I finally got my hands on 'The Motorcycle Diaries' when I went to Landmark the other day. It's a slim book, about 165 pages long and told in a fascinatingly frank yet poetic style style by the author, the enigmatic Argentinian icon, politician, thinker, guerilla warrior, Che Guevara. The book is the diary of the events that happened to Che, then a medical student who was one year shy of his final year, and his biochemist friend Alberto Granado. Together they plan to go to North America by road from Cordoba, on Alberto's old Norton motorbike that they call 'La Poderosa' or 'The Mighty One'.
It is a difficult journey where the young men go through many tough times in every way. The bike gives way many times and they fall off, tyres blow off, parts of the bike get broken until they finally decide to let it go somewhere along the way. But whatever the hurdle the two young men are equal to it, never thinking of going back even when they run out of money, are hungry for days, sleep in the cold in open areas, beg for food even. But despite the hardships the book is told in a comic tone, a tongue in cheek account of their troubles, the people they meet, the way the two con people for shelter, food and drink. Once they get rid of the motorcycle they hitch rides on trucks, even do a small distance on a raft they make and call 'Mambo Tango'.
In a few sentences Guevara describes the scenery, his impressions, the culture, their hopeless situation, the good and bad in people and the will of the two young men to complete what they began. Their trips to hospitals for shelter and food, police stations, houses, leprosy camps, mines leaves one feeling tired, but you know from the tone of the writer that whatever happens they will pass through. His impressions of the conditions that Latin American people in different countries live in, his wanting to give them a better life be it through medical help, justice or just plain hope of getting an equal and fair share from their land come through very clearly.
It is no wonder that this man went on to star in a bigger adventure in his life, leading Cuban rebels to victory over a dictatorship regime alongside Fidel Castro, serving as Minister even, speaking against the US policies, spreading his message and philosophy in faraway lands such as Asia, Europe, Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and then dying a premature death at the hands of Bolivian counter insurgency troops at a young age. Guevara lived life on the edge, in complete accordance with what he believed in and gave it his everything, be it while undertaking a motorcycle journey across South America or taking his ideology where it belonged.
Guevara's story reveals a spirit that one sees rarely. Many people speak and spout philosophies and ideas that they do not have the courage nor guts to take responsibility for. No wonder then that Che has earned the status of a true icon - not a carefully created one by rabble rousing mindlessly in the guise of intellectuals.
I would love to see the movie now.