Ernesto Guevara and his friends, including Alberto Granado, are home for vacation from medical school. The young men pass the time in Alberto’s garage, fixing his motorcycle (which they call “La Poderosa”) and discussing plans and anxieties about their professional futures. Alberto and Ernesto have just quit their jobs, and Ernesto remarks that he was happy to do so because, “having the spirit of a dreamer,” he had been feeling “uneasy” and also “jaded” about his experiences with “medical school, hospitals, and exams.”
Before they embark on their trip, Ernesto and Alberto are typical middle-class students, firmly situated in a bourgeois social circle and on a bourgeois career path. However, Ernesto is already unfulfilled by the studies he has chosen and eager to orient his life around something besides medical school. It’s notable that he’s already seeing the inadequacies of medicine, though in this moment his dismay manifests as juvenile rebellion, rather than political consciousness.
Alberto suddenly suggests that he and Ernesto take a road trip to North America on La Poderosa, and Ernesto instantly agrees. Ernesto notes that the trip that followed remained in the spirit in which it was conceived: improvisation. The two men hurry to make plans, and Ernesto remarks on the vast and complex bureaucracy of obtaining visas and documents for the trip, lamenting the “many hurdles modern nations erect in the paths of would-be travelers.” As they prepare for the trip, its “enormity” is not apparent to them—all they can see is their daydream.
Ernesto and Alberto will remain committed to spontaneity throughout the trip. However, they have to balance these mentalities with practical concerns that persist even for rugged travelers. The men are also preoccupied with the personal excitement of the trip. They don’t predict that it will be ideologically significant or affect their characters.