Commander Che, Grain, & Corn


This post is dedicated to the memory of comrade Ernesto Raphael ‘Che’ Guevara, who died valiantly not far from here in an attempt to bring happiness, prosperity, and justice to the people of Bolivia. October 9, 1967


Vallegrande, Bolivia

When we spoke last, I had just made it to civilized country in Uyuni after spending my week climbing volcanos and generally bumping around in Sur Lìpez. I spent all of my money writing the last post, and it was quite late when I got out; around ten, I suppose.

I smoked my last cigarette and began walking out-of-town in what I was told was the general direction of Potosì, Sucre, and the rest of the country. After about fifteen minutes of walking I found myself in a very large and very empty dirt parking lot. A deserted gas station with one flickering flourescent light flanked one end, while a few mud houses and a mound of trash sat on the other. I looked around in slight confusion; this was indeed the end of town, but the road was nowhere in sight. I decided to go over to the gas station to investigate. Perhaps the road was hiding behind it.

Thirty seconds later I was running as fast as I could away from the station with a large, frothing rottweiler hot on my tail. Fortunately, as soon as I passed the threshold of what he considered ‘his territory’ the demon hound broke chase and returned to the pits of his lair, presumably to rest up for the next person who dared enroach upon his kingdom of dust, oil stains, and empty soda bottles.

As soon as I caught my breath, I stood up and went to the nearest place with a light to ask for directions. I came to a small chemical plant and walked up to the little box where the security guard worked. Peeking inside, I noticed he was fast asleep. I rapped loudly on the glass.

The security guard’s head jerked for a moment, and his eyes eased open. When he saw me at the glass, he went over and slid it open, giving me a rather dirty look.

‘¿Que quires?’ he asked. What do you want? I asked him for directions to the road, and he pointed back towards the lair of the demon hound. As I was looking nervously in that direction, the guard asked me where I was going; I told him to Sucre.

‘But it’s very late at night. No cars will pass until morning,’ he told me in Spanish. ‘And it’s very cold outside. Where will you sleep?’

I told him that I was planning on just camping out by the road for the night and getting up early the next day to find a ride. He didn’t seem to think that was a good idea, and opened the little door on the side of the security box.

‘Come on,’ he said motioning with his hand. ‘You can sleep here for the night if you want, but you have to get up very early so my boss doesn’t see you.’

I grinned and told him thanks, walking inside and plopping my pack down in the corner. The security guard motioned for me to sit in a chair across from the desk. I did so, and looked around me.

It was a very small room, with the desk and a few chairs currently occupying most of the space. On the desk was a small heat lamp which was running at full blast, giving the room welcome warmth. The security guard sat on the opposite side of the desk, studying me with a wad of coca the size of a golf ball in his lip. Above him on the wall hung three or four safety certificates, next to a framed cartoon which read ‘El orden y limpezen no es un lujo; es una necesidad!’ Order and cleanliness isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity! Below the text was a drawing of a room with numerous safety violations, such as oil dripping onto the floor, a man smoking next to a no smoking sign, broken fire extinguishers, and an emergency exit which was quite effectively blocked by boxes of assorted junk.

The security guard swallowed a mouthful of spit and asked me my name and where I was from. I told him.

‘Well, Patrick, from United States,’ he said, standing up, ‘you can roll out your sleeping stuff here,’ he pointed to a narrow strip of flooring behind the desk, ‘and I’m going to sleep here.’ He pointed to the flooring on the other side. I thought that was a pretty good deal since I was expecting to pass a freezing night out in the desert, so I grabbed my bag and began to unpack in my allotted sleeping area. The security guard got out a few blankets and a dusty bedroll from under the desk and did the same.

I slept well in the warm room and was awoken bright and early at five-thirty by the perpetually stuffed-with-coca face of the security guard. He made me a cup of coffee and gave me a bit of bread; then I was off, thanking him for his help as I walked down the dirt road towards the exit.

