La Ruta del Ché
Tracking the last movements of an iconic figure
If you have been travelling in Bolivia for some time, or even if you have only just arrived in La Paz, it has probably come to your attention that Ché Guevara’s image is everywhere. You may, however be wondering why exactly the legendary Argentinean revolutionary adorns many a t-shirt and poster throughout the tourist shops of Bolivia.
The history of a legend
Ernesto “Ché” Guevara de la Serna was born in 1928 in Rosario, Argentina to a middle-class family of Spanish-Irish descent. In 1953, Guevara graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, where he trained as a doctor. In the early 1950s he travelled extensively with his best friend, Alberto Granado, crossing the continent on a motorbike. It was during this time that he wrote The Motorcycle Diaries; chronicling his travels in and impressions of South America. It was also during this time that his critical views on capitalism and the expanding economic control of the United States on Latin American countries grew. After witnessing American intervention in Guatemala in 1954, Guevara radicalised and became convinced that the only way to ensure change was by “violent revolution”.
Ché the revolutionary
In 1959, Guevara became a leading figure in Fidel Castro’s Cuban government arguing that the basis of revolution is “the happiness of the people” and that the goal of socialism is to improve the lives of the “everyman”, creating “more complete and more developed human beings”. In 1966, Ché Guevara arrived in Bolivia in the hope of starting his social revolution from the poorest and least developed of South America’s countries. He began to train soldiers and lead a guerrilla war in the Santa Cruz region, however he failed to gain the support of the masses and was eventually surrounded by the CIA trained Bolivian military in the small town of Vallegrande. He was badly wounded in a gun battle and taken by the army to a schoolhouse in La Higuera, where he was held captive. The following day, on the 9th of October 1967, Ché Guevara was executed by Bolivian troops. His body was taken to a nearby hospital in Vallegrande where his corpse was shown to the world. It was here that Alberto Diaz Gutierrez (known as ‘Korda’) took the famous picture of the lifeless Ché with his eyes still open. The bodies of Guevara and six of his comrades were secretly buried in unmarked graves. It was only in 1997 that his body was unearthed and returned to Cuba, where he held citizenship as a result of his involvement with Castro’s government.
In October of last year, the ‘Ruta del Ché’ (or Ché trail) officially opened offering Ché enthusiasts the opportunity to trace the revolutionary’s final steps in Bolivia. The US $610, 000 project is being overseen by CARE Bolivia, a non-profit organisation, and is still being developed despite the fact the trail is open to tourists. The intention is “to create opportunities for impoverished local communities…[and to offer them] a means of improving their quality of life”, says Jacqueline Pena y Lillo, Care project manager for the Ché trail. The trail will create several financial opportunities for local people, such as restaurants and arts and crafts businesses, as well as locally run accommodations. Señora Pena also emphasised that, “the local Guarani people will play a key role in determining the future of the project, and in this way, promote self-empowerment. All decisions relating to the trail will be made by local people themselves”. The trail provides visitors the opportunity to travel just as Ché and his comrades did, by mule or on foot. Alternatively tourists can take a jeep tracing Ché´s final days in comfort.
Ché in three days?
La Paz-based America Tours, currently offer a three-day, two-night program available from April until November. Starting from Samaipata, the tour includes a visit to the room in the very hospital where Ché´s body was paraded to the world’s media, the old garbage dump which was used as a mass grave for guerrilla fighters and the memorial erected at Ché’s grave. The itinerary also takes in La Higuera, where Guevara was captured. If pre-packaged tours do not interest you however, then you could quite easily organise your own tour incorporating different aspects of Ché’s travels depending on your time scale and budget. Several guidebooks contain maps showing Guevara’s final movements starting with the guerrilla battle along the Nancahuazu River and ending with his execution in La Higuera. In order to trace his every movement you would have to allow yourself plenty of time to complete the entire 81km and quite a large budget, but the benefit of organising your own tour is that you can choose where and when you go to these places
A fascinating snapshot
It is debatable as to whether the Ché Trail offers a true insight into the final days of Ché Guevara, or whether it is simply an opportunity for local people to benefit from the added tourist income to the poverty stricken Chuquisaca region. However, as Señora Pena stresses, “the objective is not to exploit Ché’s name but to help local families through the creation of small-scale, tourist based enterprises as a spin-off to the project”.
The Bolivian Ché trail can only at best offer a snapshot into Guevara’s remarkable thirty-nine years. It is however, a snapshot not to be missed, for as the final country to be reached by the young revolutionist before his death, Bolivia is of special import when it comes to the life and times of Ché Guevara. So, whilst you decide whether or not to retrace Guevara’s final steps, the people of La Higuera and Vallegrande await the hordes of visitors who are yet to visit this tiny town on a pilgrimage to their hero.
Avenida 16 de Julio 1490, Edificio Avenida Ground Floor, Office 9, La Paz
Tel. 02 - 237 42 04