Ernesto and Alberto are sheltering from a thunderstorm in a village police station crowded with other itinerants when Ernesto receives a letter from Chichina. He doesn’t tell the reader what the letter says, but it’s clear that she is breaking up with him. Ernesto is completely blindsided by this development; although he always took Chichina for granted, he feels now that his image of home and his future life is inextricably linked to her presence. With the loss of his girlfriend, his prospects after the end of the road trip seem much less stable and certain.
Up to this point, Ernesto had a fairly stable conception of the life to which he would return. Without Chichina, he has less stability to fall back on, but he also faces a larger array of possibilities. Ernesto already had doubts about returning to his old life, but now, knowing that he can’t, he is thrown fully into his new circumstances.
Although he at first articulates a strong sense of his emotional dependence on Chichina, Ernesto reconsiders this while trying to write a response to her letter. Upon examining his feelings, he realizes that, while he thought he loved Chichina, he hasn’t felt anything for her for a long time. Shocked by the fundamental emptiness of a relationship that once seemed of paramount importance, Ernesto feels uneasy and worries that he is “incapable of feeling anything.”
Since Chichina is closely associated with Ernesto’s bourgeois upbringing, his lack of emotion about their breakup should signal to the reader that Ernesto has fully left behind his attachment to his old life. While he fears that this means he can’t feel, it actually signals that his feelings have shifted—after all, he has felt his recent experiences in nature deeply.
Even though Ernesto frets the night away, when the storm lets up and he and Alberto can start traveling again, the good weather and excitement of crossing the border into Chile—the first of many foreign countries they hope to explore—does much to reinvigorate him.