Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend

Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara LegendEveryone has heard the popular phrase, Never judge a person until you ve walked a mile in their shoes Well, many people throughout history have judged those gone before us, especially those who went on to change the course of history Ernesto Che Guevara Jr was one of those people After growing up in Argentina, he took a soon to be famous motorcycle journey with his friend and compatriot, Alberto Granado, into the deep plains and undeveloped areas of Latin America During that journey he witnesses abject poverty and suffering of the indigenous people By the time he returned, seeds of political and revolutionary discourse were germinating in his soul and they would very soon sprout and give rise to the man everyone came to know only as Che Even years after his execution by a one man firing squad, scholars and modern day revolutionaries alike have attempted to explain and understand who the man was, but very few of them remembered that famous parable above, and those who did remember, didn t take it to heart like Patrick Symmes.Chasing Che is a documentary tale of travel, both physical and intellectual, that follows Symmes as he saddles up on his own motorcycle one a little modern than Granado s jalopy and attempts to follow the exact route those two fellow travelers ventured upon so many years before Symmes even attempts to limit any and all creature comforts to match whatever Ernesto and Alberto had during their original journey There are new obstacles, to be sure, and detours must be made, but when they do arise, Symmes rolls with the punches and finds himself transformed into the same road weathered traveler he is following years behind.There are many great qualities about this travel journal, but foremost among those is Symmes dedication to the quest At numerous points he could have taken a lighter path, called for help or equipment or turned back towards friendly locales, but he continually pushed through in search of the same physical places and people that Guevara and Granado touched on their way through On than one occasion, Symmes found himself in conversations of broken Spanish with heavily armed men some government soldiers, while others were guerrilla warriors still trying to live out some of the mantras Che left behind One wrong move could ve landed him in a South American jail or worse, disappeared like many opponents of the various controlling regimes Yet, I believe his saving grace through this was he not going after an ideology, he was going after a man He made no proposition to learn, live and spread the teachings of Che Instead what he was after was the true history of the man, good or evil, who would later become Che and change the face of global politics That objectivity and balance allowed him access through gates many others would have failed to pass.Two things struck me during the book First, Symmes continually mentioned the inherent charity of the indigenous people with whom he crossed paths Time after time he would ride up on his motorcycle, kill the engine a good distance away from a small shanty home and clap his hands twice to signal that he was friendly and approaching the house He would almost always find the family willing to give him a small piece of floor to sleep on, or at the very least against the side of the house, and possibly food if they had enough to spread around The following mornings, many of his new found landlords would refuse to accept payment, just seeming like it was their duty to help fellow travelers which many of them are as well considering the great distances between villages and homes Secondly, Symmes went in the end of his journey to the source, at least, one of the sources Alberto Granado Still living reasonably off his notoriety as Che s wandering partner, Granado granted an illuminating interview and insight into those dusty days on the trail Symmes had both of Granado s and Guevara s original diaries from the trip and he pointed out many of the disparate descriptions of places and actions between them, one moment standing out in particular where Granado and Guevara both credit the other for the heroic rescue of a small kitten What came from that discovery was that the journey represented different transformations for each traveler As for the kitten, Granado admitted to laying the heroic banner on Che because he was the one destined for it.Another factor I found interesting is Symmes was on his travels during the exact same time the government and others were in a desperate search to exhume Che s body from the hidden dumping ground the Bolivian soldiers left him in Another writer, Jon Lee Anderson wrote a book entitled, Che Guevara A Revolutionary Life which I have also read and highly recommend , and in his research for that book he interviewed and received confessions from the very people responsible for hiding Che s body It had been many years since the action, so the location information was not entirely specific, but both books ended up tying together in the same place and moment, which made for even interesting reading.For those interested in learning about the man behind the mythology and who that is staring back from the hipsters t shirts and messenger bags, you could do far worse than starting here As I said earlier, Anderson s book is another great find, but a much thicker and in depth read. In , Year Old Ernesto Guevara Left His Native Argentina To Motorcycle The Back Roads Of South America Eight Months Later, Ernesto Returned Transformed Into Che The Revolutionary His Account Of That Journey, Motorcycle Diaries, Has Become A Classic I recently read The Motorcycle Diaries Notes on a Latin American Journey, a few years after purchasing this book Reading Che Guevara s own words about his journey through South America gave just the right amount of context for Patrick Symmes s own travel experience, following Che and his traveling companion s footsteps almost 45 years later on a German built motorcycle.Symmes opines a lot on Che s legacy, and although he s sympathetic, he s not a dyed in the wool Marxist fangirl He allows a lot of necessary criticism of Che s legacy as well as his actions in life He is perfectly frank dealing with Che s egoism, which helped fuel his downfall, and with Che s unrealistic idealism, which definitely did.Most of the book, however, is Symmes s own journey He encounters fewer personal travails than Che, but has his share of harrowing experiences I found his tangential account of meeting Shining Path guerrillas in a Peruvian prison to be fascinating and eye opening He blends history with first person chronicling and does a pretty good job at it He is poetic in many places describing the landscape, and his journalistic insight allows him to go into great detail over many of the problems of Latin America Very enjoyable book. De Toqueville s journey