After fighting off the demon-hound once again, I arrived to the main road which led out of Uyuni (also dirt.) After a brisk morning walk of about an hour, I was riding (very bumpily) along in the back of a pickup in a general easterly direction. This ride took me for about an hour to a construction site out in the middle of a large expanse of bunchgrass-studded sand dunes.

It took me all day to reach the town of Potosì, which was a mere 200 kilometres away. This was primarily because the road was in quite a bad state, with endless detours through very rough terrain. Around nightfall, I reached Potosì and began looking for a place to change the CL$400 I had jangling around in my pocket to Bolivianos so as I could buy some bread and quell my aching stomach.

Two hours later, I arrived frustrated to the bus terminal, hoping to find someone who would change this worthless Chilean money into something I could actually use. I had already asked fifteen different people, the police, and a gas station attendant to change it for me; all refused despite the fact that it only came out to about four Bolivianos, or around fifty cents.

I finally found someone who would change it, after begging a lady behind one of the bus counters. I went and began walking to the exit of the town, stopping to buy a bit of bread and three cigarettes.

It was around eleven o’clock by the time I was on the road leading out-of-town, and this area looked like the perfect place for me to get robbed; I needed to find a quiet place to bed down for the night. I tried the inside of an abandoned bus on the side of the road, but decided against it as it was quite easy for the passerby to see me sleeping inside. I ended up settling for the third floor of an abandoned building about twenty meters from the road.

After clearing away dry sticks and pigeon doings, I unrolled my sleeping gear and slept soundly throughout the night.

I was awoken around seven by a person wearing a yellow construction helmet. I sat up, surprised, and looked around me. This wasn’t an abandoned building after all; it was still under construction! What I had believed in the night to be pigeon doo was, in fact, plaster from the ceiling. Fortunately, the workers were nice to me and gave me a bit of coffee before sending me on my way.

I walked a few kilometers outside of town and soon found traffic to be stopped dead by a roadblock of large rocks, tire fires, and twisted old car frames. It was another protest roadblock just like the one I saw back in Ecuador, except this time it was construction workers wanting better wages instead of college students wanting better teachers.

When any other Latin American country wants to protest, it turns to Bolivia for directions. The Andinos of Bolivia have got the art of social outcry down to a T; a few stratigic road cuts in remote parts of the country (utilising burned-out cars, trees, huge boulders, and whatever else the protestors can drag onto the road) can and do paralyze huge chunks of the country quite easily, putting huge pressure on the government when needed. Roadblocks have been a common and efficent form of protest in Bolivia for many years – and here I was wittnessing it firsthand!

I found a few people whom seemed to be the bosses of the whole situation and chatted with them for awhile, hearing their struggle and the injustices that were being perpetuated against them by their privatized construction company (one of the only ones in Bolivia).

It took a total of an hour or so of walking to get past the roadblock, but once I was clear of it I easily hitched a ride in the back of a refrigerated truck (currently non-functioning and with the back door open, thank God) and arrived to Sucre two hours later.

Luck was with me on this day, and when we arrived to the downtown the driver asked me where exactly in the city I was going. I told him I was headed to La Higuera, which wasn’t in Sucre at all, and lay somewhere in the rural reaches of the Santa Cruz providence about five hundred kilometers to the east. After giving me the usual look that meant, ‘You know that’s very far away, right?’ he drove me a few kilometers east and pointed me in the direction of Santa Cruz.

I walked past about twenty different auto-mechanic shops frequented by truckers and men wearing jumpsuits black with engine oil. As soon as I passed the first place that served food for people instead of for cars, I went inside.

The Señora smiled at me and asked if I would like some lunch.

‘Yes, I would!’ I said in Spanish. She beamed and turned towards the kitchen. ‘But,’ I added. She stopped. ‘But here’s the problem. I’m very hungry but I have no money to pay for the meal. Do you think I could work a little bit for you in exchange for some food or bread?’

She looked at my pack and dirty, unshaven face, and gave me a kind smile. ‘That’s okay, my dear. I’ll invite you for some soup!’

I was surprised. ‘Are you sure? I don’t mind washing dishes, or whatever you need done-’ she stopped me.

