La Poderosa II
La Poderosa II, as it is exhibited in the Che Guevara museum in Alta Gracia (Argentina), this motorcycle is a replica since the original was abandoned in Santiago de Chile, it is reasonable to imagine that it lacks props, a second seat for example, that would make the trip possible with 2 occupants ("Che" and Alberto) plus essential travel material!
Diarios de Motocicleta (in English: The Motorcycle Diaries) is a book of travel notes by Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) in which a motorcycle, which “Che” nicknamed La Poderosa II, has the protagonism of having been the vehicle that transported him through adventures that assume the importance of being, in large part, responsible for the ideological formation of “Che”.
Initially, in January 1950, while he was a medical student - since 1948, at the University of Buenos Aires -, “Che” undertook a 4,500 km journey through the northern provinces of Argentina to San Francisco del Chañar (near Córdoba) where he he met his friend Alberto Granado, who ran a leprosy sanatorium there. As a vehicle, he used a bicycle, which he equipped with a small engine for this purpose.
The vehicle that "Che" Guevara used on his first big trip, left in action e. right at the Che Guevara museum in Alta Gracia (Argentina) - photo by Niels Elgaard Larsen
The first intention of the trip was scientific as it would allow him to have contact with doctors and patients along the way, yet it resulted in a life experience of great importance for his training. The difficulties inherent to the length of the route and the scarcity of resources at his disposal put him in contact with the harsh social reality that he was able to perceive, and the help that the solidarity and hospitality of the people he came across gave him, they awakened him to embody the myth he later became. Completing this difficult journey opened his appetite to get to know the world. The sports periodical El Gráfico published a photo of “Che” with his motorized bicycle, giving visibility to the feat and, curiously, publicity that the engine manufacturing company used.
Also, during his academic career, he worked as a nurse on oil tankers, which allowed him to broaden his horizons as he sailed between the south of Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Trinidad.
On January 4, 1952, together with his friend Alberto Granado (1922-2011), they undertook a journey they had dreamed of for years: crossing South America on a motorcycle. For this purpose, they used a 1939 NORTON 500cc that was owned by Granado. By metaphorical comparison to the horse of Don Quixote, the Rocinante, they christened the motorcycle La Poderosa II.
NORTON 500cc from 1939 in collectible condition
Alberto and Che with the original motorcycle
The objective was to cover the entire continent, starting from San Francisco in the south of Argentina until reaching the United States of America, a total of 12,000 km and 7 months of travel planned. The bike would have to carry the two adventurers and all the paraphernalia they thought was necessary: blankets, clothes, kitchen utensils and even shovels and pickaxes! The idea was to cross the coast of Chile through the Atacama Desert, after 7 months of travel, in Santiago de Chile, La Poderosa II, after having endured falls, snow crossings and the wear and tear of the harsh travel conditions, he gave his soul to the creator and, from there, the two adventurers managed as best they could to fulfill the demand, working in small jobs or practicing their medical arts, managing to subsist and progress with difficulty. In contact with the very harsh social and working conditions they had to deal with, “Che” was convinced that his mission would be to fight for his ideals to the detriment of medicine, even though, due to family insistence, he had finished his academic training. Later, both protagonists, followed the path of political activism, both Argentines, headed to Cuba where they were figures of the regime, “Che” had the tragic end that is public and Alberto founded the University of Santiago de Cuba (School of Medicine), the rest is 20th century history and it doesn't have motorcycles, so it's not up to us to deal with it here.
Diarios de Motocicleta, the book and the movie
Covers from different editions of the book
Despite some opposition from “Che's” family, the compilation Diarios de Motocicleta was first published in 1993 in Cuba and, later, with the consent of many people, including Fidel Castro, Ocean Press published, with the preface of his daughter , Aleida Guevara, in 2003, The Motorcycle Diaries.
Movie poster The Motorcycle Diaries
This adventure has been much explored in cinema:
in 2004, directed by Walter Salles: The Motorcycle Diaries (126min);
in 2004, directed by Gianni Mina: documentary (110 min);
in 2007, National Geographic Adventure, produced a series of 10 episodes: Chasing Che;
in 2008, directed by Steven Soderbergh and as protagonist Benicio del Toro: Che (268min)
Movie trailer The Motorcycle Diaries