Friday, September 28, 2012

Viva La Revolution!

I struggled for a long time this week trying to think of the most influential motorcycle event in history.  There are a great many to choose from, however I landed on a ride that would shape the politics of western civilizations for hundreds of years.  The Ride spanned nine months and over 5000 miles.  But I’m still left wondering, is there more?  Did I miss something or exclude an event, maybe simply forgetting it at the time?  Please tell me, what do you think the most significant or influential ride was?  Submit any and all rides to With this blog we hope simply to talk about the history of a person and his bike, not promote his ideals, his endeavors or his philosophy. Hope you enjoy.

La Poderosa, “The Mighty One” was a single cylinder 1939 Norton 500cc motor bike that carried El Che and his friend Alberto Granado thousands of miles on a transformative journey.  The journey as later remembered by El Che was transcribed into a memoir dubbed “The Motorcycle Diaries.”  The book began as a journey of discovery and adventure but quickly turned as El Che witnessed the peoples of the lands he traveled through in extreme conditions of poverty and social injustice.  He saw exploited mine workers, persecuted communists, ostracized lepers, and the tattered descendants of a once-great Incan civilization all living in conditions of poverty and persecution by their own government of fellow man.  Join us as we explore La Poderosa and her rider El Che’s journey of discovery and transformation in this weeks, Myths, Legends, & Tales.

Over the course of El Che’s travels he dedicates himself to the cause of the poor.  He, being born in an upper-middle-class family, travels for nine symbolic months with his friend and La Poderosa.  In that time he traveled 5000 miles, by foot, boat, horse, bus, hitchhiking and most of all La Poderosa.   In total, the journey took them through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and to Miami, before returning home to Buenos Aires.
The trip was carried out in the face of some opposition by Guevara's parents, who knew that their son was both a severe asthmatic and a medical student close to completing his studies. However, Granado, himself a doctor, assuaged their concerns by guaranteeing that Guevara would return to finish his degree (which he ultimately did).
The first stop: Miramar, Argentina, a small resort where Guevara's girlfriend, Chichina, was spending the summer with her upper-class family. Two days stretched into eight, and upon leaving, Chichina gave El Che a gold bracelet. The two men crossed into Chile on February 14. At one point they introduced themselves as internationally renowned leprosy experts to a local newspaper, which wrote a glowing story about them. The travelers later used the press clipping as a way to score meals and other favors with locals along the way.
Unable to get a boat to Easter Island as they intended, they headed north, where El Che’s political consciousness began to stir as he, La Poderosa and Granado (El Che’s Friend) moved into mining country. They visited Chuquicamata copper mine, the world's largest open-pit mine and the primary source of Chile's wealth. While getting a tour of the mine he asked how many men died in its creation. At the time it was run by U.S. mining monopolies of Anaconda and Kennecott and thus was viewed by many as a symbol of "imperialist gringo domination". A meeting with a homeless communist couple in search of mining work made a particularly strong impression on El Che, who wrote: "By the light of the single candle ... the contracted features of the worker gave off a mysterious and tragic air ... the couple, frozen stiff in the desert night, hugging one another, were a live representation of the proletariat of any part of the world,"

In reference to the oppression against the Communist party in Chile, which at the time was outlawed, El Che said: "It's a great pity, that they repress people like this. Apart from whether collectivism, the ‘communist vermin,’ is a danger to decent life, the communism gnawing at his entrails was no more than a natural longing for something better, a protest against persistent hunger transformed into a love for this strange doctrine, whose essence he could never grasp but whose translation, 'bread for the poor,' was something he understood and, more importantly, that filled him with hope. Needless to say, workers at Chuquicamata were in a living Hell."

In Peru, El Che was impressed by the old Inca civilization, forced to ride in trucks with Indians and animals after La Poderosa, "The Mighty One" broke down. As a result he begins to develop a fraternity with the indigenous campesinos. In March 1952 they arrived at the Peruvian Tacna. After a discussion about the poverty in the region, Guevara refers in his notes to the words of Cuban poet José Marti: "I want to link my destiny to that of the poor of this world." In May they arrived in Lima, Peru and during this time El Che met doctor Hugo Pesce, a Peruvian scientist, director of the national leprosy program, and an important local Marxist. They discuss several nights until the early morning and years later El Che identified these conversations as being very important for his evolution in attitude towards life and society.

In May, El Che and Granado leave for the leper colony of San Pablo in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, arriving there in June. During his stay El Che complains about the miserable way the people and sick of that region have to live. He also swam once from the side of the Amazon River where the doctors stayed, to the other side of the river where the leper patients lived, a considerable distance of two and a half miles. He describes how there were no clothes, almost no food, and no medication. However, El Che was moved by his time with the lepers, remarking that, "All the love and caring just consist on coming to them without gloves and medical attire, shaking their hands as any other neighbor and sitting together for a chat about anything or playing football with them."

After giving consultations and treating patients for a few weeks, El Che and Granado leave aboard the Mambo-Tango raft for Leticia, Colombia via the Amazon River.
While visiting Bogotá, Colombia, he wrote a letter to his mother on July 6, 1952. In the letter he describes the conditions under the government of Laureano Gómez as the following: "There is more repression of individual freedom here than in any country we've been to, the police patrol the streets carrying rifles and demand your papers every few minutes." He also goes on to describe the atmosphere was "tense" and "suffocating" even hypothesizing that "a revolution may be brewing." Guevara was correct in his prognostication, as a military coup in 1953 would take place, bringing General Gustavo Rojas to power.
Later that month Guevara arrived in Caracas, Venezuela and from there decides to return back to Buenos Aires to finish his studies in medical science. However, prior to his return, he travels by cargo-plane to Miami, where the airplane's technical problems delay him one month. To survive, he works as a waiter and washes dishes in a Miami bar.
Although he admits throughout that as a Vagabond traveler he can only see things at surface level, he does attempt to delve beneath the sheen of the places he visits. On one occasion he goes to see a woman dying of tuberculosis, leaving appalled by the failings of the public health system. This experience leads him to ruminate the following reflection: "How long this present order, based on the absurd idea of caste, will last is not within my means to answer, but it's time that those who govern spent less time publicizing their own virtues and more money, much more money, funding socially useful works."
Witnessing the widespread endemic poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement throughout Latin America, and influenced by his readings of Marxist literature, Guevara later decided that the only solution for the region's structural inequalities was armed revolution. His travels and readings throughout this journey also lead him to view Latin America not as a group of separate nations, but as a single entity requiring a continent-wide strategy for liberation from what he viewed as imperialist and neo-colonial domination. His conception of a borderless, united, Hispanic-America sharing a common 'mestizo' bond, was a theme that would prominently recur during his later activities and transformation from Ernesto the traveler, into Che Guevara the iconic revolutionary.
The book ends with a declaration by El Che, displaying his willingness to fight and die for the cause of the poor, and his dream of seeing a united Latin America.

"This isn't a tale of derring-do, nor is it merely some kind of 'cynical account'; it isn't meant to be, at least. It's a chunk of two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams. In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup – in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach. And if, at the same time, he's a bit of an adventurer, he could have experiences which might interest other people and his random account would read something like this diary."

— Diary introduction

Doubtless this ride become a major factor of developement and revolution for a large group of people.  But after reading it, do you find that it just isn’t the most impactful ride you can think of?  Is it not the ride you might expect?  Tell us why and what you thought about it at

Information for this article provided by Wikipedia and may be found HERE.

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