Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries

on the seven lakes road

We decided to go to Bariloche by the Seven Lakes Road, named for the number of lakes the road skirts before reaching the town. We traveled the first few kilometers at La Poderosa’s ever tranquil pace, without any serious mechanical upsets until, with nightfall catching up on us, we pulled the old broken headlight trick so we could sleep in a road laborer’s hut, a handy ruse because the cold that night was uncommonly harsh. It was so fiercely cold that a visitor soon appeared asking to borrow some blankets because he and his wife were camping by the edge of lake and they were freezing. We went to share some mate with this stoical pair who for some time had been living beside the lakes with only a tent and the contents of their backpacks. They put us to shame.

We set off again, passing greatly varying lakes, all surrounded by ancient forest, the scent of wilderness caressing our nostrils. But curiously, the sight of a lake and a forest and a single solitary house with a well-tended garden soon begins to grate. Seeing the landscape at this superficial level only captures its boring uniformity, not allowing you to immerse yourself in the spirit of the place; for that you must stop at least several days.

We finally reached the northern end of Lake Nahuel Huapí and slept on its banks, full and content after the enormous barbecue we had eaten. But when we hit the road again, we noticed a puncture in the back tire and from then began a tedious battle with the inner tube. Each time we patched up one side, the other side of the tube punctured, until we were all out of patches and were forced to spend the night where we were. An Austrian caretaker who had raced motorbikes as a young man gave us a place to stay in an empty shed, caught between his desire to help fellow bikers in need and fear of his boss.

In his broken Spanish he told us that a puma was in the region. “And pumas are vicious, they’re not afraid to attack people! They have huge blond manes…”

Attempting to close the door we found that it was like a stable door — only the lower half shut. I placed our revolver near my head in case the puma, whose shadow filled our thoughts, decided to pay an unannounced midnight visit. The day was just dawning when I awoke to the sound of claws scratching at the door. At my side, Alberto lay silent, full of dread. I had my hand tensed on the cocked revolver. Two luminous eyes stared at me from the silhouetted trees. Like a cat, the eyes sprang forward and the black mass of the body materialized over the door.

It was pure instinct; the brakes of intelligence failed. My drive for self-preservation pulled the trigger. For a long moment, the thunder beat against and around the walls, stopping only when a lighted torch in the doorway began desperately shouting at us. But by that time in our timid silence we knew, or could at least guess, the reason for the caretaker’s stentorian shouts and his wife’s hysterical sobs as she threw herself over the dead body of Bobby — her nasty, ill-tempered dog.

Alberto went to Angostura to get the tire fixed and I thought I’d have to spend the night in the open, being unable to ask for a bed in a house where we were considered murderers. Luckily our bike was near another road laborer’s hut and he let me sleep in the kitchen with a friend of his. At midnight I woke to the noise of rain and was going to get up to cover the bike with a tarpaulin. But before doing so, I decided to take a few puffs from my asthma inhaler, irritated by the sheepskin I was using for a pillow. As I inhaled, my sleeping companion woke up, hearing the puff. He made a sudden movement, then immediately fell silent. I sensed his body go rigid under his blankets, clutching a knife, holding his breath. With the experience of the previous night still fresh, I decided to remain where I was for fear of being knifed, just in case mirages were contagious in those parts.

We reached San Carlos de Bariloche by the evening of the next day and spent the night in the police station waiting for the Modesta Victoria to sail toward the border with Chile.

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