Ernesto continued working in various places while he was going to medical school, among them the municipal ity of Buenos Aires, as a nurse on a merchant ship, and at the Institute of Allergy Research, owned by the outstanding special ist, Salvador Pissani, whom he befriended.
In January 1950, he fitted a small engine to a bicycle and began a 4,500 kilometre journey through several provinces, including leper colonies, in northern Argentina. A photo of Ernesto on his motorbike appeared in the sports magazine, El Gráfico, prompting the engine manufacturing company to try to use the story for advertising.
At the very end of 1950 he and his friend Alberto Granado began what would be a l ife changing trip for Ernesto. They departed from the city of Cordoba on a motorcycle they christened "Powerful II" intending to use it to visit several South American countries.
However, the motorcycle broke down in Chile and they had to leave it in the capital and continue their journey with other transportation, passing through towns in Argent ina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. They visited and worked in the leper communities of Huambo and San Pablo, about which Ernesto wrote:
"All the love and care l ies in coming to them without gloves and medical attire, shaking their hands as you would any other neighbour and sitting together for a chat about anything or playing soccer with them...."
When they arrived at Villa Gesel, north of Mar del Plata, it was Granado's first view of the Atlantic Ocean and Ernesto wrote about this in his travel notes, as well as his own love of the sea:
They arrived in Venezuela in late July 1952, having traveled some 9,000 kilometres and Granado decided to stay in Caracas and work as a doctor, while Ernesto returned to Argentina to complete his studies, promising to meet up with Granado later.
In Argentina he rewrote his travel notes in which he details and then summarizes the experiences lived through in the journey:
"The character who wrote these notes died when he again stepped on Argentine soil. The one organizing and pol ishing them, I, I am not myself; at least I am not the same inside. That wandering without a plan through our Monumental America has changed me more than I thought."
Fifteen subjects remained for Ernesto to complete his medical studies and, making a great effort between September 1952 and April 1953, he took his final exam on April 11th to get his medical degree. Although a position was assured in Buenos Aires, Ernest determined to go to Venezuela to meet again with Alberto Granado.
Instead of going directly to Venezuela, he, and his friend Carlos Ferrer Moratel (Cal ica), decided to see as much as possible of the American continent first. There had been a national ist revolution in Bol ivia the year before and the two traveled the 6,000 kilometres to La Paz, Bol ivia by train.
Ernesto met in La Paz cafés with the thinkers and pol iticians involved in the vast reform movement and devoted long hours to conversation but, while he recognized the positive gains made by the revolution, such as agrarian reform and the national ization of the mines, he became angry at the treatment of the indigenous peoples and other injustices. Ferrer bel ieved that Ernesto's pol itical coming of age occurred in Bol ivia, as well as a powerful anti-American anger after witnessing the abuses of local mine workers by US supervisors. Disenchanted, the two friends left for Peru.
In Lima for a couple of weeks, Ernesto met Latin American exiles and learned of events in Guatemala, where the Jacobo Arbenz government had taken steps toward reform, including land reform, and was facing threats by the United States and the Guatemalan rightwing.
The two next travelled to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where Che's asthma became worse due to the extreme tropical heat and humidity. He decided that, instead of going directly to Venezuela, he would go to Guatemala and see what was happening firsthand. Ferrer continued on to Venezuela.
En route to Guatemala, Ernesto went to Panama then on to Costa Rica, by boat, plane, hitchhiking and on foot. During these months Ernesto was very moved by what he saw of the immense plantations of the United Fruit Company:
"… confirming once again the terrible nature of these capital ist octopuses. I have sworn before a picture of our old, much lamented comrade Stal in (who had died nine months earl ier) that I will not rest unt il I see these capital ist octopuses annihilated."
In Costa Rica, he met Cal ixto Garcia and Severino Rossell, two Cubans who had been involved in the attack on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Garrison in Bayamo on July 26, 1953.
Ernesto left Costa Rica for Nicaragua where he met and joined the exiled Argentine brothers Walter and Domingo Beveraggi, and traveled rapidly with them through Nicaragua into Honduras, reaching Guatemala in a perilous the economic situation.
In Guatemala, he met Peruvian Hilda Gadea. Hilda introduced him to Myrna Torres, daughter of a Nicaraguan exile, who in turn introduced him to Antonio López (Ñico), another young Cuban attacker of the Bayamo garrison. A great friendship developed between Ernesto and "Ñico". This is when Ernesto obtained his famous nickname, due to his frequent use of the Argentine "che", a slang speech filler.
Guevara was ready to defend the Guatemalan government when the rightwing forces attacked President Jacobo Arbenz, but could not find enough l ike-minded fighters. When the US CIA sponsored army invaded the country and installed the dictator Carlos Castillo Armas, Ernesto was warned he was in danger so sought asylum at the Argentine Embassy.
