Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Los Grandes Finales

The Copán ruins were the last ruins on our list to see. What we didn't know before we went there is that they are also the oldest. According to a professional guide we met, Copán is where the Mayan culture started. This seems quite plausible as according to the information brochures the Copán ruins are the oldest, with some structures dating as far back as 200 AD. From here the Mayans seemed to have spread north as a result of a prolonged drought to Tikal, Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Teothiuacán. The last Mayan Ruins for us were thus in fact the first and yet for us still 'Los Grandes Finales'.

The ruins are just 1 km out of town and we stayed with a family that live just opposite the entrance of the archaeological site. They also operate a very small and simple restaurant, Central American style. We wondered if they served breakfast too but as non of us knew the Spanish word for breakfast, we had fun explaining what we wanted. The kitchenstove is a simple steel plate heated by a wood fire underneath it, which hadn't been started yet when we placed our order in sign language (just for fun, try to explain that you'd like a breakfast of 2 baked eggs, beans and toast in sign language:-). Minutes later we smelled frijoles and eggs, so the hand signals were understood :-) What language barrier? Sign language is universal!
The surprise came shortly after when breakfast turned out to be not just 2 eggs and frijoles, but also included baked banana, some kind of horrible cheese(!), tacos and steak… The costs for all this looked quite high… 200 Lempira. A quick calculation learned that we just had 3 big breakfasts for less than 10US$! And… Coca Cola in glass bottles!

The Copán ruins is a big complex, covering 12 acres and over 40 structures, altars, plazas, mounds, tombs and temples. We were quite impressed by it. The first pleasant surprise was the entry fee. Honduras doesn't charge 6-10 times the price for a visitor like Guatemala does but keeps it at a more modest 4 times. The entry fee also included a handy map. The other pleasant surprise was the absence of the pests you find at Mexican ruins, touting their wares and pushing you to buy them even after you said 'no gracias' a dozen times 

On our way to the site itself we got distracted a bit by a pair of Macaws… beautiful birds as you can see in the photos. They are quite big and also quite funny! The ruins themselves are very impressive. The decorations are considered the best of the Mayan world and it's easy to see why. Not only are they the best, there are also lots of them. Virtually everything is elaborately decorated but nothing more so than the grand staircase. Its 63 steps are made up of no less than 2000 glyphs, all hand carved in stone.

We were especially impressed with the 'Los Jaguares' section of the complex with its many Jaguar statues in beautiful Mayan style. The East Court or Jaguar complex is seriously old. Trees have found a way to grow on the structures, giving it an even more special feel. Only the really fragile parts have been closed to the public but strategic reconstructions meant we could still see everything. 

The Copán Ruins are also home to a large amount of Macaws, birds that have been rescued by the nearby bird aviary. They prepare Macaws that have been kept in captivity, by to us nasty people, for a life of freedom again. Once they are deemed ready, they are released into the Copán Ruins complex. Apart from being a very good initiative, it also allows the visitors to the ruins to see these magnificent birds from up close.

The Macaws aren't the only birds at the Ruins, there are also quite a few Montezumas. Funny birds that build hanging nests! The male builds the nest and then does its best to alert the females about the beautiful job he has done by singing a short but complex song and making a full bow by rotating 180° around the branch he's sitting on. Animals are weird sometimes, a funny type of weird.

I was afraid the Copán Ruins would be a disappointment. We had seen so many ruins already and for some reason the Copán Ruins weren't that well known to us. How wrong I was. Having seen them, it doesn't surprise me they are the ones that started it all. Comparing ruins is of course virtually impossible, despite being all Mayan, they are all different. Yet Copán 'feels' somehow similar to Palenque… which is one of my favourites. I can't quite put my finger on it why it feels similar to Palenque though. The buildings are quite different, the decorations are similar but I think it's more the setting and the trees that create the similarity.

We all noticed that the faces had changed again. The people from Honduras remind us much more of the friendly Mexican faces we saw a couple of months back. Hondurans seem a happy lot as well and are helpful too. We're pleasantly surprised about this as we were told by quite a few people that Honduras wasn't going to be all that nice… If you believe the media than Honduras is as dangerous as Afghanistan. So far so good though!

In the afternoon we went to Copán town and decided to do that by Tuk-tuk. Mike filmed the short trip, to see what the ride was like, click on the movie below. Copán town is an old colonial town with cobblestone streets, a park-type plaza and colonial style buildings. We walked through it, made some photos and enjoyed the Honduran way of life. Back at our campspot we all took a shower, which is cold water and the shower head is just an open pipe… refreshing to say the least! The people that live here and operate the campground/restaurant clearly do not have a lot of money. Everything is old and everything is broken, they are friendly though and that makes all the difference. In the evening the whole family came together for a football match on the dusty field that was the actual campground. They were happy we had set the tents up in the open shed!

Late in the evening I was going through the photos I made earlier in the day when the two young girls from the family we stayed with came over to see what we were doing. Our Spanish is still rubbish of course but as a photo says more than a thousand words… I showed them some of our photos to explain the trip. They were glued to the screen!

An hour or so later their two boys came over too… the girls had probably already told them what we were doing and they came up to check it out I suppose. They spoke 3 words English, I speak 3 words Spanish… yet we had a conversation of 45 minutes… trying to learn each other a different language! Again, sign language came to the rescue and worked perfectly :-)