Copan

Copan Travel Blog

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With Antigua done and dusted we were also finished in Guatemala, and our next country was Honduras, starting with the town of Copan which is adjacent to the Mayan ruins (rueens) of the same name.

We took a private van from Antigua to Copan. As we left Antigua we picked up take-away breakfasts that we had ordered the night before. The drive took us through Guatemala City and from what I could tell I had not missed much by only passing through. The border crossing was painless as we just sat in the van while Todd took our passports in and got us 'stamped' in. I say that because they didn't actually stamp our passports, which shows how seriously they take the border between the two countries. As we sat in the van money changers came up and offered us their Honduran Lempiras. They were giving a decent rate so most of us traded up.

From the border it was less than an hour to get to Copan where we dropped our bags off and went for a walk around town. Copan town is very small so we did a quick lap of the square and then found a cafe for lunch.

Later in the afternoon we organised to go to some local hot springs and have a BBQ for dinner. We walked a couple of blocks into town and waiting for us was a ute (or pick up truck) with seats on the back tray. We all jumped on took off for the hot springs. The drive out there took probably a good hour, and mostly along a dirt road that was very popular with locals hanging around outside houses and at the occasional shop. I don't think tourists go out that way very often because we got heaps of looks as we drove along on the back. The mountainous scenery gave us some good views on the ride as well. By the time we got to the hot springs the sun was setting.

The hot springs there were two large pools near a stream coming off the mountain side. There was hot steam coming out of the stream water so we knew it was pretty hot. They had set up the hot springs by diverting some of that water into statue heads over the pools that the hot water drained out of.

We were keen for a swim so we all got changed and jumped in. The water wasn't quite as hot as I had hoped but it was still pretty good. It was a lot deeper than any hot spring I have been to before. Thomas had brought an inflatable ball so he pumped that up and we smacked it around the pool for a while. We tried out the other pool but found out it was really too shallow to stay in. Some kids there jumped in and started trying to do tricks with the ball so we just gave it to them.

After it was then dark and we had had a decent swim we got changed into dry clothes and had our BBQ dinner that a couple of local guys had cooked for us. About then I found out that while we had been in the shallow pool earlier with the kids that a young girl had nearly drowned in the big pool next to it before one of the adults nearby dived in and saved her. I couldn't believe I had been so close and didn't even notice it happen.

We went back to Copan the same way in the ute, but this time it was dark and very cold. Mel had most of the group in deep thought over the answer to a riddle that I already knew the answer to because it actually happened and I had read about it: after a big bushfire investigators found a dead man in the middle of the burned out forest wearing full scuba gear - what happened?

The next day we were up early to go to the main attraction of Copan town - the Copan ruins! They are very close to town so we walked the ten minutes out to them. At the front we were met by our guide who had a long stick with a feather on the end for him to point out details of interest.

Just inside the entrance were about six or eight very bright and colourful macaws. They were out in the open during the day but are trusted to come back to their cages at night to avoid predators because they know that that means they will get fed. They were quite raucuous and were perching right next to us while nibbling on little stones so that they keep their beaks sharp. As we walked in through the thick trees we spotted a couple of agoutis, which are rodents that are common in the area.

The guide walked us around a ruin that was yet to be excavated and so, like in Palenque, was deep under dirt and even had trees growing on it. We came to a big ruin that was excavated back to its original exposure and the guide pointed out the various parts of it. I was intrigued by the writing that the guide showed us on one long stretch of the structure. The writing is pictorial but the guide said that many of the symbols were actually phonetic, which up to that point I thought was well beyond the sophistication of the Mayans. He talked about how one Spanish priest had been interested in the alphabet he found and managed to find locals who could pronounce the characters and make a record of it that thankfully survived the pervading Spanish sentiment that anything Mayan was sacriligous and not to be entertained.

We were told about how much of the great structures were in honour of the 16th ruler of Copan, and it was clear in the symbolism that this guy thought he was pretty great, even godlike. The guide was of the opinion that the sheer number of resources required to create and maintain such structures at the expense of people to do necessities like grow food and gather water meant that Copan may have become unsustainable and maybe that is a reason why it was eventually deserted.

One thing I found a bit sad about the Copan ruins was that many of the iconic parts have actually been removed from the site, and sometimes replaced with replicas. Thankfully the replicas are incredibly realistic, including the detail of damage caused to the original by time passed since their creation. Some of the pieces moved are in nearby museums assumedly for preservation reasons, which is justifiable although it does pervert the site where major parts are either not there or replaced by fake ones. By far worse than that in my mind is that many of the excavation works were done by US or UK institutions in return for taking back pieces to their home country. A very obvious one is on this huge staircase which has a main statue from the middle of it clean removed and now sits in some university in the US basically as a trophy. Fail!

We walked around the rest of the excavated ruins, including a ball court that only barely resembled the one at Chichen Itza, probably due to the huge distance between the places and the different Mayan eras they were created in. There were also a lot of statues around two metres tall that represented the ruler, and were very ornamental in what they were carved to be wearing, and at the time also had very vibrant colours. Another fascinating item was a big rock clam with an indentation carved out on top that experts believe was used to place the heads of captured enemies, where they would be beheaded.

There was the chance to wander around after the guide left but most of us were pretty exhausted from the intense sun beaming down on us so we walked back. Some of us went down to a cool cafe at the edge of town for lunch where I got a club sandwich and put so much hot sauce on it that I pretty much burned my mouth eating it.

When we got back to the hotel Gary went off to do horse riding and I stayed back in the room and had a bit of a snooze. I got woken up by the sound of cars honking and of cheering outside. I wandered outside and there was a huge convoy of cars going down the road packed with people cheering and waving flags for the conservative political candidate Pepe.

The whole political situation in Honduras was quite interesting. Earlier in the year the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup by the military after he ignored a Supreme Court ruling that he could not change the constitution to run for another term. He first fled to Nicaragua but then snuck back in and got himself holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Meanwhile the plans for the election he was going to try to run in went ahead without him. The two main candidates were Pepe from the conservative party that supported the coup, and Elvin from the socialist party that Zelaya was from. It was abundantly clear that Pepe had all the campaign money because the country was littered with huge billboards of his mug and the slogan "Pepe es cambio, ya!" (Pepe is change, yes!). The convoy rally down the street pushed that point home even further. (mysterious note from the future: after we left Honduras Pepe won the election by a large margin)

With cravings of conservatism now rammed down my throat I thought I should try to make myself look more respectable and get a haircut. I found a barber just down the road and asked for a haircut in broken Spanish. The place was very basic but had a couple of people mingling in there watching the local Honduran football final. The haircut ended up costing less than $2, so the fact it was not the best of haircuts didn't bother me.

That night we went out to dinner at where Todd said was the best restaurant in town. It turned out to be the same cool place some of us had gone to for lunch - now the second day out of the past three that that had happened! We had some beers with dinner and then went back to the hotel.
James1985 says:
what about that scuba diver then?
Posted on: Jul 01, 2011
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Copan
photo by: Biedjee