Hitchhiking through the stark scrublands to the northern border of Chile, Ernesto remarks that they are taking the same route as the conquistador Valdivia. To Ernesto, Valdivia’s unstoppable march through the hostile desert shows man’s overwhelming desire to “take control of a place where he can exercise total authority.” Ernesto feels that the European conquest of Chile sprung chiefly from the desire to tyrannize.
Ernesto simultaneously identifies with the conquistador (envisioning himself walking in his footsteps) and repudiates his objectives as rapacious and unjust. This hints at his own ambivalence about his own identity as a South American. Even though he feels deeply connected to South America and committed to helping its working people, he’s of European descent—meaning his ancestors helped wrest control of the continent away from its original occupants.
In the port town of Arica, Ernesto and Alberto find shelter in a local hospital, although the local doctor treats them with “as much disrespect as an established, financially secure bourgeois can show” to some scruffy, young travelers.
Ernesto is treated with disdain by people like this middle-class doctor, but seems to treat it as a badge of pride, evidence that he’s really fitting in among the proletariat.
Ernesto and Alberto leave Arica and head along the coast towards the Peruvian border, stopping periodically to scavenge for clams on the beach. An Argentine customs officer offers them some familiar mate and with this small meal they bid farewell to Chile.
Even though it was so hard to get visas to Peru, the actual border is nothing special; the land is the same on either side. This reminds readers that national borders aren’t natural occurrences but constructs imposed by governments.