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TRAVELSONGS Journal: Copan Ruinas and the Mayan World

Copan Ruinas and the Mayan World, November 16, 2002

Many things have happened since my last entry. After Lagos Atilan I returned to Antigua to catch a shuttle at 4 in the morning to Copan in the Honduras. The shuttle was on time and we all packed in to the minibus. How many people fit on a Guatemalan bus? There is always room for one more. The ride was cramped but overall pleasant.

The Guatemalan border is where the fun began. Money changers swarmed us to change our quetzals to limpiras. O.K. I am here for a few days so I only change enough for a hotel and a meal. I can go to the bank tomorrow. Other people panic and change more in case the bank is not open. Then we get to Guatemalan immigration. At one window they give me an exit card to fill out. They look at my passport and ask for 10 quetzals or 1 U.S. dollar. I give the man a dollar because its cheaper. Then he gives me the card and passport and I am directed to the next window. Honduras? No this is where we get the card stamped. One more dollar. Then we walk across no-mans-land to the Honduran immigration. More money changers, more stamps.

Copan Ruinas is a small town 2 km west of the the site itself. Rugged mountainous terrain, ranches and a rustic atmosphere. Highland location with cool nights and warm days; just the way I like it. The town is situated on a hillside with steep cobblestone streets that criss-cross back and forth.

As is tradition in most Latin American towns, people gather in the town square in the early evening when the heat of the day is subsiding. Women prepare and sell snacks, children play games on the boardwalk, men sit and discuss affairs while teens hope for romantic encounters.

The food is excellent here. One dish I particularly like is a mixture of beans, cheese, peppers, cream, onions, chicken and tomatoes. This piping hot mixture is poured over the nachos. The whole thing is kept hot with a bed of coals in a clay pot beneath, very tasty.

The site of the Mayan Ruins lies just inside a national park and world heritage site. The site dates back 2000 years with the golden age between 550 and 800 A.D., after which Copan mysteriously fell into decline and was reclaimed by the jungle.

The Mayan world was a highly developed society based on theology, science and symbolism. Mayan astronomers gathered in Copan and did a great deal of researches on eclipses. They also took their sport seriously with the losing captain of the ball team being beheaded.

Copan's famous hieroglyphic staircase depicts the genealogy of its rulers and the history of the site in 63 steps, 30 meters wide each step carved in intricate detail to the very top. The intricate carvings seem removed from history or reminiscent of Indonesian art. At times they appear cartoon-like with broad, exaggerated features. Check out the toothy turtle on the photo page.

Another curious tradition is that temples were destroyed and rebuilt with the advent of new rulers. One temple however was considered too sacred and was simply entombed inside another. Imagine the delight and surprise when it was discovered.

Rosalia, as it is named displays the original colors and intact architecture of Copan in its heydays. A full scale replica exists in the museum on site. Copan is very subtle in its presentation. It does not seem as spectacular as other sites on previous trips. The carvings though are truly amazing.

Met up with a couple from Sweden, Chris and Carin in Copan. They have been traveling for about a year. We decided to go to Rio Dulce together. The next morning we took the notorious chicken bus back to Guatemala. Actually these buses are probably a lot safer than the tourist shuttles which I avoid because they are too visible.

Previous entry: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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