Ernesto and Alberto continue to enjoy what Ernesto characterizes as characteristically Chilean hospitality, which in fact depends on their perceived status as medical professionals. Wherever they go, they are able to find someone within the network of local doctors to help them. At worst they can sleep in a townsperson’s shed; at best, a friendly local funds a night of drinking.
That Ernesto first interprets the doctors’ kindness as “characteristically Chilean hospitality” shows his inability to recognize his own privilege. Such treatment would likely not be afforded to a poorer man, but Ernesto has not yet seen enough of South America’s poverty to recognize that his experience is not characteristic of others’ experiences.
In Temuco, they give an interview to the newspaper in which, while they don’t state their exact qualifications, they don’t think they’ve strayed too far from the truth. The next day, they wake up to find an article describing them as “leprosy experts” renowned throughout the Americas and involved in a large-scale research project. This publicity catapults them to local fame, and townspeople begin to treat them not like “a pair of more or less likable vagrants” but as important visitors. Rather than consigning them sleep in barns or outbuildings, families put them up in their own houses, attended by servants.
The extent to which the men can carry their deception about their class status shows how fallacious and fundamentally silly class distinctions are. Although they acknowledge this, they see no problem in enjoying all the special treatment it affords them. It’s significant, too, that Ernesto begins to understand the nuances of status by being treated better than he expects, rather than worse. This suggests Ernesto’s natural upward mobility, and it demonstrates that his eventual life trajectory was a radical choice.