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Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend [Paperback]

Patrick Symmes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 15 2000 Vintage Departures Original
Intrepid journalist Patrick Symmes sets off on his BMW R80 G/S in search of the people and places in Ernesto "Che" Guevara's classic Motorcycle Diaries, seeking out his own adventure as well as the legacy of the icon Che would become, Symmes retraces the future revolutionary's path.  And on the way he runs out of gas in an Argentine desert, talks a Peruvian guerrilla out of taking him hostage, wipes out in the Andes, and, in Cuba, drinks himself blind with Che's travel partner, Alberto Granado.

Here is the unforgettable story of a wanderer's quest for food, shelter, and wisdom. Here, too, is the portrait of a continent whose dreams of utopia give birth not only to freedom fighters, but also to tyrants whose methods include torture and mass killing. Masterfully detailed, insightful, unforgettable, Chasing Che transfixes us with the glory of the open road, where man and machine traverse the unknown in search of the spirit's keenest desires.

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From Amazon

A motorcycle trip in 1952 marked a turning point for Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna, a medical student returning from a journey into poverty and oppression with a vision of guerilla-style change and a new name, Che Guevara. Going on to help overthrow the Cuban government, align himself with Castro, and become elevated to martyred hero status when he was executed in Bolivia in 1967, Guevara's likeness is now commercialized and captured on T-shirts, castanets, and watches.

New York writer Patrick Symmes embarks on motorcycle tracing Guevara's route through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Cuba, seeking insight into what Guevara experienced and what his political movement wrought. Meeting with those who knew the young Che--among them a lover, a leper, and his motorcycle traveling cohort--proves interesting enough, though rarely insightful since some were children at the time, some are confused, and others refuse to talk openly. More revealing are Symmes's travels on his bike, nicknamed La Cucaracha. He winds through both Buenos Aires' high society and Peruvian poverty, finding a fragmented country where revolutions have brought mountain peasants fleeing to shanty towns, and where blind idealism coexists with blatant denouncement of the violent tactics used by Cuban Communists, even by Che's most respected soldiers. Beautifully written, the stories that unfold here reflect the complex contradiction that endures in Latin America three long decades after Ernesto "Che" Guevara's death. --Melissa Rossi