Ernesto Guevara arranged to meet Peruvian Hilda Gadea in Mexico, and on the train to there he met Jul io Roberto Cáceres (El Patojo), a Venezuelan with whom he formed a warm friendship. In Mexico City, he bought a cheap camera and worked as a street photographer with Cáceres in the parks around the city. "We came to know all of Mexico City by walking all over it from one end to the other to del iver the lousy pictures we took."
Guevara had some experience as a sports photographer (as an adolescent he'd worked for the magazine, Tacie) and when he met Argentine Dr Alfonso Pérez Vizcaíno, who headed the photography branch of Agencia Latina, Ernesto freelanced for the agency as a photographer. With Julio Roberto Cáceres and Cuban Severino Rossell, Ernesto Guevara covered the Fourth Pan American Games held in Mexico City.
On his travels and his political learnings, Ernesto wrote:
"After graduation, due to special circumstances and perhaps, also because of my character, I started to travel the American continent and got to know it all.
"With the exception of Haiti and Santo Domingo, I've visited all the countries, in some way. And, given the conditions of my travels, first as a student and later as a doctor, I gradually got into close contact with poverty, hunger, diseases, the impossibil ity to cure a son for lack of doctors, the dehumanizing effect of hunger and continuous punishment to the extent that for a parent, the loss of a child is an unimportant accident, as is often the case with the oppressed classes in our American homeland.
"And I started to see things that in that time seemed more important to me than being a famous researcher or making a substantial contribution to the medical sciences: to help these people."
Ernesto married his first wife, Peruvian Hilda Gadea, in Tepozotlán town, Mexico, and his first daughter, Hilda Beatriz Guevara Gadea, was born in Mexico.
Guevara finally got a job as a doctor working in the allergy ward of the Mexico City General Hospital where he again met Antonio Lopez (Ñico), his Cuban friend from Guatemala, who had gone to the hospital to visit a sick friend.
"... On Aztec land, I once again found some of the July 26 Movement members I had met in Guatemala..." Through "Ñico" Lopez, Ernesto first met Raúl Castro and later Fidel Castro in the home of Cuban María Antonia González at 49-C Emparan Street.
"I met him on one of those cold Mexico nights, and I remember that our first argument had to do with international pol icy. A few hours later, on that same night — past midnight — I was already one of the future members of the expedition."
Along with several Cubans, Ernesto was arrested by the Mexican pol ice at the Santa Rosa Ranch in Chalco where he was training with the group of Cubans Fidel Castro was preparing to return to Cuba to resume the struggle for Cuba's nat ional liberation. Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara, as well as the rest of the detainees, were sent to the Miguel Schultz Prison in Mexico City.
"This delayed the beginning of the last part of the first stage. Some were in prison for fifty-seven days, with the ever-present threat of extradition hanging over our heads ..."
From the Mexican prison, Ernesto sent a letter to his parents explaining the situation he was in and the cause for his arrest.
"Some time ago, rather a long time now, a young Cuban leader invited me to join his movement, an armed movement to l iberate his country, and, of course, I accepted. Devoted to the physical training of the young people who will some day tread Cuban soil, I spent the last few months under the guise of a professor. On July 21 — I had been absent from my home in Mexico for a month, for I was in a ranch on the outskirts — Fidel was arrested with a group of comrades and in the house they found our addresses, so we were all caught in the raid.
"I had my documents attesting to my condition as a student of Russian, which was enough to make me an important l ink in the organizat ion, and news agencies friendly to US imperial ism caused an uproar all over the world.
"This is a summary of these past events; future events are divided into two: the short and long terms. In the short term, let me tell you that my future is l inked to the Cuban revolution. Either I succeed with it or die there ..."
In prison he wrote a poem entitled "Poem to Fidel", in which he reaffirmed his will ingness to support the young Cuban leader in his efforts to free his homeland:
Let's go, fervent prophet of the dawn,
Along hidden wireless paths
To free the green all igator that you love so much
Let's go, routing affronts our brows Full of Martí's insurgent stars.
Let's swear to attain our triumph or meet death.
After more than a month in jail, Guevara was released with Cuban Cal ixto García. They were the last to leave prison, since the others had been set free earl ier due to contacts General Lázaro Cárdenas had with the Mexican president. After their release, Fidel Castro and his comrades resumed preparations, although they redoubled precautions to prevent another arrest. Ernesto Guevara was one of the 82 members, led by Fidel Castro, who went aboard the Granma in the Mexican port of Tuxpan to go to Cuba.
"The Granma had been prepared at l ightning speed: all the groceries we managed to buy — very few, as a matter of fact— were loaded, as well as uniforms, rifles, equipment, two anti-tank guns with almost no ammunition.
"Finally, on November 25, 1956, at two o'clock in the morning, Fidel's words, which had been the target of derision by the official press, were beginning to come true: In the year 1956, we shall be free or we shall be martyrs.
"We sailed, with all the l ights off, from the port of Tuxpan, amid a hell ish jumble of all kinds of material and men.
"The weather was very bad ..."