From El Peten, we took the main highway south from Flores to Coban. Route No 7 was nice and red on the map, the best type of road there could be. We hadn't anticipated that the road could or would change so much and as the asphalt disappeared it gave way to a single width, rock strewn mountainous track, that resembled more of an extremely steep and narrow river bed, with gullies everywhere (a total understatement, according to The Driver). We seriously wondered whether we should turn back, but as dark was approaching we soldiered on, thinking this wouldn't last long...... Some 3 1/2 hours and 22km of extremely rural driving later, up steep hills with sharp drops, we came across a village with electricity (civilisation!) and decided to find a spot to park up for the night. The locals were extremely friendly and very curious - there wasn't much privacy, but they kindly gave us permission to park up in front of their church and rest for the night.
The Highlands of Guatemala are beautiful, it's where there best coffee comes from, almost all of it exported, but the rainforest is under threat as indigenous Mayans try to improve their lives, cutting down wood for heat and cooking and clearing land to feed themselves.
The Highlands are also extremely volcanic. We enjoyed a natural thermal sauna near Zunil and after a week in Quetzaltenango (Xela), where we spent another week in Spanish school tying to improve our Spanglish, we attempted Santa Maria. It took some our hours to climb the 4,200 feet to the summit but it was worth it. As we were snacking on breakfast, having set off at 4am, we were treated to a "minor" eruption from Santaguito the neighbouring volcano and one of the three active ones in Guatemala.