‘It’s all right, my dear! Have a seat.’

I did, and a few minutes later was enjoying a bowl of hot, delicious soup of the typical Bolivian variety (noodles, meat, rice, and potatoes.) I finished my meal, thanked the Señora profusely, and continued on my walk eastward.

An hour later I was finally out of Sucre, more or less. I passed by the last restaurant before the sidewalk ended and turned into dry ditchgrass, and stopped. There was quite a tantalizing smell drifting from that kitchen, and all I’d had that day was one bowl of soup…

I went inside and pulled the same routine, offering to work for a bit of food. The lady here was extremely friendly and gave me a free plate of meat, carrots and rice, refusing my repeated offers to wash or sweep something. I left, belly full and with a smile on my face; I had found another method of getting food! I felt like the wilderness survivor who’s just discovered that all those trees around his cave bear fat, juicy fruits in the spring.

After an hour-long wait, an ancient old Volvo semi pulled over and agreed to take me as close to La Higuera as possible, which was about fifty kilometers from Vallegrande. The ride was to be a good distance, around three or four hundred kilometers, so I made myself comfortable in the moth-eaten seat and prepared to spend a long night riding.

The driver of the truck was an old man in his late sixties or early seventies named Ronaldo; he told me in his dry, cracked voice that he’d been driving this exact semi for the past thirty-seven years all over Bolivia. Looking around me, I believed it. There was a spider web of cracks all over the windshield with a small space of about three inches for the driver to look out of. The dashboard had long since lost all of its paint and was now the dull orange colour of metal that’s been exposed to relentless sun for the past two decades. In the back behind the seat was a holy mattress with a thin sheet stretched across it.

We drove very slowly through the curvy roads of the eastern Andean foothills. Ronaldo  assured me that in all his years of driving he had never had a single accident (as he barely avoided going off a hundred foot cliff.) I figured this was nothing short of a miracle. Still, I rolled down the window and enjoyed the ride through the scenic hills of southern Bolivia.

The weather had long since gotten much warmer, and I, for the first time in weeks, stripped down to my undershirt. I quickly put my sweater back on, however, after smelling the stench of eleven days without a shower that all those layers of clothing had been keeping in.

Around six or seven, the road changed from pavement to dirt, and we drove long into the night at tortoise-speed. Stopping for dinner at a place in a very remote little town, Ronaldo bought me a soup, which I appreciated.

We continued traveling for hours and hours, until finally, around midnight, Ronaldo said we were stopping for the evening. I rolled out my sleeping bag in the back on top of eight or nine tons of rice while Ronaldo dozed on his old mattress in the cab. Around four that morning, I was awoken by the rumbling sound of the old Volvo warming up for another day. I decided to catch a few more winks and slept on while Ronaldo chugged along the endless dirt roads of southern Bolivia.

Around eleven o’clock, we suffered a blowout on the back left axle. I got to learn how to change the tire of a semi, and got my hands nice and greasy before lunch.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, we finally arrived to the place where I needed to get off. The main highway had changed finally back to pavement, and my offshoot road to the town of Vallegrande lay to the right.

I thanked Ronaldo and headed off. He waved goodbye and narrowly avoided going into the ditch as he rumbled off towards Santa Cruz. I turned and began walking south, the big green sign on the side of the road informing me that Vallegrande laid fifty clicks in this direction.

An hour later I was there, thanks to a construction truck where I rode (rather uncomfortably) in the back with assorted sharp tools. Vallegrande isn’t a large town, and I reached the opposite side in short notice. Here the highway returned again to dirt, and was called ‘Ruta del Che.’

That’s when I began to get excited. I was so close! Here I was, on the exact same route Che Guevara took forty-three years ago when he was fighting in the Bolivian Revolution! I was walking on it! It was dark, a bit chilly, and the route was all hills. I couldn’t have been happier.

Hitchhiking on La Ruta del Che is kind of spiritual thing for me; while I was walking I would think, ‘Ernesto has probably been in this exact place, has seen that tree, has blown his tobacco smoke in the same direction as mine is going right now!’ I walked through the dark on the dirt road for an hour or so with a permanent smile on my face.

