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‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ (2004)

Introduction

As of January 1952, Ernesto Guevara is a medical student in Buenos Aires, Argentina

and who becomes the iconic Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara. Guevara’s friend and a fellow

medical student, Alberto Granado suggests that together, the two take a trip through South

America with the intention of having a view of the San Pablo Leper Colony in Peru, in which

Alberto’s interest in this trip is professional. The two friends repair the motorcycle belonging to

Alberto. Alberto and Ernesto mockingly and affectionately give it the name “La Poderosa” that

means “The Powerful”. Then, the two bid their families goodbye and set for a trip to Peru from

Buenos Aires.

Alberto and Ernesto travel for a couple of days before stopping in Miramar, Argentina

where they visit Chichina, Ernesto’s girlfriend as well as her family. Despite that the two friends

set out on a youth adventure, Ernesto finds it difficult to separate himself from the excitement as

well as comfort of his romance. Ernesto spends eight days at Chichina’s home and gives her a

dog named “Comeback”. The reason why he gives her the dog is to express his intention to come

back at her side, - although he does not. After leaving Chichina’s family, the two cross into

Chile. However, the two are forced to stop almost a few days resulting from the La Poderosa’s

mechanical problems and accidents. The repeated stops in rural towns results in the two friends

meeting people from different walks of life such as the mechanics who fix their motorcycle

along with local doctor that take an interest in Ernesto and Alberto, ending up feeding and

sheltering them. Although that the two are medical students, they come on record in local

newspapers stating that they are leprosy experts.


In Northern Chile, they visit the Chuquicamata copper mine that is a huge source of

wealth for the Chileans but not for the working class. The mine is managed by the United States

mining firm firms. Guevara identifies the dangers associated with the job and inquiries from his

guide regarding the number of individuals that have lost their lives since the mine was created.

The experience makes Ernesto make observations on the persistent injustices that are faced by

the miners including the devastations that are inflicted on local communities by the capitalist

industry that is under the control of foreign organizations. While they are camping, Ernesto gets

to meet a homeless mining couple that has been blacklisted from the mines due to their

Communist beliefs that were considered illegal during that time. Ernesto becomes deeply

sympathetic to this couple and he comes to believe that rather than communism being a

dangerous ideology, it is a natural response that is based on class oppression along with poor

living conditions.

Finally, in Peru, La Poderosa breaks down for good. Since the two have to hitchhike and

work to ensure their passage between cities, Ernesto and Alberto spend most of their time with

the working class, particularly the indigenous labourers and the farmers. Ernesto notes that due

to race, the Indians are faced with additional oppression from the Europeans who are better off

economically. After observing the indigenous people’s rituals, in the face of the oppression

centuries, Ernesto is excited by the strength as well as the resilience of the pre-Columbian

cultures. Later, Ernesto visits two other cities, Lima and Cuzco. In addition to containing the

remains of Inca civilization that existed in the past, the two cities are also essential centres of the

European power along with culture. Visiting the remains of castles and fortresses, Ernesto

becomes deeply attached to their power and sophistication. Through examination of these layers

of ancient cities, colonial, including modern infrastructure as well as architecture, Ernesto


exhibits the attempt of the Europeans to suppress the indigenous culture through the elimination

of existing cultural evidence. He finds it motivating that the native cultural sites as well as the

practices have survived the repeated attempts of eradication, viewing their survival as a proof

that the native proletariat are capable of rising up and reclaiming the political in addition to

economic power.

Arriving in Limo, Hugo Pesce, - a doctor that is in charge of national leprosy program-

meets Ernesto. Ernesto’s exploration of the city is given a boost when Pesce assists in directing

them. Eventually, Pesce ends up sending Alberto and Ernesto to the San Pablo Leper Colony

which is located deep in the Amazon. The appalling living conditions of this colony is

demanding and Ernesto is inspired by the doctor’s work along with the patients’ hopeful

attitudes. Despite that Ernesto is a medical student studying to become a doctor and that he had

come to observe leprosy treatment as a disease, he ends up writing concerning the lepers in terms

of their political oppression, expressing the shift of his thoughts from medicine towards political

activism.

Afterwards, the two men travelled to Colombia. In Bogota, they observed the conditions

specifically under repressive right-wing regime. According to Ernesto, the constant presence of

the police among civilian life erodes the personal dignity, predicting that such conditions will

assist in fomenting revolution. The other cities that Alberto and Ernesto visit include Caracas,

Venezuela where the two friends finally separate. In addition to being changed and inspired by

the trip, the trip changes Alberto and Ernesto differently. For instance, Ernesto seriously begins

considering a career as a leprologist. Nonetheless, Alberto abandons his career as medical

profession and starts developing a communist ideology.


Conclusion

The encounters with social injustices during Alberto and Ernesto’s trip transforms the

manner which they view the world, allegedly motivating Alberto’s future political activities as a

revolutionary and Ernesto as leprologist. The question that remains answered is regarding the

side of the river that Che is going to spend his life. The journey with Che undergoing full

conversion “I think of things in different ways, something has changed in me.”

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