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Che Guevara's first journey on a motorized bicycle

This article is about Che Guevara’s solo trip across central and northern Argentina on a motorized bicycle, covering a distance of approximately 4,000 miles. It ignited a stronger passion within the heart of the young explorer and unfolded new horizons for him. This marked only the commencement of his unfolding journey.

From early childhood, Ernesto "Che" Guevara loved to travel. His father wrote that with time he came to understand that "his obsession with traveling was just another part of his zeal for learning" (Guevara 1995:2). Ernesto's first noteworthy journey on his own took place in 1950 when he toured all of central and northern Argentina on a motorized bicycle - a trip of some 4,000 miles (Gambini 1968:22). At the time, he was 21 and a medical student at the University of Buenos Aires. It was a bicycle on which he had installed a small engine.


During his journey, he stopped in Córdoba to visit his friends Tomás and Alberto Granado. Alberto was conducting research on lepers at a leprosarium near San Francisco del Chañar, and because Ernesto was intrigued by Alberto’s research, he spent several days with Alberto at the leprosarium.


Che Guevara setting out on a 2,800 mile solo motorbike trip through the Argentine Northwest in 1950

From there, he headed north and encountered an interesting assortment of hobos, vagabonds, seasonal workers, poor indigenous inhabitants, and other socially marginalized people. He often stayed overnight in police stations and provincial hospitals, asking if he could sleep in vacant jail cells or empty hospital beds. As a result, "for the first time in his adult life, Ernesto witnessed the harsh duality of his country by crossing the divide from its transported European culture, which was also his culture, and...its ignored, backward, indigenous heartland" (Anderson 1997:63).


Guevara relied upon the hospitality of strangers, a pattern that continued in his later travels with Granado. For example, after a puncture, he flagged down a lorry to take him to his next destination. In another instance, in Loreto, he sought hospitality from a local police officer when he had nowhere to stay. The trip influenced Guevara's style of traveling, as seen in the Motorcycle Diaries. For the young Guevara, the journey was an education.


The motorized bicycle now at a Che museum in Alta Gracia, Argentina

Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Ernesto took the motorbike back to the store where he bought it for reconditioning. When the store owner learned the details of the trip, he was astounded and asked Ernesto to provide a letter attesting to his fantastic journey using that particular brand of motorbike. This letter, along with a picture of Ernesto sitting on his motorbike, was published in a local sports magazine as an advertisement for that type of motorbike (Taibo 1996:35). They claimed it was very sturdy, given that Guevara had completed such a long tour using its power.

The success of his Argentinian travels sparked in him a desire to explore the world more attentively and initiated the planning of new travel adventures.



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