has had a number of replications, the best of which I am aware is American Journey Traveling With Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America by Richard Reeves There are also many retracements for Lewis and Clark, discoverers voyages and aspects of the US westward migration I know of one attempt for China s Long March The Long March The True History of Communist China s Founding Myth.Symmes, unlike other replicators, uses the transportation mode of his subject Because of this he can better understand Che s exposure to the elements, dependence on fuel availability, dependence on improvised mechanical repairs, altitude changes and physiological reactions to irregular meals and food of questionable origin.While Reeves could only seek out counterparts of de Toqueville s acquaintances and interviewees, Symmes could and did meet some of the principals of Che s journey Early in his trip he meets Che s first fiancee and at the end he meets Che s traveling companion, Alberto Granado These are good reports, but the reader can hunger for It s notable, in today s competitive world, for a journalist to show discretion, but hopefully, Symme s full interviews and impressions will be available to later scholars Symmes, is fluent in Spanish and knowledgeable in Latin American history and culture His ability to connect with so many diverse Spanish speaking people gives him unique ability to interpret Che and his times for English speaking and culturally oriented readers.I came to this book from having read Symmes recent The Boys from Dolores Fidel Castro s Schoolmates from Revolution to Exile While that book could be faulted for an undisciplined focus, it can t be faulted for scope, perspective or the perceived authority of the author.Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Che was limited to his iconography I knew he was a doctor, the inspiration for a movie The Motorcycle Diaries about this trip and a participant in various uprisings revolutions This book amplifies his dubious position as an icon Perhaps later books will explore the why he did what he did. This is a well written book I read it first because it is an on the road and motorcycle diaries book combining my 2 favourite shelves As road tale it stands alone on it s merits Lots of adventure and mishappery, over interesting geography and described with a pro s skill.His travels were driven by the focus of Che s original wandering both literally and figuratively I understand that Symmes had made a name on Latin American politics by he had clearly done quite a bit of Che Granado research to prepare for the trek On the route, he was tenacious at ferreting out the people and places on his hidden hit list for the trip He knit his contemporary events, and personal political ruminations with the landmarks, events etc from the Che Granado diaries of the original The bonehead who opined here on Goodreads, that Patrick Symmes fails to intertwine his story with Che s and thus recounts two parallel stories is just plain wrong.Most of the Symmes effort I found interesting and entertaining, even though I didn t always agree I found his explorations of the political contexts also interesting, and he seemed genuinely trying to explore how this landscape and it s peoples transformed Ernesto into Che I didn t feel he was trying to ram his or any view at the reader his cynicism and self importance get in the way of his mission and grate on the reader from another silly commenter is unfair.I did feel that his political cynicism comes from an overtly American perspective and my cynicism comes from a decidedly different angle Canadian To me it was most evident in the final pages of the book where he is in Cuba for the repatriation of Che s bones His Yankee centric amusement with the obvious contradictions of modern Cuban politics is especially amusing to me as I read these passages on the 12th anniversary of that day in New York, amid all the many contradictory messages emanating out of America. Perfect book to read while on a road trip through Patagonia and after reading Motorcycle Diaries Symmes, Che and I drove almost exactly the same route trough South America though I went further south and Che went further east into Venezuela and Symmes, batting clean up after Che came though, recounts the social changes in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia that were the result or were influenced by Che and other socialist leftist revolutions in the middle of the 20th century Symmes does a great job describing the history and providing a lens through which to understand the current social structure and conditions of the countries he visits I don t think I ve ever said these words here, but I highly recommend this book for anyone who is planning a trip to South America Fortunately for the people in the countries described, the social unrest, revolts and instability has largely gone the way of extreme leftist politics, but the echo is there And you can t understand the echo without understanding from whence it came. I had to read this for a Latin American culture class in college and thought I was at risk of being bored out of my mind While certain parts of this book certainly could have been moved along a little faster, it is extremely interesting how the author helps us understand the Che Guevara legend while at the same time showing us the journey he went through that made him who he was We see Latin America a large portion of South America through new eyes and get a glimpse into its culture that is unique My only regret is that I was stupid enough to sell it back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. One of my favorite travel writers on an interesting motorcycle journey through South America Symmes is a great writer and is especially insightful into the Latin psyche Some serious flashes of brilliance in the prose and the notion of following Che s motorcycle trip is a great narrative device It s also nice to get a sense of Che as a young man I didn t read The Motorcycle Diaries on which this is based before he became the revolutionary. I found this book interesting, but not necessarily engaging He is a good writer and I assume a decent journalist But there is something that stopped me getting really enthralled into the book Perhaps it is just that I have never had a huge interest in South American political history and you may need that to fully appreciate this It did give me an interesting insight to the people of South America and their unwavering hospitality to a broke gringo on a motorcycle and those were the parts I enjoyed the most. I loved the description and the narrative However, the book got way too slow halfway through.

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  • Paperback
  • Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend
  • Patrick Symmes
  • English
  • 28 August 2017
  • 9781841192918

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