Ernesto and Alberto sail to the San Pablo Leper Colony on a small passenger boat, La Cenepa. The captain lets them stay in first class cabins because they are young professionals, but the other passengers, who are too status-obsessed to “allow themselves the luxury of associating with two penniless travelers,” are unfriendly and the men are isolated. They feel they have more in common with the sailors than with their fellow travelers.
Observing the petty behavior of the first-class passengers, Ernesto becomes convinced of the inherent superficiality of his own class. He’s becoming more and more alienated from his own class origins, and while this is an uncomfortable experience, it also helps him grow into a more thoughtful and self-aware adult.
Ernesto has some sort of sexual encounter, which he describes vaguely as a “careless caress,” with an “easy” girl on the boat. Afterward, he thinks of Chichina and imagines that she is probably in her familiar home entertaining “some new suitor.” However, Ernesto isn’t jealous or regretful; he feels he is “an old friend who knows and understands her” and wishes for her happiness. After reminiscing about what he calls his “preadventurer life,” Ernesto looks up at the starry sky, which seems to reassure him that his travels and all their consequences are worth it.
Ernesto’s use of the word “easy” suggests that he has a double standard for male and female sexual behavior, showing that his developing egalitarian principles don’t transcend his society’s sexist attitudes toward women. Moreover, by replacing Chichina with another, much more fleeting partner, Ernesto shows he has completely moved away from his earlier longing for a comfortable home life. He’s a much different person than he was when he was Chichina’s boyfriend.
The boat makes stops at a port in the city of Iquitos, and Ernesto’s asthma becomes so bad that he has to stay in the hospital for several days. Afterwards, they sail onwards and arrive in San Pablo, where the director of the leper colony, Dr. Bresciani, puts them up for the night.
While Ernesto’s asthma is certainly a hindrance at times, it doesn’t affect him the way it does those who can’t pay for medical care. That Ernesto can take a cross-continental trip while poor people with asthma can’t even work shows the persistent inequalities in public health.