we were to move on to the plums I’d had

enough and had to lie down to digest it all. Alberto ate some so as

not to seem rude. Up the trees we ate avidly, as if we were racing

each other to finish. One of the owner’s sons looked on with a certain

mistrust at these “doctors,” disgustingly dressed and obviously

famished, but he kept his mouth shut and let us eat to our idealistic

hearts’ content. It got to the point where we had to walk slowly to

avoid stepping on our own stomachs.

We mended the kick-start and other minor problems and set off

again for San Martín de los Andes, where we arrived just before


*A champion Argentine rally driver.


san martín de los andes
The road snakes between the low foothills that sound the beginning

of the great cordillera of the Andes, then descends steeply until

it reaches an unattractive, miserable town, surrounded in sharp contrast

by magnificent, densely wooded mountains. San Martín lies

on the yellow-green slopes that melt into the blue depths of Lake

Lacar, a narrow tongue of water 35 meters wide and 500 kilometers

long. The day it was “discovered” as a tourist haven the town’s

climate and transport difficulties were solved and its subsistence

Our first attack on the local clinic completely failed but we were

told to try the same tactic at the National Parks’ offices. The superintendent

of the park allowed us to stay in one of the tool sheds.

The nightwatchman arrived, a huge, fat man weighing 140 kilos

with a face as hard as nails, but he treated us very amiably, granting

us permission to cook in his hut. That first night passed perfectly.

We slept in the shed, content and warm on straw — certainly necessary

in those parts where the nights are particularly cold.

We bought some beef and set off to walk along the shores of the

lake. In the shade of the immense trees, where the wilderness had

arrested the advance of civilization, we made plans to build a lab-

oratory in this place, when we finished our trip. We imagined great

windows that would take in the whole lake, winter blanketing the

ground in white; the dinghy we would use to travel from one side

to the other; catching fish from a little boat; everlasting excursions

into the almost virgin forest.

Although often on our travels we longed to stay in the formidable

places we visited, only the Amazon jungle called out to that sedentary

part of ourselves as strongly as did this place.
I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts,

that my destiny is to travel, or perhaps it’s better to say that traveling

is our destiny, because Alberto feels the same. Still, there are

moments when I think with profound longing of those wonderful

areas in our south. Perhaps one day, tired of circling the world, I’ll

return to Argentina and settle in the Andean lakes, if not indefinitely

then at least for a pause while I shift from one understanding of

the world to another.

At dusk we started back and it was dark before we arrived. We

were pleasantly surprised to find that Don Pedro Olate, the nightwatchman,

had prepared a wonderful barbecue to treat us. We

bought wine to return the gesture and ate like lions, just for a

change. We were discussing how tasty the meat was and how soon

we wouldn’t be eating as extravagantly as we had done in Argentina,

when Don Pedro told us he’d been asked to organize a barbecue

for the drivers of a motor race taking place on the local track

that coming Sunday. He wanted two helpers and offered us the job.

“Mind that I can’t pay you, but you can stock up on meat for later.”

It seemed like a good idea and we accepted the jobs of first and

second assistants to the “Granddaddy of the Southern Argentine

Both assistants waited for Sunday with a kind of religious enthusiasm.

At six in the morning on the day, we started our first job —

loading wood on to a truck and taking it to the barbecue site —

and we didn’t stop work until 11 a.m. when the distinctive signal

was given and everyone threw themselves voraciously on to the

tasty ribs.

A very strange person was giving orders whom I addressed with

the utmost respect as “Señora” any time I said a word, until one of

my fellow workers said: “Hey kid, che, don’t push Don Pendón too

far, he’ll get angry.”

“Who’s Don Pendón?” I asked, with the kind of gesture some

uncultured kid would give. The answer, that Don Pendón was the

Señora, left me cold, but not for long.
As always at barbecues, there was far too much meat for everyone,

so we were given carte blanche to pursue our vocation as camels.

