Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries

for the flu, bed

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:1 “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 dark.

1. A champion Argentine rally driver.

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