of all nights, Ernesto wants to be with the peopleand he will swim across the Amazon to make that happen, even as Granado and the horrified staff beg him not to. In the end, all goes well, and staff and patients send the two on their way with a gift: a river raft called the Mambo-Tango in honor of the tone-deaf Guevara’s chronic inability to distinguish between the two dances. Although Salles and Rivera take a few liberties with the scene, the Mambo-Tango was very real; photographs appear in both The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey and Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary, by Guevara and Granado, respectively. As to the Amazon swim, both books, which were published years after Che’s death, describe a swim that took place several days after the birthday festivities, and which the young Guevara apparently did for the same reason that he did many things that involved extreme physical activity: just to prove that he could. At the end of the trip, Guevara was indeed changed, but he was not yet Che. It would take a second trip for that to happen. Starting in Buenos Aires, and traveling by train to Bolivia, he intended to return to Caracas and meet up with Granado. But along the way he met an Argentine lawyer who convinced him to go to Guatemala, where a “real social revolution” was occurring under the leadership of Jacobo Arbenz. Guevara was in Guatemala when Arbenz was deposed by a CIA-supported coupan event that has had profound repercussions on Latin America to this day. After holding out in the Argentine Embassy in Guatemala for a while, he eventually fled to Mexico City. There he met up with Fidel Castro, boarded the Granma, sailed to Cuba, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1967 he set off for Bolivia and what would prove to be a doomed attempt to lead a peasant revolution. As the year wore on, a massive force of Bolivian troops and U.S. advisors closed in on his ever-diminishing band and on October 8, he was wounded and cap tured by the Bolivian government. The following day he was executed. His body was laid out on a slab, his hair and beard trimmed. The press was brought in and a photograph was taken of the 39-yearold emaciat.!,1 Che Guevara. His eyes wide open, he appears as a Pieta, without the Virgin Mary. Among the items discovered in his backpack was a poem by the Spanish poet Leon Felipe: Christ: I love you, not because you came down from a star, but because you showed me the light. You taught me that man is God, a poor God in sin like You… Today there is an attempt to turn La Higuera, the desolate village where Guevara was captured, into the final stop on the “Ruta Che” tourist trail. But enough about death and idola try. The man and the myth are far too complex to talk about here. As to the strength of The Motorcycle Diaries, it’s quite simple: It’s the indescribable beauty of the place itselfthe crystalline waters of Southern Argentina, the vast Atacama desert, Machu Picchu, Cuzco, the Amazon. And there is one other thing: So many traveler’s stories about Latin Americathink Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwinbegin in the North and end in the South. The Motorcycle Diaries tries to turn that around. And in the process, it should remind us that the greatest Latin American epic today is the one that is written by each individual migrant, those who travel not to get to know America in the largest and most profound sense of the wordas Guevara and Granado did so long ago. But because they have to. 12/17/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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