We executed, furthermore, a carefully calculated plan. I pretended

to get drunker and drunker and, with every apparent attack of

nausea, I staggered off to the stream, a bottle of red wine hidden

inside my leather jacket. After five attacks of this type we had the

same number of liters of wine stored beneath the fronds of a willow,

keeping cool in the water. When everything was over and the moment

came to pack up the truck and return to town, I kept up my

part, working reluctantly and bickering constantly with Don Pendón.

To finish my performance I lay down flat on my back in the

grass, utterly unable to take another step. Alberto, acting like a true

friend, apologized for my behavior to the boss and stayed behind

to look after me as the truck left. When the noise of the engine faded

in the distance we jumped up and raced off like colts to the wine

that would guarantee us several days of kingly consumption.

Alberto made it first and threw himself under the willow: his

face was straight out of a comic film. Not a single bottle remained.

Either my drunken state hadn’t fooled anyone, or someone had seen

me sneak off with the wine. The fact was, we were as broke as ever,

retracing in our minds the smiles that had greeted my drunken antics,

trying to find some trace of the irony with which we could identify

the thief. To no avail. Lugging the chunk of bread and cheese

we’d received and a few kilos of meat for the night, we had to walk

back to town. We were well-fed and well-watered, but with our tails

between our legs, not so much for the wine but for the fools they’d

made of us. Words cannot describe it.
The following day was rainy and cold and we thought the race

wouldn’t go ahead. We were waiting for a break in the rain so we

could go and cook some meat by the lake when we heard over the

loudspeakers that the race was still on. In our role as barbecue assistants

we passed free of charge through the entrance gates and,

comfortably installed, watched the nation’s drivers in a fairly good

car race.
Just as we were thinking of moving on, discussing the best road

to take and drinking mate in the doorway of our shed, a jeep arrived,

carrying some of Alberto’s friends from the distant and almost

mythical Villa Concepción del Tío. We shared big friendly hugs and

went immediately to celebrate by filling our guts with frothy liquid,

as is the dignified practise on such occasions.

They invited us to visit them in the town where they were working,

Junín de los Andes, and so we went, lessening the bike’s load

by leaving our gear in the National Parks’ shed.


circular exploration
Junín de los Andes, less fortunate than its lakeside brother, vegetates

in a forgotten corner of civilization, unable to break free of the

monotony of its stagnant life, despite attempts to invigorate the town

by building a barracks where our friends were working. I say our

friends, because in no time at all they were mine too.
We dedicated the first night to reminiscing about that distant

past in Villa Concepción, our mood enhanced by seemingly unlimited

bottles of red wine. My lack of training meant I had to abandon

the match and, in honor of the real bed, I slept like a log.

We spent the next day fixing a few of the bike’s problems in the

workshop of the company where our friends worked. That night

they gave us a magnificent farewell from Argentina: a beef and lamb

barbecue, with bread and gravy and a superb salad. After several

days of partying, we left, departing with many hugs on the road to

Carrué, another lake in the region. The road is terrible and our poor

bike snorted about in the sand as I tried to help it out of the dunes.

The first five kilometers took us an hour and a half, but later the

road improved and we arrived without any other hitches at Carrué

Chico, a little blue-green lake surrounded by wildly forested hills,

and then at Carrué Grande, a more expansive lake but sadly impossible

to ride around on a bike because there is only a bridle path

used by local smugglers to cross over to Chile.
We left the bike at the cabin of a park ranger who wasn’t home,

and took off to climb the peak facing the lake. It was nearing

lunchtime and our supplies consisted only of a piece of cheese and

some preserves. A duck passed, flying high over the lake. Alberto

calculated the distance of the bird, the absence of the warden, the

possibility of a fine, etc., and fired. By a masterful stroke of good

luck (though not for the duck), the bird fell into the lake. A discussion

immediately ensued as to who would go and get it. I lost and

plunged in. It seemed that fingers of ice were gripping me all over

my body, almost completely impeding my movement. Allergic as I

am to the cold, those 20 meters there and back that I swam to retrieve

what Alberto had shot down made me suffer like a Bedouin. Just

as well that roast duck, flavored as usual with our hunger, is one

exquisite dish.

