After exhausting all available hospitality in Cuzco, Ernesto and Alberto head north towards a leper colony in Huambo. While waiting for rides, they spend aimless days in villages along the way, exploring the local terrain. In one village, they visit a church where the priest gives an atrociously bad three-hour sermon. Ernesto has an asthma attack and has to treat himself with cigarettes until Alberto finds some adrenaline at the local hospital.
Spending time in the countryside, even if it’s aimless, lets Ernesto become immersed in a way of life that, as a middle-class city dweller, he’s never seen before. These experiences are much more valuable to him now that he’s developed a political consciousness than they were at the beginning of the narrative.
A village mayor agrees to provide Ernesto and Alberto with horses for the journey to the leper colony. While they wait, they watch a group of native conscripts drilling under the ruthless command of a soldier who had been nice to them earlier and now treats them with “deference.”
Class distinctions permeate society to such an extent that they affect every ordinary interaction. Ernesto and Alberto are noticing more and more when this happens, even when they benefit from those distinctions.
An indigenous old woman and young boy accost Ernesto and Alberto as they are riding through the mountains on the horses. Because they don’t speak Quechua, Ernesto and Alberto at first have no idea what is wrong, but eventually they figure out that the mayor had taken the horses from the first Indians who happened to be passing by. Ernesto and Alberto return the stolen property and walk the rest of the way to the leper colony.
While Ernesto’s inability to communicate with the Indians shows how hard it is to move away from his own social demographic, his anxiety about compensating for the mayor’s misdeeds shows his refusal to be complicit in class oppression. Here, he differentiates himself from people like the soldier in command of the conscripts.
After arriving at the leper colony, they visit the hospital, where conditions are “disastrous:” there aren’t enough supplies or equipment, patients are confined in a very small space, and morale is very low. Moreover, the local community is so terrified of contagion that they refuse to help the hospital or provide any services.
Again, inadequate social services mean that poor people have no access to desperately needed medical care. Mainstream society displays a remarkably similar attitude to the lepers and the proletariat as a whole. Both groups are powerless and marginalized, and no one seems to care that they live in poverty and squalor.
Ernesto and Alberto procure horses for the trip back from a landowner. The landowner gives them an indigenous guide to guide them on the way and forces the guide, traveling on foot, to carry their luggage. Once they are on their way, the men carry their bags, but Ernesto can’t discern whether or not the guide appreciates this gesture.
Just as he did when he discovered he was riding a stolen horse, Ernesto tries to distance himself from the injustices others inflict on the working class. However, while he feels he’s very different from other people of his own class, the guide’s noncommittal attitude shows that it’s unclear if actual members of the working class perceive the same differences that Ernesto himself perceives.