This entry is going to be a valuable lesson in relationship mediation. Ostensibly, it will focus on the Mayan Ruins at Copan. I (Alan) will be discussing the ruins themselves: the amazing carvings, the access to the ruins, and the history of the site [Harriet: blah, blah]. Harriet will be writing about our journey to and from the site, and our stay at the nearby tourist town [Alan: why would you want to relive that?]
The Ruins (Alan)
The Copan ruins are located in Honduras, and so we had to get temporary visas to pass through the border. We stayed a night in the town of Copan Ruinas which is one kilometer away from the archaeological site. That proved to be a very lovely walk with some interesting statues recovered from the site mounted along the way.
The ruins are in a beautiful forested setting. There’s a long walk to reach the entry from the ticket office at the road, and it’s a peaceful walk with a few tables set out for picnics. Once inside the complex, we were greeted by several macaws [H: looked like parrots to us] and other wildlife before entering the ruins themselves. Really peaceful and beautiful.
The Mayans were master stone carvers, and the stelae and alters are intricately carved with images of royalty, gods, plants, animals, and mythical creatures. Most of the ruins date from the 7th and 8th century A.D. and are remarkably well preserved. You walk among (and in some cases on) the structures and get very close to the carved images. Only some thin wire actually keeps tourists off of the statues. We spent a couple of hours walking through the complex, admiring the work and the beautiful views.
It’s definitely better to view the images of the site than rely on my ability to describe them.
The next day, before our bus adventures, we had the chance to visit the Enchanted Wings Butterfly House where between 30 and 35 species of butterfly are being raised. It was a large property under netting that contained a protected ecosystem for the butterflies. We spent a good hour there, stalking the butterflies for video and pictures.
The Road (Harriet)
Crossing the border into Honduras was relatively straight-forward. In the middle of the mountains, at some rickety three-structure setting, 12 of us crawled out of the mini-van, like a bunch of circus clowns emerging from a miniature car, and were immediately surrounded by money-changers — Hoss Cartwright-sized guys in cowboy hats, fanning thick bricks of currency. The only (North) Americans in the group, we were whisked through the immigration process before everyone else. Don’t ask why.
Eventually we pulled into town, directly in front of our hotel, the one that got top billing in the guidebooks for its helpful staff, good restaurant and travel services. Later, after our fabulous tour of the ruins and peaceful stroll through the grounds, we returned to what we soon realized could be the loudest night club in Central America and the only deafening joint in Copan Ruinas to keep cranking the bad music past midnight. It was as if we had booked a room in the lawn section of the SB County Bowl.
The bus that was to pick us up the next day was delayed because a major rock slide had closed the highway. While it was sheer hell for the people stuck on that mini-van (for an extra 3 hours), we least we waited in a shady cafe, sipping cool drinks with interesting company.
Several hours later, after a another border crossing with the Mafia cowboy bankers, some problem the driver had with customs over a few “extra” boxes, and winding around the rockslide that had not been completely cleared, we found ourselves smelling burning brakes. The driver had run out of gas, there was trouble with the hydraulic system and the brakes were going. We pulled over (think San Marcos Pass) and all of the passengers began that instant bonding process that happens when one suspects one might be sleeping with heretofore strangers on the side of the road or find oneself in some bad “Lost” spinoff or “Survivor” episode. We chose the team with the two very funny Swedish brothers, one of whom was fluent in Spanish and had packed some extra snacks.
At some point, the equivalent of the CHP showed up, got us enough gas to get us to a filling station, and gave us a personal escort into Rio Hondo, the town where Alan and I were to leave our new teammates and transfer to another bus. We thought it best not be be on a dark bus on a dark road and decided to spend the night in Rio Hondo — touted as a lovely weekend getaway for Guatemalans who want to cool off in the water parks. That would have been fine, except that we were nowhere near the water parks. We were, however, smack dab in the middle of a huge truck stop. So we spent the night in a concrete cinder block room with 24-wheelers whizzing by or, worse, idling outside our door. It was slightly quieter than our room the previous night.
We were awakened the next morning by a rooster that was — honest to god — roosting on the tree branch 8 inches from our window. Best of all, his time clock was set somewhere over the mid-Atlantic so our personal poultry alarm began around 3 a.m. The good news was, this enabled us to get up and moving in time to catch the early bus to Rio Dulce. The tickets were cheap; the former New Jersey public bus had good brakes; and the on-board entertainment was free. For the first 45 minutes of our 4-hour ride, we listened (or tried not to listen) to a young woman standing in the aisle, preaching the gospel at the top of her holy lungs.
I had plenty of space but Alan was hemmed in by a woman and her mother, two young kids, one toddler and a baby.That mom had likely gotten less sleep than Alan and me combined. And as we wound our way along the mountain highway, we passed similar families, on foot, carrying baskets on their heads and babies on their backs, and we were reminded of how very easy our roads have been.