Tuesday, 23 September 2014

0103 Copan Mayan Ruins

It took a while for us to find the Mayan ruins.  The nearby town itself is called Copan Ruinas – And we thought that that meant “Copan Ruins”.  The little town itself has very narrow, very steep, and cobbled and very rough, streets, so getting around is slow. Every time we asked for directions to “Copan Ruinas” we got these blank looks because, of course, we were already there ! So what on earth were these crazy gringos asking directions for ? !!  Eventually we used our now trusty system of combining Garmin directions (often wrong), with google maps on my mini tablet, and a map in a guidebook, and finally found our way out of town and to the Mayan archaeological site itself !! Since it was only 1 pm, we had time to make a tortilla wrap in the car for lunch and then go on a 2-3 hour guided tour of the ruins – So that is what we did.

If you can believe it, back in about 1972 (!!?) Janet and I were in Mexico for 3 months and had visited famous Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza and others in the Yucatan, and from what we remember it involved a lot of climbing up very tall “pyramids”.  Indeed
we now learned that those we visited are much taller, but are no where as extensive as Copan, nor with as many hieroglyphics that enable a better understanding of both the buildings and the Mayans themselves.  So Copan is very important from this point of view. Additionally, the beautiful red macaw is not only native to this area, but was also a Mayan sacred bird, and many of the carvings on their buildings include the macaw. Unfortunately over the years, they became almost extinct, but due to a good protection, breeding, and release programme over recent years, many are now flying freely (and screeching VERY loudly) among the ruins, and with their bright colours, they really are a sight to see. 

Anyway, we set off and had an intriguing couple of hours with our guide Yobani, and saw some of the most amazing sights. Archaeologists have explored (and still are exploring) the ruins by means of tunnels bored into the sides of the buildings, and are
finding that the Mayans built over the top of previous buildings, and in many cases previous building are perfectly preserved inside an often damaged exterior.  In many cases the external stones were used by locals as building materials before the historical and cultural significance was appreciated, so reconstruction has often been difficult.  I will not even try to go into what we saw, but instead will let the photos tell the story – If anyone is interested in more detail I am sure you can find it by googling Copan Mayan Ruins. Suffice it to say that we were spellbound by what we saw and experienced. The Mayans were an amazing civilisation - there was even a ball court where games using a large rubber ball (forerunner to soccer ?) would continue for 2 or 3 days non stop, and then the losing team were sacrificed at the end !! 

After our tour, we discussed camping opportunities with Yobani, and he arranged for us to set up directly over the road from the ruins, in a little comedor, or “restaurant”. "Jimmy" was the owner, and behind his restaurant he had a small space with a rough soccer pitch laid out which he said we could use, and after allaying safety concerns, and being shown a rough bathroom we could use, we decided it was perfect, at $5 per night !!  So after setting up the van, we caught a tuk tuk the 5 minutes into town to explore and have a beer or two. Being a Saturday evening the town square was busy  with all the locals buying food from road side stands, and wandering around, so we did the same.  Well, Janet bought some local food – I abstained !! Then, after a beer, a big storm was coming in, so we decided to get back to the car before it started.  We just made it, and had to cook a quick supper inside the car before going to bed while the storm raged around us. It had been a busy day.

We decided to have a second day in Copan so we could visit the museum, and do a few other things in town, before heading off down the road towards Tegucigalpa, the capital city. After the nights rain, the ground was pretty soggy and muddy, so it was mid morning before we had showered and made it down to the museum, where we
had coffee before going inside.  Many of the best carvings and Stela (columns) at the ruins have been replaced with excellent copies (you truly wouldn’t know the difference) and the originals are all housed wither in this museum, or at another one in town.  Best of all, the central display is one of the buried temples that we had seen parts of when in the tunnels the day before, but has been recreated in full size and colour in the museum.  Many people do not realise that the Mayan buildings were in fact covered with stucco and painted, and were not the bare stone that we see today.  Anyway, once again the photos tell the story better than I can.

After the museum it was lunch time so we went over to the café and had some great local fare.  We seem to be doing OK tummy wise so far, although with frijoles on the plate for basically every meal, there are a few unwanted side effects !!  So we are trying to cut down on the beans !!  We then had a long chat with Yobani and the other park guides about places to go, and they strongly recommended heading towards Lago de Yohoa out in the centre of the country, as it was supposedly not only scenic, but there was also a facility out there, run by an Australian, which was a micro brewery and also may allow us to camp. So we kind of planned that for the morrow, and then set off to Macaw Mountain, a bird reserve which is linked to the Mayan ruins park, and is a stage in the breeding programme for the macaws. The fact that they also have toucans there was a big plus for me as I REALLY wanted to see toucans in the wild !  So it was back into a tuk tuk for the 3 km ride on bumpy cobbled streets (combined with all the frijoles, an interesting experience !!) and out to the bird park.  And it was great.  Set in a beautiful riverside area, it is more a “breed and release” programme than just a “caged bird park”, and the setting is just so peaceful and beautiful.   
After a couple of hours there, and having seen toucans and had macaws sitting on our shoulders, it was back to the van, supper, and then off to bed so we would be ready to set off across Honduras in the morning. 

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