A while later, a taxi gave me a free lift for twenty kilometers or so. Those twenty clicks got me far enough away from the town so that everything was pitch black; the brightest thing around me was the stars, and I could make out a flickering campfire on a far-off ridge all the way on the other side of the valley. I breathed the clean, cool air and walked long into the night on the deserted road.

Around midnight, the moon rose and bathed everything in its pale, ghostly tone. I decided it was time to camp out for the evening, so I began to search for a spot to sleep. Unfortunately, the road was cut into the side of a rather steep mountain, and there was absolutely no place whatsoever off the road where I could roll out my gear. Finally, I had to settle with a small layaway after a turn. I arranged my pack, sleeping gear, and tarp in such a way that any passing car would notice me there and not flatten me while I slept.

I needn’t have bothered; absolutely no traffic passed that night and I slept quite peacefully until about two in the morning, when a wicked, cold wind began whistling through the mountains. I had nothing with which to shelter myself with, so I settled with shivering for three or four hours until I finally just gave up and started walking around four a.m.

After winding about for an hour or so more, a small car with a couple of construction workers stopped and drove me about thirty-five kilometers to a nameless settlement of five houses along the side of the road. They motored off on a different route while I kept walking on la Ruta del Che as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon.

I was truly in rural Bolivia; once I reached the top of one hill I could see the roadtwisting endlessly on through the lightly forested hillsides. Every now and then a patch would be cleared and a small mud brick home with a few cows and horses would be visible. Other than that, this place was more or less uninhabited.

Around nine in the morning (judging by the sun…I’ve long since done away with the watch) a semi trucker taking the scenic route to Sucre pulled over. We wordlessly motored slowly up and down the hills.

After passing a very small town, we were a mere ten or so kilometers from La Higuera. After stopping to help a stranded motorist change a tire (getting a lot of experience with tires here in Bolivia) the semi took a different route and I was left on foot for the rest of the way.

I looked around me; these were the hills where the Che fought his final battle. I scanned the horizon. Where exactly had Che, Willy, and Chino been captured after weeks of fighting the Bolivian National Army? I saw a canyon with steep sides and heavy vegetation off in the distance; If I was a revolutionary fighter, that’s where I’d hide. I made a mental note to ask the townsfolk of La Higuera where my hero had been captured.

After twenty or so minutes of walking, I passed a farm that was set back from the road by about twenty meters. I was very thirsty, so I decided to go and ask for a bit of water.

I hiked down the narrow dirt path that led to the house, avoiding the large stones that were scattered about in the way. As I rounded the corner of the mud brick home, I was greeted by a farm scene that could have been in any time period from 1500 to the present.

The small yard area was framed by an old stone wall that looked as if it had been there for many, many years. A small wooden hut with a corn-thatch roof had been constructed against the wall. The mud-brick home dominated the north side of the property, and to the east there was another small stone building with smoke pouring out from under a dilapidated porch area.

Upon noticing my arrival the inhabitants of the farm stared openly at my blue eyes, pack, and dirty face, clearly totally unused to visitors of my particular caliber. Sitting in a weather-beaten wooden chair behind an old table was an old lady in her late seventies or early eighties winding sheep’s wool into yarn. On the table in front of her sat a half shucked batch of corn.

In the centre of the yard area was a man in his mid-thirties with horrendous teeth and the largest dip of coca in his mouth I had ever seen. He was currently halfway through the act of tying the back legs of a heifer cow together, who seemed not to care one way or the other and chewed dully on a cud.

In front of the heifer was a very old man in his mid to late eighties wearing a beanie cap with a cowboy hat over it. He was currently tying an irritated calf to one of the posts of the porch, struggling with the knots as the little fellow tried valiantly to get at that udder full of warm milk not five feet away.

After finishing with the calf the old man came up to me, his bemusement changing quickly to a warm smile. I asked him if he had anything to drink.

‘Would you like some milk?’ he asked kindly.

