Ernesto transcribes another letter to his mother, written from Bogotá, Colombia. He gives a brief account of his visit to the leper colony and the generous hospitality they showed him, noting wryly that he made a “quintessentially Pan-American speech” and praising what he sees as Alberto’s better public speaking abilities.
It’s ironic that, even as he describes one of the first of many speeches he’ll give as a revolutionary leader, Ernesto considers Alberto the more charismatic speaker. He has matured more than Alberto has during the trip, but he still sees his older friend as a big-brother figure.
Then Ernesto describes the rest of the trip on the raft. Ernesto and Alberto spend a few days floating down the river and catching fish, but eventually they fall asleep when they’re supposed to be keeping watch and float into Brazil without noticing. They have to catch a boat upriver to Leticia, the city they’d accidentally passed.
Again, while national borders are politically paramount, in this instance the border of Brazil proves so easy to cross Ernesto and Alberto don’t even know they’ve crossed it. This incident underscores Ernesto’s speech at the leper colony, when he said that divisions between South American countries were false.
After a few days in Leticia, Ernesto and Alberto fly to Bogotá. There, they sleep on chairs in the hospital rather than paying for “the bourgeois comfort of a hostel.” Local leprosy doctors show them around and even offer them permanent jobs, which Alberto considers accepting but Ernesto doesn’t.
Until now, Ernesto and Alberto have functioned as a unit, but now their paths begin to diverge. Both are committed to social reform, but Alberto plans to pursue it as a doctor while Ernesto is thinking more about his ideology than any career at all. Besides demonstrating the growing radicalism of his politics, this moment shows Ernesto finally stepping out of the shadow of his charismatic older friend.
Because Ernesto carries a knife, he has an unpleasant altercation with the local police. He tells his mother that there is “more repression of individual freedom” in Colombia than anywhere else he’s traveled. Gun-wielding police routinely stop civilians to check their papers, even though many of them are actually illiterate. Ernesto thinks that a Colombian revolution is inevitable.
In Columbia, the imbalance of power between people and their rulers has grown so much it approaches the ridiculous—evidenced by police officers who can’t read well enough to do their jobs. This is the first time Ernesto explicitly predicts—and in fact seems to hope for—an actual revolution to address political injustice.