Wherever you go in Latin America, you see the face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on t-shirts and murals. Since the fall of the military dictatorships and civil wars throughout the continent, hostels and cafés tout this alluring 20th century revolutionary.
Interest in the mythical Che Guevara rose with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie that chronicled his journey from his homeland Argentina to Venezuela with childhood friend Alberto Granado. It’s a tale many travelers can relate to: Leaving for the open road to see what is there, and discovering how journeying transforms one within.
Che Guevara’s trip, though, was much more than a ride an old Norton bike engraved on DVDs. It was a real live journey, from birth to death. V!VA’s Travel Guides for Argentina and Bolivia can lead you in the footsteps of Che Guevara.
Che Guevara was born quite by accident in Rosario, Argentina. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, were en route to Buenos Aires by river from their yerba mate homestead in Misiones Province. By the time the boat reached Rosario’s port, Celia was in labor.
In Caraguatay, near Montecarlo in Misiones Province, the family’s homestead is now Parque Provincial Che Guevara. Rosario, which has embraced Che as its native son, has several sites related to his life. The casa natal, where his parents lived several months after his birth, stands at Urquiza and Entre Ríos. A few blocks away is Plaza de la Cooperación with a mural to him (Tucumán and Mitre). Plaza y Monumento al Che Guevara (Buenos Aires and Bulevar 27 de Febrero) has an imposing statue of the revolutionary.
The Guevara-de la Serna family spent most of Che’s childhood in Altagracia, near Córdoba. One of their homes is now Museo del Che Guevara. The galpón (warehouse) where Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado spent the night during their epic Motorcycle Diaries journey is now Museo La Pastera, in San Martín de los Andes (Sarmiento and R. Roca, Tel: 02972-411-994, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, URL: www.lapastera.org.ar). For more information about the roads Che traveled in his homeland, visit www.loscaminosdelche.gov.ar.
Che Guevara began his life in Argentina, but ended it in neighboring Bolivia on October 9, 1967. In the eastern part of that country is the 800-kilometer (500-mile) Ruta del Che, which traces the steps of the last revolutionary army he led. In villages along the route are museums composed of displays with information culled from the revolutionaries’ diaries, as well as from Bolivian military documents and newspaper articles of the era. In Lagunillas is the Museo de Ñancahuazú and in Vallegrande, the Museo Municipal del Che Guevara.
Many of the sites associated with his last days are in La Higuera, where a large bust truncates the only road through town. Locals will offer to take you down to Quebrada del Churo, where Che was captured. In the village is the old two-room schoolhouse where he was executed. It is now a modest museum. The story ends in Vallegrande. At the laundry shed of the public hospital, the revolutionary’s body was displayed to the international press. Today, the building is covered with the messages from the thousands of pilgrims who have come over the decades. Near the airport is a memorial near the mass grave where Che and other guerrillas were secretly buried for over three decades.
Tour operators in Santa Cruz offer three-day excursions on the route, usually visiting Samaipata, Vallegrande and La Higuera. The Ruta del Che may also be trekked. Community-run lodging and local guides are available along the entire route.