We set off along a path down the ravine which was treacherous and slippery. We split into two groups and I was in the rear group with Che and Pombo. I still find it hard to look at them and for the first time I wished I was in the other group. But because I’m in charge of the radio Che wanted me with him. Also, I’m carrying the last of his asthma medicine – though I asked him if he wanted to trust another man with it. He laughed at me – ‘Jéjenito’ he said ‘I trust you with my life.’ I felt ashamed and stammered something and he took me by the shoulder and said ‘we have to live with the consequences of our actions and our frailties. Look forward and do not dwell on the past. You are a fine man in the making and there is no blame or shame you have to carry. Surely the radio is heavy burden enough?’ It made me feel a bit better but I don’t know how he can be so kind when he has suffered such a loss. Travel is still slow because of Pombo’s injury. He rides a horse but he got thrown off a few times and that’s not good for his leg – or his pride.
We met back up with the other group today. They had camped at an orange grove. The farm there sold us cigarettes. I gave my share to Pombo and Che. This ravine is the devil’s place, there is only one course along the river and it is steep and dangerous if one was attacked. There are lots of biting gnats but the weather is quite mild. It should make Che’s asthma better but it’s not letting up. I’ve noticed that when we are at higher altitude or higher humidity it gets worse. We should stay closer to ground level but we have to follow the path. We stopped at a coffee plantation and got some fresh roasted coffee which was excellent.
We stayed at the coffee plantation because Pombo still needs rest for his leg and the jolting of the horse he is riding isn’t helping. We spent a lot of money with the peasants who seem happy to deal with us when we offer them hard cash. While we were resting, drinking coffee again, a plane went overhead. We hadn’t seen one for a couple of days but it is a reminder that the enemy are always near. We were scraping the bottom of the asthma flask to find enough medicine to inject Che. The lack of medicine is very worrying.
We moved on but didn’t get very far because we are travelling so slowly. We arrived at a Junction and the peasant there acted really scared. I never know if that’s because he’s afraid of us or because he knows the army are near by. We are not in a good state to deal with a swift withdrawal right now, and we don’t have a lot of ammunition for a big fight. At least there was plenty of food to buy and eat and we have filled our bellies for a good few days. We slept in a shack – that’s a bonus too from sleeping out in the fields with all the biting insects. Che had a bad asthma attack tonight. I heard him wheezing and offered him medicine but he didn’t want to take it. There is so little of it left. We must resupply with ammunition and medicine soon. I think that’s more important than finding Joaquin, but no one asked my opinion.
We came across loads of peasant families fleeing the oncoming of the army. They are very afraid and especially when they see us, that they will be victims of recriminations and accused of helping us. It is hard to convince them we are fighting for their future when they are so convinced that we will be the death of them. We managed to get a guide to show us along the river and we slept by the side of the road.
Once again we had to go through an area with people and once again they reacted with fright to our arrival. They couldn’t get rid of us quickly enough. We climbed up the Alto de Palermo which is quite high and we didn’t get there till dusk, then started down the other side. We move slowly because of Pombo’s leg and Che’s asthma. We headed down towards a grocery store at the bottom of the other side of the hill, but when we got there it was fully dark. We had planned to capture a vehicle, buy a load of stuff and head off at some speed. I was detailed to capture the pharmacy and get what medicines I could pay for – especially asthma medicine. Someone else headed to the hospital. Che had brought plenty of asthma medicine with him when he came – enough for a year at least – but it was left in the caves a couple of months ago and the army got it – so we have been making do on the small amounts that I, he and Pombo have been carrying and it is nearly finished. But because of all his attacks recently it is nearly used up. I was determined to get him as much of it as possible to sustain him for as long as possible. But in the end I couldn’t find any. I missed all the action while I was looking for it.
Che didn’t want us to attack the town – he said it was his own fault that there wasn’t enough medicine and he didn’t want to risk life on his account. But Pombo and others stepped in and said it was a vital thing to do. So we did it. But the plan wasn’t well carried out, because Che isn’t able to think straight when his asthma is fully on him and others don’t think everything through.
Some were detailed to stop a truck – but the truck they stopped had another one behind it which stopped to help the first so that had to be captured too. The first truck had women in it – one of them refused to get out and there was a scene. Another truck then stopped and another and thus the road became blocked. This was obviously a dangerous situation for us. But we sorted it out, took one truck and the group headed off. The ‘shopping’ didn’t go as well. I got some valuable medicine but nothing for asthma could be found. There was none at the hospital either.
Those in the truck drove on to a nearby town where they captured several local soldiers and had a bit of a fire fight. They captured some guns and prisoners who they took some way away, stripped of their clothing –new boots for all! – and were let go. I missed the action but the whole town saw it and so news of our action will spread far and wide soon enough. That means the army will come looking for us I’m sure. We shared the new boots and clothes out. There was a pair of boots, in good condition, just my size and I got a new pair of pants as well.
After the excitement of yesterday it was something of a relief just to be walking again – away from the action – We bought a pig from a man who told us there were several hundred soldiers nearby. Che’s asthma is bad and we have had to water down what’s left of his medicine. It doesn’t make things right but it eases his discomfort a bit. It is so worrying when he has a full attack. Pombo’s leg is healing. And with our new clothes and boots we are looking a bit less ragged than of late – the locals are still scared when they see us though. I’m writing this late at night without a lot of light to see what I’m writing so it’s more of a scrawl than anything and I’ve been catching up from the last couple of days. I’ve been up most of the night in case Che needs me and so I was able to sit and write, something that’s not so easy every day now. But I feel it’s important to document things – one day is so like another and it’s easy to forget what happened and why we are doing it. But sometimes it takes a couple of days before I’m able to put down what happens.