From Lake Atitlan we headed first to Chichicastenango for market day and then on to Antigua, Guatemala's first capital city.
Chichi was a riot of colour, incense and a real assault of the senses, the noises, the smells, the crush...
Antigua by comparison was calm and ordered. Camping in the Turista Police Car Park, we were lucky to be right in the centre of this Unesco World Heritage Site and spent several days visiting all the churches, monasteries, convents and colleges that had made Antigua such an important capital in the 1700s, before the two earthquakes in 1717 and 1773 made everyone rethink whether this really was the best pace to be! The evidence of the effects of these earthquakes is cleary still visible.
From our campsite we could see Volcan El Fuego, another active volcano burning at night, when the weather was clear. Inspired, we took a short trip out from Antigua to visit Guatemala's third active volcano, Volvan el Picaya. We arrived in San Francisco de Sales early one evening and camped outside the National Park office. We arranged a guide and played football with the local kids, before settling down for the night. We were off at 6.30am the following morning. El Picaya is nowhere near as high as Santa Maria and we climbed to the top in about 90 minutes
The 15th Spetember is Independence Day for Guatemala. We had been seeing bands practicing for weeks in all the different towns and villages we had been in. The 13th September was a parade day for all the school kids, the 14th was a day of torches being run through the streets and the 15th was the culmination with marching bands everywhere. Despite starting at 8am, many were still going at 9.30pm, fingers taped up for blisters but still having fun and very much enjoying the celebrations.