Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ruta del Che

From Cochabamba, we knew we had about two weeks to make it to Santiago to meet up with Mike's parents. Instead of backtracking towards Sucre or Oruro, we decided to take the Ruta del Che, to Vallegrande, la Higuera, and then across the border into Argentina. It is called the Ruta del Che as it follows Che Guevara's path as he attempted a revolution in Bolivia, leading to his capture by the Bolivian military, with CIA help, and assassination shortly thereafter. Jill had read several books about Che (and even Mike read one or two of them) and we were both interested in seeing the region where Che spent his final days. If you are interested, there are lots of books out there about Che and the Cuban Revolution. Some good ones are
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, The Motorcycle Diaries, Bolivian Diaries, and Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend

Although the road we took is one of the only major ones from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, two of the largest cities in Bolivia, it was unpaved for a majority of the way. It was a really nice ride, except for the fact that the front tire got a flat early on. Mike now has more practice on changing flats, since this was the second flat in almost as many days in Bolivia.

On the way to Vallegrande.

Mike repairing a flat on the way to Vallegrande.
(Mike changing the front flat.)

Gas was not abundant, so we filled up at this spot. The woman running the shop was very nice, but very shy about having her picture taken, so we only got the shop. Gas has been an issue for foreigners in Bolivia. At most gas stations, they make foreigners pay about three times what nationals do. This originally started because there was a gas shortage several years ago. One way around this is to park the bike away from the pumps and fill up gas canisters. Another way is to purchase gas from individuals instead of gas stations. Usually gas from these shops is about double the price for locals at the station. The risk is that you get gas cut with something else.

Getting gas in Mataral.

Our first stop on the Che route was Vallegrande, where Che's body was helicoptered and displayed after he was killed. Vallegrande is one of the larger towns in the area, which is why he was brought there. It seems to function quite well as a town without the need for Che tourism. We went to the Che museum, located on the town square. It is worth a look and doesn't cost much. Then we went to the still functioning hospital where Che was taken. He was put out back in the hospital laundry in a wash basin. There are no signs at the hospital to show you where to go, so you just kind of walk through the hospital grounds to the back.

Outside the hospital where Che's body was displayed in Vallegrande.
(Outside the hospital)

The lavanderia where Che's body was displayed in Vallegrande.
(The laundry where Che was displayed.)

The new Che memorial built on the hospital grounds in Vallegrande.
(The new Che memorial built on the hospital grounds.)

There is also a site just outside of town where a mass grave was found containing several guerrillas bodies, including Che's. You had to hire a guide to take you to the site because it is locked, so we decided not to go. Instead, we headed over to la Higuera, where Che was taken when he was captured. The route was beautiful and you really got a sense of how secluded and isolated the area was that Che tried to lead his revolution in. It made a lot of sense why it didn't work out. No one knew of him nor cared to help him, unlike in Cuba where the revolution was won through peasant support. People in this part of Bolivia were very cut off from the rest of the world and had no interest in getting involved in a revolution. Daily life for the guerrillas was very difficult in this region because it is pure jungle with little to no outside resources.

Cool butterfly at the gas station outside Vallegrande.
(Random butterfly outside the gas station)

Road sign marking the ruta del Che on the way to La Higuera.
(Road signs mark the way to La Higuera.)

On the way to La Higuera.

La Higuera is a very, very small town in the middle of nowhere. The town seems very dependent on Che tourism, as the only things in town are hostels, a restaurant and a couple small shops. And of course, the school building where Che was taken when captured and then murdered in. The school is now a museum with much of the same information that is in the museum at Vallegrande. The older woman who runs the museum and the tienda in town took care of Che when he was alive and is the only person still in town who was there when Che was.

Outside the museum, which is also the old school where Che was killed, in La Higuera.
(School/museum in la Higuera)

The clothing Che was wearing when he was captured, in the museum in La Higuera.
(The clothes Che was captured in.)

Che statue in the park in La Higuera.
(Che statues and other Che related objects outnumber people in la Higuera.)

We camped at probably the nicest hostel in town, named Posada (formerly Casa) de la Telegrafista, this site was mentioned by Che in his Bolivian Diary as the only phone in town that was used by the guerrillas.

The Casa del Telegrafista in La Higuera.

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