Riding into the Andes
Despite seeing accidents first hand and the resulting injuries, riding a motorbike is still my favourite way to discover a new location. They are inexpensive to hire, and cheap to run. However, they are dangerous: in The Motorcycle Diaries, there are two crashes in the first half hour. That said, hiring bikes has been the highlight of every trip in which I’ve taken the risk.
Diaries follows Ernesto Guevara de la Serna and his friend Alberto Granada on their adventures through South America, through their mid-twenties, and towards finding personal meanings that would ultimately shape their lives. This formative journey takes place before Ernesto would became the Socialist Marxist revolutionary that he would become known the world over for. And long before his face would appear on every type of clothing and accessory (yes, I did own a Che Guevera t-shirt. Camouflage green).
They’re fearless, hungry to discover the vast continent. And they’re right at the point of their lives to feel the effect of transformation, learning and living the history in the people around them.
Their vehicle: 1939 500cc Norton. The Mighty One. It’s a stuttery start – the bike’s not in the best of conditions upon departure from Buenos Aires.
Planned route: Buenos Aires. Patagonia. Chile. Winding up through the Andes to Machu Pichu, then a spell volunteering in the San Pablo Leper Colony in the Peruvian Amazon. Then on to Venezuela.
Finding meaning on the highway
On his journey Che encounters social injustice and economic inequality that shapes his ideas and beliefs, and the film does a grand job of capturing this precious moment of identity being formed. They’re ideas and beliefs that he would fight and ultimately die for, and come from a fierce love of the true people that make a country. But for the spectator, the real excitement comes from watching these two battle the elements and overcome the odds in order to reach their destination. These challenges also mean testing their friendship.
As the cliché goes, opposites attract. You form the best relationships with the people who are most similar to you, but learn the most from the people who couldn’t be more different.
Murtaugh and Riggs. Lowry and Burnett. Woody and Buzz. Two male leads must mean opposing personalties. Granada, the older biochemist, a carefree chauvinist who knows how to wrap people around his finger. Guevara, the honest and earnest character, trainee doctor with a defined moral compass and strong ideals.
Che and Granada volunteer at the leper colony, and waste no time breaking down any barriers to really get involved in the work and the social aspect of bonding with what others would call social pariahs. Lepers here are the external representation of the metaphor that runs through the whole film – they carry the physical affliction of the same kind of disease that both Che and Granada see and react to on their travels: a kind of dispossession, a lacking that was shared by the indiginous people they’d meet all over South America. Granada feels the struggle just as much as Che, and feels imprisoned by this very same limit.
This brings us onto an interesting topic: Volunteerism
This industry today is big business. With some organisations charging youngsters large fees to work in various social causes. Micro finance, teaching English and orphanages to name a few. The millennial generation is now leaving school/university entering a more competitive job market. Where you need experience in order to get a job but on the other hand you need a job in order to gain experience. The pros and cons for this type of work have been written about in many papers. I’m not going to come down on either side. My experience was mixed but one that I do not regret. I did an internship in Micro finance with an NGO in India. You can only do so much research about an organisation or a cause before you arrive. You may find that the reality on the ground is much different from your exceptions. Most of these positions are available in developing countries where a long period of adjustment is needed.
If you do have any doubts about a project or organisation but want to help a community the best way to help is to spend your money there. Sleep in home stays or guesthouses, shop locally, eat in family run restaurants. If you do decide to volunteer for an organisation understand how your fee will be spent and ask what’s the structure of the organisation. e.g. for profit, not for profit. Volunteers will come and go but there actions can have a long lasting impact on a community so make sure it’s a positive one.
Fork in the road
Although the journey was in the early stages of Guevara’s life, I would’ve loved a bit more insight into his development from a medical student to guerilla. For a more in depth look into this transformation you can see Che Part 1 and Part 2 staring Benicio del Toro.
This a story of a friendship that grew through a mutual love of adventure and exploration. By the end of the film, despite coming so far on the same road by the same shambling motorbike barely holding it together, the two characters have started to create very different roads for themselves.