Ernesto and Alberto continue from Tarata in a truck with another group of Indian laborers, who are fascinated by Ernesto and Alberto’s unfamiliar practice of brewing mate along the way. Eventually, the truck can go no further in the snow and everyone has to walk. Ernesto, in turn, is fascinated by the fact that the Indians can walk barefoot through the snow.
Ernesto views this experience as a sort of cultural exchange, in which two groups become more united by learning about one another. However, he’s arguably romanticizing poverty when he praises the Indians for getting by without shoes, a basic necessity he would never go without.
Just as the men in the roadside hut did, the Indians in the truck ask about Argentina. Spurred by enthusiasm, Ernesto and Alberto spin unrealistic stories of “the idyllic, beautiful life in our country” and promise to send their interlocutor a copy of the Argentine constitution.
Again, Ernesto and Alberto are taking advantage of their status as privileged foreigners, if only to get attention. They know that Argentina isn’t that different from Peru, and that life certainly isn’t much easier for its working classes.
During the truck ride, they also make friends with a Peruvian schoolteacher of Indian descent who tells them “many incredible stories of Indian customs and culture.” He explains the Indian custom of placing stones in a pile on the mountain peaks in order to “gift sadness” to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Although Spanish monks tried to eradicate these non-Christian practices, they have persisted through the centuries of colonial rule.
For Ernesto, the story of Pachamama is a positive example of how indigenous cultures can interact and survive contact with European ones. Rather than disappearing, the indigenous culture absorbed a Christian symbol to create a uniquely South American ritual.
The teacher speaks about the long history of the Aymara people, who used to be a powerful and fierce tribe before the Spanish conquest. In contemporary times, Indians are trapped in poverty or, if they manage to obtain an education or improve their economic status, they are still ostracized from bourgeois European society. The way to rectify this situation, the teacher asserts, is to change education systems so that schools would “orient [indigenous] individuals within their own world” rather than pushing them to its periphery.
The schoolteacher points out that it’s not just politics and economics that perpetuate inequality, but that cultural prejudice prevents even educated Indians with white-collar jobs (like him) from truly enter into the middle class. The preservation of old rituals and the attitude of schools toward Indian culture may seem like small issues, but they can either help or stymie the empowerment of the indigenous proletariat. Therefore, such issues merit the attention Ernesto will devote to them.