From Publishers Weekly

In 1952, a 17-year-old, prerevolutionary Che Guevara lit out with a friend on a motorcycle trip through Latin America. It was, as he wrote in his Motorcycle Diaries, a journey that would shape his attitudes toward politics, people and revolutions. Symmes, a freelance travel writer, traversed the same route in 1996, with entertaining and illuminating results. Fluidly moving between the past and the present, he tosses out observations about Che's expedition while chronicling his own adventures. In Argentina, Symmes encounters a defensive German who insists he is not a Nazi; in Chile he visits a utopian settlement founded by a wealthy and radical environmentalist; in Peru he visits a leper colony, the same one Che visited in 1952. Refreshingly, Symmes avoids digressions of self-discovery, instead letting his book serve as a primer for recent Latin American history and his own take on the region. Symmes's prose, like the Latin America he writes about, is spotted with gems. He says pointedly, "The funny thing about a dictatorship: it was great for culture. If there was one sure way Pinochet could support poetry, it was by staging a military coup." Unsentimental and funny, this book combines the spiritedness of a gonzo journalist with a serious reporter's sense of purpose. First serial rights to Talk magazine. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for gusanos Dec 15 2001
By A Customer
Patrick Symmes dedicates his book: "for gusanos everywhere". According to Castro, a gusano (worm) is someone who disagrees with his version of the revolution. This journey of 10,000 miles, through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia, retraces, in part, the path of Ernesto (Che) Guevera on a motorcycle trip he took in 1952 which was influential in shaping his convictions and the rest of his life. Along the way, Symmes meets people who knew Che, visits places where he stayed and ends his journey in the spot, in Bolivia, where Guevera met his end. The book begins and ends in Cuba where the spark was ignited to uncover the man inside the legend. Symmes meets a man who asks him to "tell people how it really is".
By the time he returns to Cuba, a year after his journey, for Che's funeral, Symmes has come to see Gueverra as a man with all convictions and contradictions of any great man.
This is a wonderful travel book, filled with history, biography, adventure as well as a dollop of humor. The writing is first rate. I hope Symmes is working on another book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new deal - really several books in one! March 10 2003
By SharonF
It is rare to find anything written about Che that is so unpretentious. Patrick captures two eras and several countries in this book, evoking an appreciation of South America in the '50s and today. What's cool about this book is that Patrick points out a lot of the contradictions in Che's life but doesn't pretend to know all the answers. Like many of us, Patrick finds himself liking spite of Guevara. The book also finds a very clean balance between being a sales-pitch tour guide and a tear-jerker poverty index. I found Patrick's commentary surrounding Che's diary and other published works about him to be very insightful. Lastly, the dry wit and hip tone of the writing is what makes this such a great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars With Symmes chasing Che and finding? Dec 8 2003
I do not know what I expected when I bought this book, but reading g it proved well worth my time and money. It is a travel book more in the spirit of Stienbeck's Travels With Charlie than it is with In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. It is a ramble, through southern South America, along the journey made by Che before he was "Che" and through the mind of Patrick Symmes. All three are interesting places to go.
I guess my one surprise was the amount of trouble that he had with his BMW motorcycle. A friend of mine had one several years ago, the same model if not the same year, and it was almost indestructible. It had to be with my friend as the owner. So that was a disappointment.
The insights into the historical person Che became later are there, sort of sprinkled through the book as is a good look at the youth. He is not an adulator and he neither hides nor dwells on the dark side of being a committed revolutionary. Of course, Che was not yet committed at least when he started this journey. A warrior doctor along with the idea of a warrior priest has always seemed to be an oxymoron to me. The creation of exactly that which you have trained, at great cost, to fight must require conviction of a special kind. That Che was committed there can be no doubt - but why to this life course remains elusive for me. He was sensitive man, and a killer. A doctor and a soldier. A revolutionary and a mystic. Like Thomas Jefferson's utterly inexplicable slave holdings, these realities are also the reasons he still fascinates me.
I like the book. I think I would like the author and I recommend it as an interesting look at a difficult man and a romantic journey that I and perhaps you would have liked to have joined, and may still enjoy in spirit.
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5.0 out of 5 stars engaging, informative, esoteric Aug. 1 2000
I was drawn to this book more because of a well established attraction to South America than a particular interest in Che Guevara. This book was particularly satisfying because it spoke to my interests, expanded my understanding of Guevera, and described a rivetting adventure.
Mr. Symmes is impressive from a variety of perspectives. You are struck by his spirit, endurance and "guts" striving to replicate the Guevara's gritty adventure of the '50's. Curiosity to see whether Symmes and his BMW bike "Kookie" will complete the marathon alone keeps you reading. However, besides admiring his daring and iconoclasm, you find that Symmes is a solid scholar and a fine wordsmith.
The book provides an accurate and informative description of the depradations of the recent military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, and points out the irony of how, long after he was dead, Guevara contributed to their emergence. Symmes also provides a moving description of the centuries old fate of the Latin American poor in Peru and Bolivia as well. While "up close" experience has made his perspective justifiably left of center he effectively makes his case by sticking to the unvarnished facts. He refrains from offering any half baked neo-Marxist aphorisms, and provides balance by noting the arrogance, chauvanism, pointless brutality, and ultimate hubris of Guevara, as well as the Machiavellian meglomania of Castro. The book's thesis is that Guevara the symbol and myth have ultimately have had far more global impact than any of the achievements of Guevara the man.
This book is educational, moving, and thought provoking whether you are left or right on the political spectrum. If you know little about Latin America or Che, you will learn quite a bit about this often ignored part of the world.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for Che addicts
I picked up this book after spending some time in Peru, not knowing much about Che except his iconic image on t-shirts of disconnected youths. Read more
Published on June 6 2004 by Paul A. Peters
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous!
This a great read. Engagingly written and entertaining. Che fans and motorcycling fans alike will also love "Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba," a fascinating and... Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars One good journey deserves another...
Almost 50 years after Che's Motorcycle Diaries, Symmes recreates the journey on a BMW-R80. Covering over 10,000 miles of open road and experiencing several mechanical breakdowns... Read more
Published on Aug. 14 2003 by Tony Theil
1.0 out of 5 stars DON'T BUY THIS BOOK
Patrick Symmes killed me with his book CHASING CHE, squashing me somewhere between Che and the peasant who generously offered him a pineapple, gratis. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2003 by C Ewing
4.0 out of 5 stars a humans self discoveries(psychoanalysts have at it...)
If you are searching for yet another book praising Che and the Revolution, find something else. However, if you wish to find one human's extraordinary story of learning of himself... Read more
Published on June 19 2001 by "dalyias"
4.0 out of 5 stars read after motorcycle diary
well written, very entertaining. sometimes a little too much detail. A great summary of recent political history of the countries visited. Not as adventurous as Che, of course. Read more
Published on May 19 2001 by Dawn Gable
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick and Concise
Patrick Symmes created an excellent work. "Chasing Che" is an accurate and concise recent history lesson. Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2000 by martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Travel, History and much more
Patrick Symmes retraces the 1952 motorcycle journey of Che Guevara. At first, I thought it was just going to be a travel story, but found it to be an excellent mix of history and... Read more
Published on Aug. 13 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Chasing Che and Discovering Yourself
I will readily admit when I first picked up this book, I was expecting it to be about Che Guevara. However, it is much more than a Che Biography; it is the story of a man's... Read more
Published on July 16 2000 by Russell Burley
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