Invigorated by lunch, we set off with enthusiasm on the climb.

From the start, however, we were joined by flies that circled us ceaselessly,

biting when they got the chance. The climb was gruelling

because we lacked appropriate equipment and experience, but some

weary hours later we reached the summit. To our disappointment,

there was no panoramic view to admire; neighboring mountains

blocked everything. Whichever way we looked a higher peak was

in the way. After some minutes of joking about in the patch of snow

crowning the peak, we took to the task of descending, spurred on

by the fact that darkness would soon be closing in. The first part

was easy, but then the stream that was guiding our descent began

to grow into a torrent with steep, smooth sides and slippery rocks

that were difficult to walk on. We had to push our way through

willows on the edge, finally reaching an area of thick, treacherous

reeds. As night fell it brought us a thousand strange noises and

the sensation of walking into empty space with each step. Alberto

lost his goggles and my pants were reduced to rags. We arrived,

finally, at the tree line and from there we took every step with

infinite caution, because the darkness was so complete and our

sixth sense so heightened that we saw abysses every second

After an eternity of trekking through deep mud we recognized

the stream flowing out into the Carrué, and almost immediately the

trees disappeared and we reached the flat. The huge figure of a stag

dashed like a quick breath across the stream and his body, silver

by the light of the rising moon, disappeared into the undergrowth.

This tremor of nature cut straight to our hearts. We walked slowly

so as not to disturb the peace of the wild sanctuary with which we

were now communing.
We waded across the thread of water, whose touch against our

ankles gave me a sharp reminder of those ice fingers I hate so much,

and reached the shelter of the ranger’s cabin. He was kind enough

to offer us hot mate and sheepskins to sleep on till the following

morning. It was 12:35 a.m.
We drove slowly on the way back, passing lakes of only a hybrid

beauty compared to Carrué, and finally reached San Martín

where Don Pendón gave us 10 pesos each for working at the barbecue.

Then we set off further south.


dear mama

January 1952

En route to Bariloche
Dear Mama,
Just as you have not heard from me, I’ve had no news from you

and I’m worried. It would defeat the purpose of these few lines to

tell you all that has happened to us; I’ll just say that two days after

leaving Bahía Blanca I fell ill with a temperature of 40 degrees

which kept me in bed for a day. The following morning I managed

to get up only to end up in the Choele Choel regional hospital where

I was given a dose of a little-known drug, penicillin, and recovered

four days later…

We reached San Martín de los Andes, using our usual resourcefulness

to solve the thousand problems that plagued us along the

way. San Martín de los Andes has a beautiful lake and is wonderfully

set amid virgin forest. You must see it, I’m sure you’d find it

worthwhile. Our faces are beginning to resemble the texture of Carborundum.

Any house we come across that has a garden, we seek

food, lodging and whatever else is on offer. We ended up at the

Von Putnamers’ ranch, they’re friends of Jorge’s, particularly one

who’s a Peronist, always drunk, and the best of the three. I was

able to diagnose a tumor in the occipital zone that was probably of

hydatic origin. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. We will

leave for Bariloche in two or three days and intend to travel at a

leisurely pace. Send me a letter poste restante if it can arrive by February

10 or 12. Well, Mama, the next page I’m writing is for

Chichina. Send lots of love to everyone and make sure you tell me

whether or not Papi is in the south.

A loving hug from your son.


on the seven lakes road
We decided to go to Bariloche by the Seven Lakes Road, named for

the number of lakes the road skirts before reaching the town. We

traveled the first few kilometers at La Poderosa’s ever tranquil pace,

without any serious mechanical upsets until, with nightfall catching

up on us, we pulled the old broken headlight trick so we could sleep

in a road laborer’s hut, a handy ruse because the cold that night

was uncommonly harsh. It was so fiercely cold that a visitor soon

appeared asking to borrow some blankets because he and his wife

were camping by the edge of lake and they were freezing. We went

to share some mate with this stoical pair who for some time had

been living beside the lakes with only a tent and the contents of

their backpacks. They put us to shame.

