Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries

objects of curiosity

Water leaked from every pore of the big old tub carrying our bike. Daydreams took me soaring away while I maintained my rhythm at the pump. A doctor, returning from Peulla in the passenger launch that ran back and forth across Esmeralda, passed the hulking great contraption our bike was lashed to and where we were paying for both our and La Poderosa’s passage with the sweat of our brows. A curious expression came across his face as he watched us struggling to keep the vessel afloat, naked and almost swimming in the oily pump-water.

We had met several doctors traveling down there who we lectured about leprology, embellishing a bit, provoking the admiration of our colleagues from the other side of the Andes. They were impressed because, since leprosy is not a problem in Chile, they didn’t know the first thing about it or about lepers and confessed honestly that never in their lives had they even seen a leper. They told us about the distant leper colony on Easter Island where a small number of lepers were living; it was a delightful island, they said, and our scientific interests were excited.

This doctor generously offered us any help we might need, given the “very interesting journey” we were making. But in those happy days in the south of Chile, when our stomachs were still full and we were not yet totally brazen, we merely asked him for an introduction to the president of the Friends of Easter Island, who lived near them in Valparaíso. Of course, he was delighted. The lake route ended in Petrohué where we said goodbye to everyone; but not before posing for some black Brazilian girls who placed us in their souvenir album for southern Chile, and for an environmentalist couple from who knows what European country, who noted our addresses ceremoniously so they could send us copies of the photos.

There was a character in the little town who wanted a station wagon driven to Osorno, where we were heading, and he asked me if I would do it. Alberto gave me a high-speed lesson in gear changes and I went off in all solemnity to assume my post. Rather cartoon-like, I set off with hops and jerks behind Alberto who was riding the bike. Every corner was a torment: brake, clutch, first, second, help, Mamáaa... The road wound through beautiful countryside, skirting Lake Osorno, the volcano with the same name a sentinel above us. Unfortunately I was in no position along that accident-studded road to appreciate the landscape. The only accident, however, was suffered by a little pig that ran in front of the car while we were speeding down a hill, before I was fully practised in the art of braking and clutching.

We arrived in Osorno, we scrounged around in Osorno, we left Osorno and continued ever northward through the delightful Chilean countryside, divided into plots, every bit farmed, in stark contrast to our own arid south. The Chileans, exceedingly friendly people, were warm and welcoming wherever we went. Finally we arrived in the port of Valdivia on a Sunday. Ambling around the city, we dropped into the local newspaper, the Correo de Valdivia, and they very kindly wrote an article about us. Valdivia was celebrating its fourth centenary and we dedicated our journey to the city in tribute to the great conquistador whose name the city bears. They persuaded us to write a letter to Molinas Luco, the mayor of Valparaíso, preparing him for our great Easter Island scam. The harbor, overflowing with goods that were completely foreign to us, the market where they sold different foods, the typically Chilean wooden houses, the special clothes of the guasos, 1 were notably different from what we knew back home; there was something indigenously American, untouched by the exoticism invading our pampas. This may be because Anglo-Saxon immigrants in Chile do not mix, thus preserving the purity of the indigenous race, which in our country is practically nonexistent.

But for all the customary and idiomatic differences distinguishing us from our thin Andean brother, there is one cry that seems international: “Give them water,” the salutation greeting the sight of my calf-length trousers, not my personal taste but a fashion inherited from a generous, if short, friend.

1. Chilean peasants.

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