The Chase Is On

by Zoe Power

A leap into the unknown Guatemala


There's something strangely meditative in the ceaseless bumping of a chicken bus along one of Guatemala's windy, unpaved, rural roads. Or at least, so I'll try to justify the fact I've just stepped off without my wallet - leaving it bouncing happily without me in the bus now receding out of sight, and firmly out of reach of my noisy, sweaty, desperate pursuit. I'm given up and doubled over, gasping from the panic and exertion, when a lone motorcycle cruises into view. I thank my lucky stars as it pulls over, and its young rider - José - nods attentively throughout my spurt of not-quite-Spanish syllables. `Tranquillo', he smiles, but wastes no time in leaping valiantly to action. He revs a tight 180, helps me vault on back, and before I've even caught my breath we're underway. The chase is on! Clutching for dear life, I start to think the clustered icons jangling from the bus's rear-view must be working: for an antique vehicle with a flashy paint job, the garish chicken bus is moving at what seems to be unearthly speed. José shows no mercy on the throttle, yet with each new bend the fleeting, teasing purple streak stays just as far ahead of us. In fact, the chase continues for so long that our frenzied start relaxes to a kind of rhythm. I learn to lean into the corners, he to understand my clumsy Spanish syntax. We talk about our families and our studies and our travels. By the time we finally hail down the bus, whose bemused passengers readily partake in a dramatic highway repatriation of my wallet, we've covered some serious territory - comparing notes on the impact of endangered species and the best new direction for his band. He doesn't let me pay for gas, which by now we're nearly out of, but I'm at least able to shout my rescuer an ice cream to express my thanks. We eat them by the pump, savouring the sense of victory and spent adrenalin that has us laughing as the drips run down our fingers. My second arrival at Finca El Paraíso that day is much more graceful than the first - I step down from the burnished bike with José's help, waving farewell as he rides away. A short while later, floating in a deep, clear jungle pool as thermal water cascades on me from above, I'm awestruck by the spectacle I travelled here to see: to swim in a hot waterfall is an incredible, unique experience; something I already know that I'll never forget. And yet - I smile, as the steam rises around me - it's a distant second for the most memorable experience I've had today.