We set off again, passing greatly varying lakes, all surrounded

by ancient forest, the scent of wilderness caressing our nostrils. But

curiously, the sight of a lake and a forest and a single solitary house

with a well-tended garden soon begins to grate. Seeing the

landscape at this superficial level only captures its boring uniformity,

not allowing you to immerse yourself in the spirit of the place;

for that you must stop at least several days.
We finally reached the northern end of Lake Nahuel Huapí and

slept on its banks, full and content after the enormous barbecue we

had eaten. But when we hit the road again, we noticed a puncture

in the back tire and from then began a tedious battle with the inner

tube. Each time we patched up one side, the other side of the tube

punctured, until we were all out of patches and were forced to

spend the night where we were. An Austrian caretaker who had

raced motorbikes as a young man gave us a place to stay in an

empty shed, caught between his desire to help fellow bikers in need

and fear of his boss.

In his broken Spanish he told us that a puma was in the region.

“And pumas are vicious, they’re not afraid to attack people! They

have huge blond manes…”
Attempting to close the door we found that it was like a stable

door — only the lower half shut. I placed our revolver near my head

in case the puma, whose shadow filled our thoughts, decided to

pay an unannounced midnight visit. The day was just dawning

when I awoke to the sound of claws scratching at the door. At my

side, Alberto lay silent, full of dread. I had my hand tensed on the

cocked revolver. Two luminous eyes stared at me from the silhouetted

trees. Like a cat, the eyes sprang forward and the black

mass of the body materialized over the door.

It was pure instinct; the brakes of intelligence failed. My drive

for self-preservation pulled the trigger. For a long moment, the

thunder beat against and around the walls, stopping only when a

lighted torch in the doorway began desperately shouting at us. But

by that time in our timid silence we knew, or could at least guess,

the reason for the caretaker’s stentorian shouts and his wife’s hysterical

sobs as she threw herself over the dead body of Bobby —

her nasty, ill-tempered dog.
Alberto went to Angostura to get the tire fixed and I thought I’d

have to spend the night in the open, being unable to ask for a bed

in a house where we were considered murderers. Luckily our bike

was near another road laborer’s hut and he let me sleep in the

kitchen with a friend of his. At midnight I woke to the noise of rain

and was going to get up to cover the bike with a tarpaulin. But

before doing so, I decided to take a few puffs from my asthma inhaler,

irritated by the sheepskin I was using for a pillow. As I inhaled,

my sleeping companion woke up, hearing the puff. He made

a sudden movement, then immediately fell silent. I sensed his body

go rigid under his blankets, clutching a knife, holding his breath.

With the experience of the previous night still fresh, I decided to

remain where I was for fear of being knifed, just in case mirages

were contagious in those parts.

We reached San Carlos de Bariloche by the evening of the next

day and spent the night in the police station waiting for the Modesta

Victoria to sail toward the border with Chile.


and now, I feel my great roots unearth, free and...
In the kitchen of the police station we were sheltering from a storm

unleashing its total fury outside. I read and reread the incredible

letter. Just like that, all my dreams of home, bound up with those

eyes that saw me off in Miramar, came crashing down for what

seemed like no reason. A great exhaustion enveloped me and, half

asleep, I listened to the lively conversation of a globetrotting prisoner

as he concocted a thousand exotic brews, safe in the ignorance

of his audience. I could make out his warm, seductive words while

the faces surrounding him leaned closer so as better to hear his

stories unfold.

As if through a distant fog I could see an American doctor we

had met there in Bariloche nodding: “I think you’ll get where you’re

heading, you’ve got guts. But I think you’ll stay a while in Mexico.

It’s a wonderful country.”

