Ernesto's diaries of the legendary trip, which began in December 1951, are held in the Ché Guevara Studies Center of Havana, Cuba, and were first published in English in 1993, as 'The Motorcycle Diaries' (the film of the same name is mostly based on Granado's book 'Con el Ché por Sudamerica'). He had never intended them for publication, but did amend his notes in later years, adding insights and commentary (Guevara published many other books, about politics, guerilla warfare, and his failed campaigns in Congo and Bolivia). At 23, Ernesto was still in medical school in 1951, and took a year's hiatus with his friend Alberto, 29, a biochemist specializing in Leprosy studies, to trek from Buenos Aires, down the Atlantic coast of Argentina, across the pampas, through the Andes and into Chile, north to Peru and Colombia, ending in Caracas - an 8,000 mile journey, which took 9 months. As they were travelling nearly broke and unknown, their local hosts were invariably poor, and exploited by Political and Economic forces at play in South America at the time. Guevara was moved by the local's situation; their stories fermented within him, and with a dash of Marxist political analysis added to the mix, was born 'Ché' (slang for 'dude') the Revolutionary.
This wasn't Ernesto's first long trek though - it's little known that he had already made a 2,800mile trip around the north of Argentina on a motorized bicycle in 1948 (see pic below), from Buenos Aires to Cordoba, where Alberto Granado ran a medical dispensary for the Leper colony - this brilliant asthmatic was bitten hard by the motorcycle bug.
Famously, the motorcycle used for the 1951-2 trip was La Poderosa II ('the mighty one'), a rather unreliable beast, which bore the two young men plus their gear over the rough South American roads of the day.
They experienced numerous breakdowns and troubles, which of course meant lots of contact with the locals (as anyone who's ridden long-distance and found trouble can attest).
Near Santiago, Chile, the front brake cable lost it's ferrule when sorely needed on a downhill slope, and the Norton was damaged beyond repair. The travelers hitchhiked, boated, rafted (see pic below), rode horses, and walked their way to Venzuela, where Alberto was slated to work at a Leper colony. Ernesto continued his travels north to Miami, then returned to Argentina to finish his medical studies in 1954, and the rest of his life as Ché can be found on a t-shirt near you.
Given the, shall we say, less than glorious example of the original 'Motorcycle Diaries' as regards the Norton, it's a purely romantic gesture that Pete and Steve have chosen to retrace the same route, but they're taking two identical Norton Model 18s, which is kind of cheating, but sensible. It took months to actually find the Nortons they were looking for - the blog entries are amusing as they discover the difficulty of finding a very particular old bike; once they'd found one, the other appeared immediately. Which fits with my Theory of Vintage Relativity - "after purchasing a long-sought motorcycle, you will be offered another one within 30 days". Of course, the corrolary is, "the likelihood of buying the second one is 80%." In the meantime, as they wanted the original 'look' of the Guevara bike, they sought to change telescopic forks for girders etc, as one of the machines was a 1950 model with plungers, and encountered ebay scammers, plus other entertaining hurdles. Such as this day (July 18, 2008):
"What is it with these old Nortons. Every time you want to go anywhere you seem to have to get the spanners out before you can get on your way! Today I was just planning on a quick joyride round the Island. As I kicked the bike over it backfired a couple of times but didn't start. After that it refused to even try to start. As I looked down to find the 'tickler' on the carb, I realised the whole carb had disappeared!"
All of this fun preparing and planning took nearly a year, which isn't bad considering the task at hand.
They have been in South America for the past few weeks, and posting their own 'motorcycle diary', which is of course a blog, Revolution-Road. They are also keeping a website (RevolutionRoad.com) with photos from the journey, and a progress map to keep track of the trip. Pete has this to say: