Although they’re no longer enjoying the luxuries of local high society, Ernesto and Alberto stay in the Chilean town of Los Angeles and find shelter among a station of volunteer firefighters. The men spend a long time lounging, enjoying the free food, and conversing with the caretaker’s daughters. They even participate in a firefighting expedition, where Alberto saves a cat and is lauded as a hero.
In some ways, the loss of La Poderosa liberates Ernesto and Alberto. Now that they have to accept whatever shelter and methods of travel they can find, they’re more able to fit in with people of different class backgrounds. Alberto’s recognition as a town hero shows that even in a short time, he’s able to integrate into a completely different stratum of society than the one he’s accustomed to.
After this escapade, Ernesto and Alberto pay for passage to Santiago by working in a moving van. Once they arrive in the city, they have to obtain visas so they can legally cross over into Peru. They spend days shuttling between the Peruvian and Argentine embassies, facing endless bureaucratic processes. They officials give them the visas reluctantly and after much persuasion; they don’t believe the men will be able to transport themselves home without La Poderosa.
Without La Poderosa to distinguish them, Ernesto and Alberto have to interact with the government as poor travelers, not young professionals, and they find the bureaucracy both unwilling to oblige them and mistrustful of their goals. This experience shows them that government structures are fundamentally hostile to the working class.
In the meantime, Ernesto and Alberto run into some friends from their hometown who are in Santiago for a polo tournament. This is a fancy occasion; the friends are hosted by the cream of Santiago society and escorted around the city by debutantes. Under the circumstances Ernesto and Alberto, now gaunt, impoverished, and underdressed travelers, are somewhat of an embarrassment for their friends. Ernesto wonders if the friends will be loyal enough to acknowledge them in public and feels grateful when they do. Still, despite the fact that they come from the same city and class background, Ernesto now feels that they inhabit “different worlds.”
Ernesto and Alberto have been maturing and moving away from their middle-class origins throughout the road trip, but this is the first time their new characters clash with people from home. Comparing themselves now to men with whom they used to have much in common shows how much their personas and social life were in fact based on their class status. It’s also a hint that, after this transformative trip, it will be hard to reintegrate into bourgeois life.