1,200 kilometers later, the men are staying with Ernesto’s uncle in northern Argentina. They sit by the sea in the moonlight, alone with their individual thoughts. Ernesto reflects that, for him, the water is a comforting, familiar presence. However, for Alberto—who is almost 30—this is his first experience with the ocean. It is a new and intense experience for him, and Ernesto reflects that Alberto is “overwhelmed by this discovery that signifies an infinite number of paths to all ends of the earth.”
Although Ernesto and Alberto share the experience of seeing the ocean, they respond to it in very different ways, just as they will react differently to the trip overall. This moment also has symbolic resonance with the remainder of the book. As Ernesto looks at the ocean, he thinks of the infinite paths “to all ends of the earth,” signifying his ambition and his ability to think outside the box of his upbringing.
Ernesto explains that he is bringing a dog, named Comeback, to his girlfriend, Chichina. He describes Comeback as a “symbol and a survivor.” Comeback is a symbol in that his name references Ernesto’s promise to his girlfriend that he will return to their life together, and Comeback is a survivor of a horse trampling, severe diarrhea, and several falls from the motorcycle, which is hard to control and tends to get into collisions.
Comeback is ostensibly a symbol of the strength and endurance of Ernesto’s relationship with Chichina. However, the number of near-death experiences he has before they arrive suggests that the relationship he represents is more tenuous than Ernesto admits.
Though the first 1,200 kilometers are supposedly the easiest of the journey, Ernesto and Alberto already have a sense that their trip will be difficult. The way Alberto had planned the trip, they should have been almost finished by now, which makes them uncertain that they will reach their destination at all.
The trip, which was supposed to be a fun vacation, is already turning out to be more arduous and thought-provoking than expected. The notion that they may not reach their destination can be seen as symbolic—Ernesto will never become the person he thought he would at the journey’s outset. He reaches a different destination altogether.