I suddenly felt myself flying off with the sailor to far-off lands,

far away the current drama of my life. A feeling of profound unease

came over me; I felt that I was incapable of feeling anything. I began

to feel afraid for myself and started a tearful letter, but I couldn’t

write, it was hopeless to try. In the half-light that surrounded us,

phantoms swirled around and around but “she” wouldn’t appear.

I still believed I loved her until this moment, when I realized I felt

I had to summon her back with my mind. I had to fight for her,

she was mine, mine... I slept.

A gentle sun illuminated the new day, our day of departure, our

farewell to Argentine soil. Carrying the bike on to the Modesta Victoria

was not an easy task, but with patience we eventually did it.

Getting it off again was equally hard. Then we were in that tiny

spot by the lake, pompously named Puerto Blest. A few kilometers

on the road, three or four at most, and we were back on water, a

dirty green lake this time, Lake Frías.

A short voyage before finally reaching customs, then the Chilean

immigration post on the other side of the cordillera — much lower

at this latitude. There we crossed yet another lake fed by the waters

of the Tronador River that originate in the majestic volcano sharing

the same name. This lake, Esmeralda, in contrast to the Argentine

lakes, offered wonderful, temperate water, making the task of

bathing very enjoyable and much more enticing. High in the cordillera

at a place called Casa Pangue there is a lookout that affords

a beautiful view over Chile. It is a kind of crossroads; at least in

that moment it was for me. I was looking to the future, through the

narrow band of Chile and to what lay beyond, turning the lines of

the Otero Silva poem over in my mind.


objects of curiosity

Water leaked from every pore of the big old tub carrying our bike.

Daydreams took me soaring away while I maintained my rhythm

at the pump. A doctor, returning from Peulla in the passenger

launch that ran back and forth across Esmeralda, passed the hulking

great contraption our bike was lashed to and where we were

paying for both our and La Poderosa’s passage with the sweat of

our brows. A curious expression came across his face as he watched

us struggling to keep the vessel afloat, naked and almost swimming

in the oily pump-water.
We had met several doctors traveling down there who we

lectured about leprology, embellishing a bit, provoking the admiration

of our colleagues from the other side of the Andes. They were

impressed because, since leprosy is not a problem in Chile, they

didn’t know the first thing about it or about lepers and confessed

honestly that never in their lives had they even seen a leper. They

told us about the distant leper colony on Easter Island where a small

number of lepers were living; it was a delightful island, they said,

and our scientific interests were excited.
This doctor generously offered us any help we might need, given

the “very interesting journey” we were making. But in those happy

days in the south of Chile, when our stomachs were still full and

we were not yet totally brazen, we merely asked him for an introduction

to the president of the Friends of Easter Island, who lived

near them in Valparaíso. Of course, he was delighted.

The lake route ended in Petrohué where we said goodbye to

everyone; but not before posing for some black Brazilian girls who

placed us in their souvenir album for southern Chile, and for an

environmentalist couple from who knows what European country,

who noted our addresses ceremoniously so they could send us

copies of the photos.

There was a character in the little town who wanted a station

wagon driven to Osorno, where we were heading, and he asked

me if I would do it. Alberto gave me a high-speed lesson in gear

changes and I went off in all solemnity to assume my post. Rather

cartoon-like, I set off with hops and jerks behind Alberto who was

riding the bike. Every corner was a torment: brake, clutch, first,

second, help, Mamáaa... The road wound through beautiful countryside,

skirting Lake Osorno, the volcano with the same name a

sentinel above us. Unfortunately I was in no position along that

accident-studded road to appreciate the landscape. The only accident,

however, was suffered by a little pig that ran in front of the

car while we were speeding down a hill, before I was fully practised

in the art of braking and clutching.
We arrived in Osorno, we scrounged around in Osorno, we left

Osorno and continued ever northward through the delightful

Chilean countryside, divided into plots, every bit farmed, in stark

contrast to our own arid south. The Chileans, exceedingly friendly

people, were warm and welcoming wherever we went. Finally we

arrived in the port of Valdivia on a Sunday. Ambling around the

city, we dropped into the local newspaper, the Correo de Valdivia,

and they very kindly wrote an article about us. Valdivia was celebrating

its fourth centenary and we dedicated our journey to the

city in tribute to the great conquistador whose name the city bears.

