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Great Adventures: Che Guevara

Pat Kinsella chases Che Guevara around South America, on the odyssey that shaped the political opinion of arguably the 20th century’s most celebrated revolutionary

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES

ROAD TO NOWHERE The Atacama Desert in Chile is just one of the unforgiving terrains that Che and his travelling companion braved
ALAMY X1, GETTY X2

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine” Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Riding an old banger of a motorbike, in January 1952 a 23-year-old Argentine medical student, Ernesto Guevara, left Buenos Aires with a buddy to tour South America. It was an escapade that essentially began as a lark by two middle-class, fun-loving lads, looking for love, laughs and a slice of adventure.

It didn’t end that way, though. The bike died after a month, forcing the footloose friends to continue their eye-opening odyssey any which way they could, hitching lifts, jumping trucks, riding horses, sailing rafts, flying in seaplanes and catching local buses and boats. They travelled over 5,000 miles – crossing the Andes, skirting the Atacama Desert, and diving deep into the Amazon jungle – but for both young men, the journey became less about places they saw and more about the people they met. The experience radically shaped Guevara’s outlook, and set him on a path of action that would have profound consequences for millions.

Hanging out with homeless mineworkers, sharing buses with impoverished indigenous people, and working alongside Marxist medical doctors in leper colonies, Guevara’s consciousness was flung open to the plight of the South American people, and a seed of indignation was germinated in the fertile mind of the young man. By the time his nine-month South American migration had gone full-cycle, this seed had gestated into an almost fully formed ideological stance, and the explosive political and military career of one of the 20th century’s most influential revolutionary figures was about to be born.

VOYAGE OF SELF-DISCOVERY: 1. Chuquicamata copper mine, where Guevara witnessed atrocious working conditions
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The Christmas 2016 issue of History Revealed.