Still in the canyon. I hope that Joaquin is at the other end of this ravine! Finally we got to the end of it and after some confusion about which road to take we made camp along the side of a road which will hopefully lead to Rosita. But later Che said it was a poorly sited camp and we headed off towards Paulino’s farm. At least we know roughly where we are. I managed to pick up a report from Radio Havana on the radio which said that some army troops fell into an ambush and were rescued by a helicopter. Our fame spreads – though I never heard a helicopter.
I was up most of the night with Che whose asthma was bad. Then early in the morning a lantern was seen coming across the river. Miguel and Moro were sent to investigate. Pretty soon there was shooting. Miguel came back triumphant with an M1 gun and a cartridge belt. He’d taken them from a soldier he shot and wounded. It turned out there were around twenty men nearby and another hundred and fifty soldiers are in the region. We decided it was time to leave before we could work out how many casualties our men inflicted. No time to stand counting. But it took a while to load up the horses – you can’t move quickly with horses – and one of them ran away in the process. Some of the loads of goods fell off the backs of the others and had to be re-strapped, or in one case, abandoned. One horse just ran away and we lost all that it was carrying. We got to Paulino’s sister’s house some time after seven in the morning and she told us that all of the men had been taken to La Paz as prisoners.
We kept on moving, and there was a lot of firing going on. When we came to the end of the path at the river canyon we set up a place to stand and fight. Miguel, Coco and Julio were sent on ahead. I stayed with Che and the horses. Taking up the rear positions were Benigno, Dario, Pablo, Camba and Ricardo.
Benigno threw a grenade and it fell into the water, short of its target of soldiers. But they ran away quickly.
We crossed the ford several times to throw the soldiers off the scent and the fourth time we were under fire and Che’s horse fell and threw him off. That pulled us up short and we took up a fighting position.
Soon Camba came up and told us that Ricardo and Ancieto had been crossing the river and had been hit with gunfire. There was some confusion with men not getting the right orders. The army seem to hold control of the river.
Camba had been sent on but he didn’t hear clearly what he was supposed to do. Later he came back and said that Miguel and Julio had come under fire and withdrawn. Everyone was split up and I stayed with Che, Pombo, Inti and Chino.
We waited and then Miguel was sent for. We withdrew to higher ground and everyone grouped together there. But we discovered that Raul was dead in the fighting and Ricardo and Pacho had been wounded. Their group had a particularly hard fight when they tried to cross an area that they should have steered clear of. Men were sent out to get Pacho and Ricardo back – Pacho on horseback and Ricardo was carried in a hammock. Pacho wasn’t too badly hurt but I have to report that despite all attempts to save him, Ricardo died that night. We buried him, and it reminded me too keenly of Tuma’s burial. At least this time I cannot feel any responsibility or guilt for Ricardo’s death though it is sad to lose yet another comrade. We need to be more vigilant at all times now because the soldiers might be anywhere and we might come across them at any time.
Che explained to us all our shortcomings which he said led to the problems in this recent fight. During the rescue we didn’t bring back all the equipment, because men panicked. That means we’ve lost a lot of things, including medicine and binoculars because eleven knapsacks were abandoned. We also lost some books and a tape recorder. So we have suffered two dead men and a loss of much useful equipment. The enemy losses were only about two men dead and half a dozen injured. On our side we now have only twenty two men in the company. Pacho and Pombo are wounded and Che’s asthma is disabling. That means only nineteen in a good condition to fight. We really need to catch up with Joaquin’s group to get up to fighting strength once more.
We killed a horse to have something to eat. Path clearing was slow and arduous. Che’s asthma is serious and Pombo is talking about giving him an enema because the anaethesic injections are not working well enough. It is critical and there was an argument. Moro said that the enema was too dangerous but he was preparing a calcium injection. All I know is that things would be a lot easier if we had the right medicine in the right amounts. But we are nowhere near a place to get medicine now.
Benigno and Pablo are still working on a path. They have cleared up to two hours distance. The radio gives out little news. Che’s last injection has been used up. I am carrying ten days of tablets, which are better than nothing. He tells me that he has never been so happy to stay close to a Jejen!
The path isn’t as good as they said it was. So progress is slow. Moro administered Che an intravenous novocaine injection – but it did little good. He is still unable to make anything of a journey. I worry that by the time we are able to get to where Joaquin’s group are, they will have moved on.
Again I am stuck here useless while the men go cutting paths. I hate this waiting. We have food to eat at least but I would rather be on the move. They report back that soon we will have a path clear to the Rio Grande. The only good thing is that Che’s asthma seems to be getting a bit better and he hopes we will be able ot move on tomorrow.