Hot damn, fresh milk straight from the cow?

‘I most certainly would!’ I told him happily. He gave me a surprisingly toothy smile and told me to wait a moment. He disappeared inside the house, coming out a moment later with a slightly rusty tin cup and an old gunnysack; these he placed carefully on the stone bench under the porch.

‘Please, sit!’ he said, and went off to the heifer with the cup. The old man held it under the udders while the man with the terrifying teeth milked with the practiced motions of hands that have spent a lifetime on the udders of cows.

Moments later I was sipping the warm, frothy milk and enjoying the late morning sunshine there on the farm. After filling a pitcher with milk, the heifer’s work for the day was done and she was sent back to the pasture.

The atmosphere on the farm was very peaceful; the dogs were doing what dogs usually do, which is sleep in the sun, the cows were doing what cows usually do, which was eat, and the farmers were doing what farmers usually do, which was work.

Anyone who has even lived on a farm knows that there’s always work to do; you work all day long, and then have a fresh batch of work to do whenever you wake up. As soon as I finished my cup of milk I joined in, much to the amusement of my new rural friends.

Most of the work we did consisted of doing something or the other with grain. We spread grain out on tarps, washed grain, dried grain in the sun, weighed grain, put grain in sacks, poured grain out of sacks, and mixed grain with other grain. We even ate grain for lunch (whole grain crackers).

I had so much fun with my grain farmer friends that I worked for them all day long. At the end of the day we set aside two hundred kilos of grain and sold it for two hundred Bolivianos to the grain truck, which passed by at five o’clock each day. Afterwards, we drank grain alcohol, bought with our grain money.

I talked with the old woman during the evening and learned everybody’s names while I attempted to weave sheep’s wool into yarn (harder than it sounds); she was Dillovana, and had lived in this very same home all eighty-one years of her life. The old man was her husband, Hugo, and the man with the ghastly teeth was their son, whom Dillovana referred to only as ‘El Borracho’ (the drunk.) I had to say the name was appropriate, as he did indeed seem to be half-sauced all day long, and took frequent sips from a water bottle that I was pretty sure was filled with grain moonshine.

Before bed, we had  more whole-grain crackers with a healthy side of boiled cow feet (they called it ‘duro, meaning ‘tough.’ I could have thought of a lot better words for it, such as ‘terrible,’ ‘greasy,’ or ‘nothing-but-fat-and-tendons,’ but hey, at least it wasn’t grain.) I was allowed to sleep in the spare bed for the evening.

Before bed, Hugo untied a small, tethered black cat after closing the doors of the one-room house, leaving her free to hunt mice in the dark. Then, the candles were blown out and we slept.

Days on the farm start early, and Hugo was up and about well before the sun. I arose with him and helped gather firewood so as we could boil water for coffee. I went to fetch the water from a nearby stream while Hugo fussed about with the fire.

While I was down by the stream, I took the opportunity to brush my teeth. I lost my toothbrush somewhere in the Atacama Desert, so I’ve been using the chewed end of a green stick for the past couple of weeks. It was nice and natural sitting there by a cool mountain stream, brushing my teeth with a bit of wood; it was a good start to the day.

After coffee and whole-grain bread, it was time for me to leave and head for La Higuera. I told my friends goodbye, and thanked them for all the grain.

Ten kilometers later, I arrived at last to La Higuera. Situated at the bottom of a valley surrounded by green mountains, the town is only a few houses situated along the dirt road. According to the sign at the entrance, La Higuera has a population of fifteen families. After passing a few mud houses, I arrived to the ‘center’ of the village.

There it was. Dominating the small plaza was a fifteen-foot statue of the Che. Behind that were another smaller statue, a memorial, and yet another statue dedicated to Ernesto. Paintings of the Che and inspirational quotes were all over the walls.

I was finally here!

I quickly found my way to the legendary ‘escuelita,’ the small schoolhouse where Che and his comrades Willy and Chino were held prisoner for a day and a half, contemplating their fate before being murdered by the Bolivian capitalists.

