Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries

circular exploration

Junín de los Andes, less fortunate than its lakeside brother, vegetates in a forgotten corner of civilization, unable to break free of the monotony of its stagnant life, despite attempts to invigorate the town by building a barracks where our friends were working. I say our friends, because in no time at all they were mine too.

We dedicated the first night to reminiscing about that distant past in Villa Concepción, our mood enhanced by seemingly unlimited bottles of red wine. My lack of training meant I had to abandon the match and, in honor of the real bed, I slept like a log. We spent the next day fixing a few of the bike’s problems in the workshop of the company where our friends worked. That night they gave us a magnificent farewell from Argentina: a beef and lamb barbecue, with bread and gravy and a superb salad. After several days of partying, we left, departing with many hugs on the road to Carrué, another lake in the region. The road is terrible and our poor bike snorted about in the sand as I tried to help it out of the dunes. The first five kilometers took us an hour and a half, but later the road improved and we arrived without any other hitches at Carrué Chico, a little blue-green lake surrounded by wildly forested hills, and then at Carrué Grande, a more expansive lake but sadly impossible to ride around on a bike because there is only a bridle path used by local smugglers to cross over to Chile.

We left the bike at the cabin of a park ranger who wasn’t home, and took off to climb the peak facing the lake. It was nearing lunchtime and our supplies consisted only of a piece of cheese and some preserves. A duck passed, flying high over the lake. Alberto calculated the distance of the bird, the absence of the warden, the possibility of a fine, etc., and fired. By a masterful stroke of good luck (though not for the duck), the bird fell into the lake. A discussion immediately ensued as to who would go and get it. I lost and plunged in. It seemed that fingers of ice were gripping me all over my body, almost completely impeding my movement. Allergic as I am to the cold, those 20 meters there and back that I swam to retrieve what Alberto had shot down made me suffer like a Bedouin. Just as well that roast duck, flavored as usual with our hunger, is one exquisite dish.

Invigorated by lunch, we set off with enthusiasm on the climb. From the start, however, we were joined by flies that circled us ceaselessly, biting when they got the chance. The climb was gruelling because we lacked appropriate equipment and experience, but some weary hours later we reached the summit. To our disappointment, there was no panoramic view to admire; neighboring mountains blocked everything. Whichever way we looked a higher peak was in the way. After some minutes of joking about in the patch of snow crowning the peak, we took to the task of descending, spurred on by the fact that darkness would soon be closing in. The first part was easy, but then the stream that was guiding our descent began to grow into a torrent with steep, smooth sides and slippery rocks that were difficult to walk on. We had to push our way through willows on the edge, finally reaching an area of thick, treacherous reeds. As night fell it brought us a thousand strange noises and the sensation of walking into empty space with each step. Alberto lost his goggles and my pants were reduced to rags. We arrived, finally, at the tree line and from there we took every step with infinite caution, because the darkness was so complete and our sixth sense so heightened that we saw abysses every second moment.

After an eternity of trekking through deep mud we recognized the stream flowing out into the Carrué, and almost immediately the trees disappeared and we reached the flat. The huge figure of a stag dashed like a quick breath across the stream and his body, silver by the light of the rising moon, disappeared into the undergrowth. This tremor of nature cut straight to our hearts. We walked slowly so as not to disturb the peace of the wild sanctuary with which we were now communing.

We waded across the thread of water, whose touch against our ankles gave me a sharp reminder of those ice fingers I hate so much, and reached the shelter of the ranger’s cabin. He was kind enough to offer us hot mate and sheepskins to sleep on till the following morning. It was 12:35 a.m.

We drove slowly on the way back, passing lakes of only a hybrid beauty compared to Carrué, and finally reached San Martín where Don Pendón gave us 10 pesos each for working at the barbecue. Then we set off further south.

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