NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Fragglebum who says... "This is a wonderfully made movie - it would be nice if all foreign films were this good."
The movie starts with a young doctor-in-training Ernesto Guevera de la Serna (who eventually becomes political icon 'Che') getting ready to take time off his study and travel around South America with his older mate Alberto Granado.
The film starts relatively lighthearted showing all the trouble the pair have with Alberto's huge pile of junk which is their motorcycle - they crash and fall off several times and it needs repair regularly. After a brief stop to see Ernesto's girlfriend where she gives him some American money to buy her a swimsuit (important later) and says she will wait for him, the boys set off to have fun on the road and hopefully find a girl in each town.
As their journey progresses Ernesto finds it difficult to comprehend the level of suffering that people are having to endure. An important part is when after the motorbike has given up the ghost and the pair are now walking, they meet a married couple who are walking to a mine hoping for some work - they were run out of town due to their political beliefs and now have nothing. Ernesto and Alberto join the couple in their journey to the mine and watch as the man is picked to join the workers and made to start immediately, this upsets Ernesto and demands that the man be given some water and some rest but these demands are refused. Alberto urges to leave this place and continue their journey so they do but Ernesto cannot forget what he had witnessed.
From this point on Ernesto and Alberto now go out of their way to speak to the locals in every town they visit and get to know their stories - the audience can see how much this affects Ernesto and this is when shades of who he later becomes really starts to come through.
Finally Alberto and Ernesto reach a previously arranged stop, they meet with a Doctor who is well known in the medical community and who has had a lot to do with research into leprosy. In a funny scene the Doctor asks Ernersto and Albert to read a book that he has been working on for years and has finally finished, when he asks their opinion Alberto gushes and says how wonderful it was while Ernesto displays his honesty once again and tells the Doctor that he did not enjoy it, the story was contrived and that he should really stick to medicine. The Doctor stares at Ernesto for a while and slowly thanks him for his honesty and tells him that no one has ever been that honest with him before! The Doctor has arranged for Alberto and Ernesto to travel to a large leper colony nearby and buys them passage on a boat to get them there - they thank each other and say goodbye. On the boat trip Ernesto suffers a really bad asthma attack but when his back is turned his bag is stolen along with his medicine - Alberto urges Ernesto to give him the American money that his girlfriend gave him so he can buy some more but Ernesto reveals he gave the money to the mining couple from earlier in the film. Alberto is disappointed but understands.
Upon their arrival at the Colony they are greeted with open arms by the Doctor-in-Charge and are shown around the place but Ernesto is keen to meet the patients (i.e. lepers). The colony is divided by the Amazon River, on one side the doctors and nurses live and on the other side the lepers live. When they get to the other side the Doctor-in-Charge tells the boys that the nurse/nuns insist on wearing gloves every time you make contact with the patients but Ernesto refuses - he says that the gloves don't really do anything and that they're really just a placebo so there's no point in wearing them and then proceeds to go and meet with the patients. The first one he meets is an old man who when he sees an ungloved hand is reluctant to shake it but Ernesto insists - the patients are quick to respect Ernesto and Alberto and great friendships are made. We are then introduced to a teenage girl who is in the early stages of the disease but refuses to have the operation to cut some problematic lumps (I'm sorry, I don't know the medical terms) in her arm. Ernesto goes to speak with her and subtly encourages her to go through with the operation.
Alberto and Ernesto stay at the colony for quite a while and are loved by all who are there (apart from the Head Nun who is at first quite annoyed by their lack of respect for the rules but slowly warms up to them). It is soon Ernesto's birthday and a big party is held where there is dancing and drinking - Ernesto takes this opportunity to give a speech on what he has seen in his travels and how he thinks its time for change (we definitely see the political leader coming out in this scene). He then decides that he wants to spend his birthday with the patients and claims that he will swim from one side of the Amazon to the other. Alberto laughs and tells him that its a ridiculous idea, there are piranhas and he has seriously bad asthma. But this only makes Ernesto more determined. He jumps in and starts to swim! The doctors and nurses/nuns run out and yell at him to stop but he keeps going - the patients on the other side hear the commotion and rush to their side of the river but aren't sure what is going on until they realize that Ernesto is on his way - they start to encourage him to keep going, keep it up. Ernesto makes it!!! There is relieved applause from one side and elated applause from the other. Ernesto gets to spend the last few hours of his birthday with who he really wanted to be with.
The next day the colony give Alberto and Ernesto a raft they have made and the much-changed pair set off on their journey again. The last part of the film shows the pair on the raft continuing to travel throughout South America.
Alberto and Ernesto continue their journey on the raft until they reach a town with an airport which is where Alberto decides to take a medical job that he was offered by the Doctor (the one who had dabbled in writing a book) earlier in the film. There is a sad scene where Alberto asks Ernesto to come with him so they can work together but Ernesto refuses and continues the journey alone.
NB: stay for the credits as they show the real life photos of Ernesto and Alberto's travels.
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