The motorcycles diaries of a Blackburn man following Che Guevara's tyre tracks
PUBLISHED: 01:16 03 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:49 20 February 2013
Stephen Holmes from Blackburn explains why he and a friend followed in the tyre-tracks of Che Guevara on a 5,000-mile trip through South America and wrote their own motorcycle diary
Che Guevaras journey through Latin America on a 500 Norton in 1952 is one of the most famous and, arguably, most important motorcycle trips of all time. What he saw on his travels led him to become one of the key figures of the Cuban Revolution and one of the greatest icons of the 20th century.
His epic trip, alongside his friend Alberto Granado, has been the subject of both a best-selling book and a major movie, both called The Motorcycle Diaries. Having been written off beyond repair after countless crashes, Guevaras Norton never made it all the way and he had to complete his 5,000 mile journey by other means. Only in 2009, 57 years later, has Guevaras original route been followed and completed faithfully by two men from Lancashire.
The trip came about after I met my old friend Pete Sandford, who is originally from West Bradford near Clitheroe, for the first time in nearly 30 years at a re-union dinner. The conversation flowed and we thought it would be fun to replicate Guevaras trip and actually complete it on two wheels.
To recreate the journey we would have to travel through Argentina, Patagonia, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela and contend with some of the most amazing environments on earth along the way, including the Atacama Desert and the mighty Amazon River. And if that wasnt going to be tough enough, we decided not to make the trip on modern mile bikes, but on authentic Nortons exactly the same as Ches.
We flew to Buenos Aires in January, 2009, and the journey began from the site of Guevaras original family home at Calle Araoz.
To Infinity and Beyond chronicles our journey to understand what it was that changed Che Guevara from being a young aspiring Argentinian doctor into a revolutionary freedom fighter. The endemic poverty of Latin America and the hospitality the locals showed to us touched us both deeply.
We slept rough on many occasions, including in the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert. I found the experience of riding through it quite overwhelming and wrote in my diary at the time: This place will live with me for the rest of my life, I have never known anywhere so remote, so bleak, so strange or so cut off from the rest of the world. Its sheer beauty cannot help but capture your mind, your soul and your heart. It is a beautiful remote wilderness.
After passing through Argentina, we headed over the Andes and north through Chile towards Peru, where the vast mountain range peaked at over 15,000 feet and brought an added danger of altitude sickness and mudslides as the rainy season in Peru took hold.
At one stage it took over two-and-a-half hours to cover just 38 miles. For me, this was the lowest point of the entire journey. We were at 15,000 feet, wet through in freezing temperatures with sheer drops on either side of us and with no headlights. At one point Pete disappeared into a six foot ravine. If it had been at the other side of the winding mountain road he would have died. I didnt think we were going to make it down that mountain. It took us hours and we both were suffering mild hypothermia by the time we got down.
After sailing down the Amazon and entering Colombia, we came across a different type of danger, FARC guerrillas who run the Colombian drug cartels and are infamous for kidnappings western travellers.
We finally headed for Venezuela and the end of the trip. Amazingly the bikes were still holding together and at the journeys end Pete noted how very little had changed in the Latin American countries since Guevara and Granado had made their trip. Despite the people being impoverished, they always seem to be smiling.
About the author
Stephen Holmes is a 52-year-old HGV driver who lives in Blackburn with his wife Mandie. The father-of-two is an ex-pupil of Billinge High School and a former cathedral chorister.
Pete Sandford now lives in Hampshire but was brought up in West Bradford, Clitheroe and attended QEGS in Blackburn.
The pair first met in Ribchester and formed a Punk band called Demolition who once supported Bob Geldofs Boomtown Rats.