The Motorcycle Diaries

The open road. Two tracks in the dirt, disappearing into the horizon. A heart, taut with anticipation …

Whether your road is surrounded by the grasses of the Argentinian pampas, the snows of a Himalayan pass, or the flat, barrenness of the Mongolian steppes, the image evokes the discomfiting hyperalertness that makes you see more sharply, feel more deeply, become more a-w-a-r-e …

The constant movement – the going from here to there. Dust-kicking shepherds moving their animals to market. Solitary figures in the bush appearing from nowhere and seemingly going to nowhere. The erect bearing of the flat-lander; the tilting forward of the alpine dweller.

Travel…

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is a perfect movie – entertaining, beautifully shot, acted, and scored, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, inspiring; a road movie, a buddy movie, a “service” movie; a movie of self-discovery. It chronicles the journey of 23-year old Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna, a medical student, and his friend, Alberto Granado, a biochemist, from Buenos Aires, Argentina (through Chile, Peru and Columbia) to Caracas, Venezuela, on “The Mighty One”, a leaking 1939 Norton motorcycle. Guevara’s “Motorcycle Diaries” is not a travel journal, like Granado’s “Travelling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary” (both key documents on which the movie is based), but a memoir, written several years later, of the events that shaped Guevara’s destiny.

I’ll leave you now, with myself, the man I used to be… Ernesto Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is also the perfect movie to see before you embark on your own journey, as Mark and I are doing this Friday for a two-month trip to Southern India. The movie has made me realize that I need to reframe my expectations for this trip. In the short period of time that we have, it will be difficult for us to be fully engaged as travelers.

“Are you looking for work?” asks an Amerindian woman, traveling with her husband to the Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile to look for work after they have been forced off their land. “No” reply Guevara and Granado. “Then why are you traveling?” she asks. Finally, Guevara replies: “I travel to travel.” The woman and her husband exchange an unbelieving look.

Mark and I are fond of saying: “We are great travelers, but really bad tourists.” What does that mean? To me, to be a traveler means to participate, not merely observe. Everywhere we go in rural India, we see postcard images. Of brightly-saried women carrying pots of water on their heads (we’d prefer them to be copper or clay, thank you very much, not plastic, nevermind that they are heavier). Of women bent over picking tea leaves amidst undulating bushes of green. Of men pushing bicycles laden impossibly high. Beautiful pictures … typical pictures … pictures of poverty. In urban India, the images are starker, grey and black. We look, but not too closely … and we move on.

How do we engage? Not directly with the people, but with the NGOs that serve them. On this trip, we will concentrate on telling their stories.

Let the world change you… and you can change the world – tagline of “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

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