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9th September 2004 2004

Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes

"OK, so Che was a better revolutionary than a writer. For a guy who didn't quite make his 40th birthday he sure covered a lot of ground." Ozboy reveiws another Che Guevara book...

Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes - From AmazonLet's hope the new Che Guevara movie is an improvement on Warner Bros '69 effort with Omar Sharif as Che, and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro.

Rowena may only have got a third of the way through Che's 'Motorcycle Diaries' but the 1954 second volume 'Back on the Road' is almost impenetrable. OK, so Che was a better revolutionary than a writer. For a guy who didn't quite make his 40th birthday he sure covered a lot of ground.

Almost 50 years after Che's trip, author Patrick Symmes sets out on his 12 year old BMW to explore the legend and recreate the journey Che made (started...) on his '39 Norton. You may agree with Patrick's choice of mount though perhaps not with his assertion that Nortons are famous for their oil leaks!

The book is true to its title. The author is 'chasing Che', the REAL Che, rather than simply out for adventure on two wheels. Yet Patrick and his blue and orange R80G/S certainly have their share of 'moments', traveling 10,000km in four months through the demanding landscapes of the Americas.

He survives mad dogs, bad fuel, puncture and plug problems, bandits and the various 'authorities'. Wading through the Che 'industry' of T-shirts, fridge magnets, mud-flaps(?), beer, skis, et al, Patrick's connection with local people sheds light on the man behind the myth. This is where the story becomes engrossing. There's a memorable encounter with Che's original riding companion Alberto Granado and a rather large quantity of a certain beverage.

Did you know Alberto also kept a diary of the trip? He was already a committed marxist and his raw day-to-day account contrasts starkly with Che's more poetic and polished 'Notas de Viaje' (Notes of a trip). That the two men differ over several incidents makes for an intriguing read.

Patrick invokes the spirit of the original journey well, you feel you're right there with Che, searching for....what? Inspiration, adventure, a solution to the world's problems? You also feel close to the poverty, the social and government dysfunction, and the warm friendly welcome of the people along the road.

The author is a travel writer and foreign correspondent with a special interest in South America. The book is part travelogue and part biography, with some interesting history and a dash of humour. Politics creeps in here and there, but then so do the Welsh, the Nazis and Darwin. First published in 2000 by Robinson, I'd recommend it as a bargain or secondhand buy to drop into your saddlebag, or for when the shed heater has packed up and your fingers can barely do anything other than turn a page. It captures the enduring attraction of the simple life on the road, the voyage of discovery.

Finally, the cover pic! It certainly doesn't remind me of a '39 Norton or any BMW. Maybe Frank will stand a pint at his local for the first member to identify it convincingly... (or maybe not).


Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes

  • Published by Constable and Robinson, ISBN 1841192910
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