Che Guevara and the Mountain of Silver: By Bicycle and Train through South America
by Anne Mustoe
Reviewed by Monica Malpezzi Price
While you don’t usually associate an English headmistresses with Che Guevara, Anne Mustoe, author of “Che Guevara and the Mountain of Silver: By Bicycle and Train through South America” merges the relationship between these two people quite successfully. What intrigued me about Mustoe was her life story; a retired headmistress of an all girls’ school in England who upon retirement bicycled around the world and wrote a book narrating her tale. She then proceeded to travel (mostly by bicycle) in several countries. I picked up this particular book because I was interested in hearing what an English woman had to say about South America and, especially, the regions of it I had been to myself. I helped scout and lead the ExperiencePlus! ExpeditionPlus trip across the High Andes in 2009 and had spent time in the San Carlos de Bariloche and Puerto Montt areas where our Pedaling the Andes tour crosses the lower Andes as well as having designed our Northern Argentina bicycle tour which visits Salta and the colorful Humahuaca canyon. What did Mustoe, who pedaled in these same areas on her own, find? And, how did South America compare to other bicycle travels she had taken?
Mustoe organized her trip to South America by loosely following Che Guevara’s tracks through central Argentina and then north through Chile into Bolivia before returning to Che’s homeland Argentina. Reading her book provides a glimpse into her bicycle travels, and offers a historical and cultural view of the places she visits as she is a thorough historian and adept at elucidating the political and historical complexities of these countries. A vital aspect of the book, is Mustoe’s ability to intertwine commentary from Che Guevara’s travels along her same path. Following Che’s trail, through Mustoe’s eyes, we have a different perspective on Che’s Motorcycle Diaries, as Mustoe’s Che is not very politically aware throughout the early part of the journey. His diaries, along with those of Alberto Granado, his fellow traveler on the 500cc motorcycle, are more concerned with the daily challenges of their travels rather than the larger political and social aspects that would characterize Guevara in his later life. Mustoe also gives the reader some of the mundane and challenging realities of bicycle travel: finding lodging on a daily basis, traveling in bad weather, trying to use public transportation with a bicycle.
While Mustoe is primarily a narrator who relates her experiences, she also unabashedly provides commentary and her subjective opinion about people, places and events. I smiled when reading her doubts about the beauty of nature as she pedaled in the pristine natural landscapes of Argentina (her conclusion is that she just isn’t turned on by nature as much as she enjoys people…). Mustoe doesn’t adore large cities either, preferring towns where she can get to know people and form relationships. There are parts of her tale that betray Mustoe’s years as a headmistress and seem stereotypical of an older English woman, but other parts that can be inspiring for anybody—after all, if a retired school marm can bicycle around the world, why can’t we all!