They persuaded us to write a letter to Molinas Luco, the mayor of

Valparaíso, preparing him for our great Easter Island scam.

The harbor, overflowing with goods that were completely

foreign to us, the market where they sold different foods, the typically

Chilean wooden houses, the special clothes of the guasos,*

were notably different from what we knew back home; there was

something indigenously American, untouched by the exoticism

invading our pampas. This may be because Anglo-Saxon immigrants

in Chile do not mix, thus preserving the purity of the indigenous

race, which in our country is practically nonexistent.

But for all the customary and idiomatic differences distinguishing

us from our thin Andean brother, there is one cry that seems

international: “Give them water,” the salutation greeting the sight

of my calf-length trousers, not my personal taste but a fashion

inherited from a generous, if short, friend.


the experts
Chilean hospitality, as I never tire of saying, is one reason traveling

in our neighboring country is so enjoyable. And we made the most

of it. I woke up gradually beneath the sheets, considering the value

of a good bed and calculating the calorie content of the previous

night’s meal. I reviewed recent events in my mind: the treacherous

puncture of La Poderosa’s tire, which left us stranded in the rain

and in the middle of nowhere; the generous help of Raúl, owner of

the bed in which we were now sleeping; and the interview we gave

to the paper El Austral in Temuco. Raúl was a veterinary student,

not particularly studious it seemed, who had hoisted our poor old

bike on to the truck he owned, bringing us to this quiet town in the

middle of Chile. To be honest, there was probably a moment or two

when our friend wished he’d never met us, since we caused him

an uncomfortable night’s sleep, but he only had himself to blame,

bragging about the money he spent on women and inviting us for

a night out at a “cabaret,” which would be at his expense, of course.

His invitation was the reason we prolonged our stay in the land of

Pablo Neruda, and we became involved in a lively bragging session

which lasted for some time. In the end, of course, he came clean on

that inevitable problem (lack of funds), meaning we had to postpone

our visit to that very interesting place of entertainment, though in

compensation he gave us bed and board. So at one in the morning

there we were, feeling very self-satisfied and devouring everything

on the table, quite a lot really, plus some more that arrived later.

Then we appropriated our host’s bed as his father was being

transferred to Santiago and there was not much furniture left in

the house.
Alberto, unmovable, was resisting the morning sun’s attempt

to disturb his deep sleep, while I dressed slowly, a task we didn’t

find particularly difficult because the difference between our night

wear and day wear was made up, generally, of shoes. The newspaper

flaunted a generous number of pages, very much in contrast

to our poor and stunted dailies, but I wasn’t interested in anything

besides one piece of local news I found in large type in section two:


And then in smaller type:
This was the epitome of our audacity. Us, experts, key figures in

the field of leprology in the Americas, with vast experience, having

treated 3,000 patients, familiar with the most important leprosy

centers of the continent and researchers into the sanitary conditions

of those same centers, had consented to visit this picturesque,

melancholy little town. We supposed they would fully appreciate

our respect for the town, but we didn’t really know. Soon the whole

family was gathered around the article and all other items in the

paper became objects of Olympian contempt. And so, like this, basking

in their admiration, we said goodbye to those people we remember

nothing about, not even their names.

We had asked permission to leave the bike in the garage of a

man who lived on the outskirts of town and we made our way there,

no longer a pair of more or less likable vagrants with a bike in tow;

no, we were now “The Experts,” and we were treated accordingly.

We spent the whole day fixing and conditioning the bike while

every now and then a dark-skinned maid would arrive with little

snacks. At five o’clock, after a delicious afternoon tea prepared by

our host, we said goodbye to Temuco and headed north.
*Chilean peasants.

**Easter Island.

Copyright 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at

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