The peaks of the volcanos, cloaked in cloud and on fire from the dawn sun, glide past the windows of our plane. In my imaginations I had painted a land of jungle not volcanos large enough to greet you as you arrive by plane.
Being thrown back into 'independent' travel stirs old memories: challenge, stress and reward. After a long flight with no sleep it is tempting to take the tourist options, so easy and available. But instead we took the local bus into the city and after much asking in our raw Spanish, found another bus to Antigua, the old capital. Though not easy the benefits of this approach are that it forces you into immediate interaction with the local people, who invariably turn out to be exceptionally polite, friendly and helpful.
Antigua's colonial architecture is striking, with its shocking pinks, oranges, blues and emerald greens - no pastels here. Thick, tough, solid facades are puncuated by thin doors and windows. Inside are exquisite, peaceful courtyards with flagstones, balconies, columns and beams with elegantly kept gardens. The contrast with outside is startling.
Walls shake. 4am. Local buses thunder past. We stumble out to the bus station. If the local coffee wasn't good enough to wake you, then a machismo Latin version of Gary Glitter at ear-splitting volume will be. We head north-west through numerous small villages, working the bus as a team: me handling the rucksacs and Yuki getting seats and tickets.
Yuki with her sketchbook draws quite a crowd; people here are more used to camera-toting tourists than observant artists. With little Spanish language ability between us, it is a very human way of bridging the cultural gap. The native people are quite unique: short, stocky, round flat faces, thick arms and hands, stumpy legs and dark leathery skin. They actually look identical to the people painted by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
They look tough. Yet so colourful and human; ever able to provide a friendly "Buenos Dias" and a toothy smile. yesterday we took a long walk through a number of small villages, dusty in the dry season and, whipped up by strong winds, we pass by, sweaty and choking. But we can leave. For these people and their children there is no escape. How can anyone not question their right to disturb these people?
Tonight in the town square, a man arrives bearing a tiny coffin wrapped in white fabric. He covers his eyes with his large hands, turns around three times and then heads for the local cemetery, followed by the family.
Time stops. There is always one escape I suppose.