After crossing the border into Peru, Ernesto and Alberto spend a long time walking in inhospitable desert sun, unable catch a ride without having to pay for it. Soon, it becomes nighttime and there is still no sign of a town. Since it’s too cold to sleep, the men hike drowsily all through the night. Eventually, they stumble across a hut occupied by a family of Indians.. Because of Alberto’s dubious medical qualifications, the Indians treat them like “demigods,” welcoming them with food and mate.
Even though Ernesto is theoretically very sympathetic to indigenous people as members of the proletariat, his behavior towards them is often troubling. He characterizes this family as simple native people, following accepted stereotypes, and is perfectly willing to accept the adulation they lavish on him as a foreigner of obviously higher social status.
The next day, Ernesto and Alberto obtain a ride in a truck transporting a group of Aymara Indian workers through beautiful rural landscape that has hardly changed since the Incas ruled South America. Although the Indians speak almost no Spanish, Alberto makes the effort to try to communicate with them. The Indians tell them some basic facts about the irrigation channels they pass, built by the Incas thousands of years ago. Even though they can’t say much, Ernesto says that hearing about the landscape from the Indians who had lived there for centuries “increased the emotional impact of the surroundings.”
When he can envision it controlled by the native people, or at least see it through their eyes, Ernesto describes the landscape as beautiful and existing in its purest state. This is a direct contrast to his negative descriptions of Chuquicamata, where the land is controlled by foreigners. Ernesto is developing a sense of an emotional, native connection to the land which he uses to bolster his political ideology.
Arriving in the town of Tarata, Ernesto is astonished that the architecture, clothes, crops, and cultural practices have been almost perfectly conserved from pre-colonial times. Even the village’s church combines European structure with “the spirit of the local Indians.” However, Ernesto is saddened that the people are not “the same proud race that repeatedly rose up against Inca rule” but an impoverished, oppressed race suffering from centuries of colonial control.
While the preservation of indigenous culture is a heartening demonstration of cultural pride and empowerment, it has a limited effect on the actual circumstances of the local people, who remain poor and politically oppressed. This suggests that ideology alone cannot affect real change—rather, power must be restored to the people for positive change to occur.