I was speechless. Here, forty-three years ago, my hero had sat bound with a bullet in his leg on the dirt floor of the tiny schoolhouse. Here, a sergent in the Bolivian Army had tried to snatch Ernesto’s pipe as a souvenir, only to be met with the commander’s combat boots slamming into his chin. Here, my hero had dined on soup and potatoes for the last time.

And here!

Here, the Che spoke his last words of, ‘Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man!’ to the half-drunken face of Mario Teràn before the assault rifle roared and bullets sank into Ernesto’s arms and legs.

And here!

Here, the Che bit onto his wrist to keep from crying out in his pain!

And here!

Here, the final bullet rocketed from the cold, steel barrel of the assault rifle and passed through Ernesto’s throat.

And here?

Here is the blood of the Che.

The inside of the escuelita had been converted into a museum/memorial of types. Dedications and messages to the Che covered the walls. I added one of my own and taped the small slip of paper down by the corner in an unnoticeable spot where it wouldn’t be bothered.

In this part of the schoolhouse, historical and significant as it may be, everybody who wanted to see where the Che had finally met his maker would have had no problems visiting. I wanted to go someplace where every Che tourist and his mother didn’t go…someplace where I could feel the essence.

So I went around back. The garden of the escuelita, long since abandoned, was overgrown with thorn bushes. In the middle, at the centre of a tiny clearing, was a small concrete slab bathed in sunlight. After fighting my way through the thorns I removed my pack and lay on it. Closing my eyes, I went back in time forty-three years…

The year was 1967. For the past year, Commander Che and his brave band of revolutionaries had been fighting against the armies of Renè Barrientos. Victories had been scored early on, but with the help of the United States CIA, the intrepid band of revolutionary fighters had been reduced to only a few scattered bands of survivors.

Then, capture. I could hear the sounds of struggle as Ernesto was dragged bodily into the dilapidated schoolhouse by the Bolivian soldiers . I heard the low conversation of the guards, the scrape of the Che’s spoon against his tin plate as he ate his final meal. I could smell the phosphorous as Ernesto lit his pipe, the sound of burning tobacco  as he smoked it.

The townspeople would file by, talking in low tones, but Ernesto said nothing. Once, he asks one of the Bolivian soldiers for a bit more tobacco for his pipe.

Then I heard the sound of a bullet being cycled into the chamber of an AK-47. I heard the Che’s final words, echoing loudly throughout the little hollow; a pause, and then the roar of automatic gunfire blocked everything else out and I returned with a gasp to the present.

I lay there for ten more minutes and smoked. Then, I left the hollow and went back into the town, deciding that I would find work and stay here for a couple of days so as I could fully absorb the essence of the place.

I saw an old lady who was unloading things from a truck, so I quickly dropped my pack and began helping her. Afterwards, I asked if she knew where I could work for a few days in exchange for some food and a place to sleep.

‘Look no further!’ she told me happily. ‘You can work for me!’

What luck! I had found work on the very first try. I helped her sweep out the little shop she owned (the only shop in town) and then was given some soup for lunch.

‘Do you remember the Che?’ I asked as I was eating.

‘Oh, yes, of course,’ she said as she knitted a bag of some sort. ‘I was twenty-one years old when they dragged him through town.’

My eyes widened. ‘Did you speak with him?’

‘Only once,’ she said, her knitting needles clacking rhythmically together. ‘The Army ordered me to prepare a meal for the Che after he had been here for a day or so. I served him his very last meal, the exact type of soup you’re eating right now.’

I looked at my plate; this had been the Che’s final meal. It wasn’t bad, I had to admit. I looked up at her. ‘And what did he say, when you gave him the soup?’

Gracias, mi niñita.

‘Nothing else?’

‘Not a word.’

I thought about this. He must not have been in the talkative mood; he was, after all, a prisoner of war with a bullet through his calf.

‘He was very sad. He knew his fate, I think,’ she said, musing.

I finished my meal in silence. When I was done she stood up and told me brightly, ‘Well, time for you to work! Follow me!’

