Review of Che Guevera’s ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’.

“What distinguishes these diaries is that they reveal a human side of El Che which historians have successfully managed to suppress … a joy to read from start to finish”.

– Financial Times

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 National icons often get boxed into portrayals of deification and saintliness that make the common man wonder whether they were human at all. Che manages to somewhat escape this fate as he penned his rollicking adventures as young man exploring his land.

Apart from providing a rare insight into the enigmatic persona of Che the diaries could easily represent couple of young men on a ‘road’ journey with their lovely companion  Norton motorcycle – ‘La Poderosa’. (The Powerful One).

The bike’s character is a unique feature of the narrative as it contributes much to the texture and context of the road trip. An ordinary hitchhike or travel by other means won’t have captured our attentions as much as the fun the adventurers have in trying to navigate the South American terrain using a ramshackle bike. The ‘hack’ approach to travel – uniquely called ‘jugaad’ in Hindi – appeals much to our sense of adventure and making it to finish against all odds.

The tale begins as an aimless drift that moves at a languid pace – the adventurers are rather vague about what they plan to achieve from their trip. Often their itineraries are disrupted by the frequent breakdown of their bike and they accept their troubles with a rare spirit of sang froid. It then becomes an attempt to live life on the make and take a day at a time.

Though money is in short supply and a chronic show spoiler, Che and Alberto manage to have a series of comical adventures – the theft of wine gone astray, the dance that turned out to be a touch too close for comfort, their escapades with Chilean firefighters and the incredible story of riding a raft on the Amazon river keep us entertained.

Che observes life and the struggles of the common folks across the South American continent. He understands the corrupt nature of politics that prevents people from rising to their potential. He senses that South America shares a common history and culture that could fuel their growth if they could take pride in their ancient culture and not let the ‘white man’ and ‘imperialism’ dominate their political discourse.

Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) 

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“Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery.”

It is well-known as being on the list of ‘Seven-Wonders-Of-The-World’, but the tourists visiting Lima to fulfill a tick on their bucket list don’t quite appreciate its rich legacy and what the past grandeur could convey to the ‘coloured’ native population typically hailed as the Mestizos.

The story takes a turn to the serious after this visit as Che increasingly dwells about the fate of the original inhabitants of the land and what could be done to improve their lives. In this we get the first glimpse of what Che eventually became – the universal image of a left wing revolutionary and his indelible association with Castro and the successful Cuban revolution.

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