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.
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
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.
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
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.
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