We went across the dirt street to another small building. Going through the door, I was led to a cellar filled with…corn. Lots and lots of corn, all the way to the cieling.

Modern Nomad, welcome to the next four days of your life.

We filled buckets with the stuff and brought it inside, dumping it into a huge, rusty metal pan eight feet across, continuing doing this until the pan was full.

‘Your job,’ she said to me, ‘is to remove all the kernels of corn from the cob.’ She demonstrated, the kernels clanking thinly into the pan. Standing up, she said, ‘When you’re done with this batch, let me know. I’ve got lots more!’ Hobbling out the door, she returned to her shop. Stopping halfway, she turned around and said to me, ‘Also, you’re welcome to sleep on the floor at night. I’ll bring dinner by at night fall.’

Shrugging, I pulled up a stool and got to work.

By the end of the night I had sore hands and a huge blister on my thumb. I gobbled up my dinner and went straight to sleep.

For three more days I did this. I woke up at six in the morning and worked two hours until eight, when the Señora would bring out to me what I called ‘Coffee and Crumbs.’ This consisted of thin coffee with a side of corn starch mixed with a little bit of water and cooked quickly over a high heat so that it sticks together.

Then, I would work nonstop until one o’clock, when my lunch would be brought out to me. This usually was soup and a little rice with a tiny piece of fish on top. After lunch I’d have an hour break, after which I would work until nightfall.

So…much…corn. The work wasn’t particularly hard, especially after I developed calluses on my hands so thick I could press my palm on a hot stove and not feel a thing. Plus, it’s a very repetitive and monotonous job, so after ten minutes or so you forget you’re doing it and your mind is free to wander.

However, I soon learned that the Señora probably wasn’t the most upstanding citizen of La Higuera. When Che tourists would come in from Vallegrande in the taxi, she would charge them triple for lunch. If they didn’t stop at her shop and spend money on her overpriced cigarettes and beer, she would swear at them under her breath as they left.

Also, I felt like she kind of took advantage of my willingness to work for next to nothing. I’m not complaining about the work; I’m complaining about the pay. I wouldn’t have a problem with the food I was being given if it was all she had; but I watched her take her meals, and while I had ‘Coffee and Crumbs’ she had fried eggs, meat, and other delicious stuff. I worked for the woman all day long, with no complaints whatsoever! I expected to at least eat what she was eating! When I asked for a breakfast upgrade, it was denied.

And one more thing: she didn’t like for me to leave the little mud house very much. She would bring all my meals out to me, and I was reprimanded for taking a smoke break out by the Che Guevara monument.

I am not your servant! If I want to smoke by the Che monument and pay my respects to my fallen comrade during my allotted break time, I can! Huh. Greedy old bat. I’ll bet she even tried to charge the doomed Che for his final bowl of soup.

The Old Patrick would have jetted out of there on Day 2. However, I’m trying really hard to be a hard worker and to stick to what I say I’m going to do. Like Ernesto would have done. So, I toughed out five whole days working for the Señora and de-cobbed that entire fucking cellar of corn.

Today, the work was done. I was happy to leave La Higuera, and, most importantly, all that corn. I bid farewell to Ernesto, and arrived here to Vallegrande around five.

Tomorrow I head for Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and the Amazon Rainforest of the far north.

In the words of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara,

Many will call me an adventurer – and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes.’

Hasta la victoria, siempre, comrade. You will live forever in the hearts of us all.

The Modern Nomad

11 thoughts on “Commander Che, Grain, & Corn

  1. que pasa che !?

    great writing brother! i especially like the line ‘presumably to rest up for the next person who dared encroach upon his kingdom of dust, oil stains, and empty soda bottles,’ beautiful !

    nice keeping your word too.

    hey if you make it to rosario, argentina, the birthplace of the Che. i got some great contacts for you. i spent 5 weeks there doing a photo documentary on a school for toba indians.

    thanks for the offer of a place in texas. if i make it that way, i’ll let you know.

