La Poderosa finally suffers damage which can’t be fixed, and the men have to leave the motorcycle behind. From now on, they can only go between towns by walking or hitchhiking. Without La Poderosa, they face not only increased inconvenience, but also depreciation in the way others perceive them. They are leaving the region in which they’re famous as leprosy experts and now they don’t even have the motorcycle to distinguish themselves as “motorized bums.” Instead, they are now “bums without wheels,” and most people don’t see any reason to help them or treat them nicely.
In its dying moments, La Poderosa completes its transformation as a symbol, coming to represent the safety net of bourgeois class status that the men are leaving behind for good. Just as their fortunes had previously swung upward, now they swing down, showing once again how superficial and precarious status is. Now that Ernesto and Alberto have left their fame behind and lost a concrete status symbol, they realize how much of the way people treat them is due to external symbols and not their actual merits or character.