Alberto Granado, Che Guevara's motorcycle companion, dies at 88

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 11:00 PM

Alberto Granado, an Argentine whose 1952 journey across South America with his friend Ernesto "Che" Guevara began as a youthful adventure but turned into a political awakening that helped make Guevara a leftist radical and an icon of revolution, died March 5 in Cuba. He was 88.

Cuban state-run television announced the death but did not report a cause.

The epic trip, which was recounted a half-century later in the film "The Motorcycle Diaries," was Dr. Granado's idea. At 29, he had full-time work as a biochemist, but he also had a taste for beautiful women, fine wine and dancing the tango. He sought one final thrill before settling into a life of middle-class comfort.

"I needed to see the world, but first I wanted to see Latin America, my own long-suffering continent," Dr. Granado wrote in his diary. "Not through the eyes of a tourist, interested only in landscapes, comforts and fleeting pleasures, but with the eyes and spirit of one of the people."

Guevara, an asthmatic 23-year-old one semester short of graduating from medical school, agreed to go along. They set out from their native Argentina in December 1951 on a 13-year-old motorbike nicknamed "La Poderosa" - the powerful one.

The $800 bike was a mess of failed brakes and broken chains. It broke down early in the journey, and the pair continued on foot, hitchhiking and stowing away on boats whenever they could manage.

With little money, they charmed and schemed their way into meals and lodging. Unabashedly pursuing the company of local beauties, they were once run out of town when Guevara tried to seduce another man's wife.

Over seven months and 8,000 miles, the journey was less defined by its mishaps and hedonism than by the travelers' growing awareness of the poverty and disease that plagued the continent's cities and far-flung villages.

The two men were deeply affected when they visited an American-owned copper mine in Chile and met workers toiling for pennies and suffering from silicosis.

Dr. Granado wrote that he and Guevara were impressed by the mine's high-tech machinery. "But this is eclipsed by the indignation aroused," he wrote, "when you think that all this wealth only goes to swell the coffers of Yankee capitalism."

The pair also volunteered their services for a month at a Peruvian leper colony before they reached the end of their journey in Caracas, Venezuela.

By then, Guevara was convinced that working as a doctor would do little to alleviate the struggles of the poor and disaffected people he had met.

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