  2. Nice posts. Great description of the farmhouse and inhabitants. Are you headed North for good or will you go back down South when it warms up? Nice work keeping your word even when it turned out you may have gotten a raw deal. It was a real unexpected pleasure to hear your voice, we miss you. Stay safe. Dad

  3. Interesting story as always. You kind of danced around the idea of Che and it is clear that you really admire him as a hero. I´m just curious as to why? More specifically why Che over other revolutionary leaders? From your writing you seem quite intelligent I just hope your admiration of Che has more of a reason than the college students wearing his likeness on the shirts to ¨Stick it to the Man¨ and really know little about Che. I expect you have much better reasons and I´m interested to know them. My guy is Machiavelli. Best of Luck in the Amazon!

    • Che strikes home to me for his words and actions in Latin America, a place I have become so familiar with in the past three years. Specifically, his ability to overcome the still-very-much-prevalant “rivalries” or “racism” between different Latin American nations.

      The fact that he went into battle with almost exclusively at the side of Cubans, Bolivians, Mexicans, Chileans – very few were his own argentino countrymen, and yet were treated as equals – or better said, as friends.

      The fact that his battle, no matter what the final outcome came out to be (I’m referring specifically to the still working Castro regime) was always based off principals of equality, the elimination of those who take more than they need, and the proliferation of those who share despite having little with which to do so.

      The fact that he was a hopeless idealist like myself, who believed so strongly in the justness of his cause that he lay down his stethoscope and medical surplus in favour of the rifle and the defense in what he believed in.

      The fact that he dreamed of a Latin America without borders – something that I wholeheartedly agree with, for the senseless rivalries in this part of the world serve only to deteriorate and destroy what could have or might have been.

      He sought adventure in his youth, recognized the merits of expanding one’s mind, rafted down the Amazon, and treated money with the appropriate “arm’s legnth” approach, recognizing the importance of such a thing in today’s world, yet at the same time not falling into the pitfalls of greed and corruption so many of his fellow Latinos had.

      These reasons, among many more, are why I admire Ernesto Guevara. His message strikes home to a traveller who has seen many of the images he has.

      Why do you admire Machavelli?


  4. I can see Che is more than just an idol for you he is very much like you or rather you are like him as I believe is the case with the people that influence and inspire us the most. As you said you both share a ¨hopeless idealism¨ and I believe your never-side-die attitude(I believe you are still looking for that Amazon river sin waterfalls). Your thirst for adventure is incredible and your persistence is really unmatched. You and Che would have had fun in the jungles of Cuba or Bolivia.

    As for working with other groups he was undoubtedly quite adept at that although porteños are really more insufferable (Uruguayan joke). By that I understand his belief and your hope that Latin America could exist without borders. On this I must disagree with you. Latin America is too diverse to be united. The only uniting factor is language(Spanish) and common colonial history(Spain) although even that is iffy with Brazil and the differences in Spanish are quite diverse.

    As you note there has been much blood spilled by wars between countries such as the War of the Triple Alliance or the War of the Pacific that destroyed two countries(Bolivia and Paraguay respectively). Uruguay exists to separate Argentina and Brazil. It may have been senseless violence, but its lasting impact created nationalism and economic hardship that won´t be forgotten. Additionally some countries have had trouble keeping themselves together. Buenos Aires v. the rest of Argentina. As you noted Santiago v. Southern Chile. I´m sure there are more. The current best try at uniting the EU is years away from real union and they don´t have the economic issues of Latin America. Meeting people from other countries and getting along at ground level is infinitely easier than doing it at the national level(Anarchy of the International system and such, but I won´t bore you with that).

    However, I do find Che´s equality pill a much needed antidote for the incredible inequality in the region between countries like Chile and Bolivia or even with countries like Brazil. In the same vein I do wish that money wasn´t given as much importance by the human race as it is. Greed is a really despicable vice that seems unnaturally attached to power in the region.

    Finally, as for Machiavelli I find him to be admirable for his way of looking at how things actually are or realistcally rather than how they ought to be. In this he tends to provide practical advice for holding power as a dictator. Che used many of his ideas even.

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