In their first days traveling through Chile, the men meet several other doctors. They ask about their professional experiences and talk about their own aspirations. Leprosy (Alberto’s particular area of study) is neither common nor well-known in Chile, and people assume Ernesto and Alberto are highly qualified doctors, even leprosy experts, even though they are only medical students.
By appearing as qualified and educated professionals, even though they really aren’t, Ernesto and Alberto command a lot of respect they don’t technically “deserve.” This lack of humility shows that they are still somewhat immature, despite the experiences they’ve already had.
Ernesto and Alberto capitalize on this perception, using their unexpectedly privileged status in order to gain respect and assistance in the towns they pass through. One local newspaper even writes an article about them, in which they insinuate that they are doctors on a research tour of remote areas.
Social status affects almost every action in daily life. Ernesto becomes increasingly conscious of this phenomenon because he’s masquerading as someone of higher status than he actually is. However, Ernesto is not yet class-conscious enough to object to using status to gain power.
Although Ernesto acknowledges that this behavior is in large part a “scam” they’ve employed to make the journey easier, both men really are eager to learn about leprosy in remote communities. After a local doctor tells them of a remote leper colony on Easter Island and gives them letters of introduction, Ernesto and Alberto decide to change their itinerary and travel there.
Rather than pursuing a medical field that will allow them to become wealthy or well-known, Ernesto and Alberto want to use their careers to serve underprivileged communities. Their willingness to reroute their trip on a whim shows that they’re still open to spontaneity.