14.11.2005 - 16.11.2005
Our month of studying was fast coming to an end. Practicabamos y hablabamos mucho en Espanol. We crammed in a lot of Spanish in a very intense way, but now it was time to plan where to go next. On another tip from our daughter, we set off for the barrier island of Utilla, in Honduras, supposedly one of the cheapest and best placing to take a diving course. On the way we planned to stop in Copan. Less visited and spectacular than Tikal, the quality of the stone carvings is unique.
Located just over the border in Honduras, it took about six hours by minibus. We arrived in early afternoon and checked into our hotel, Calle Real, three blocks uphill from the center of town. An okay, if somewhat damp room, quiet and cheap. We rested for a while on one of the rooftop hammocks, and on the way down, ran into Mariann, an American woman of a certain age, who was staying in a room adjoining ours. We got into a somewhat lengthy conversation with her which we continued over lunch. It seems she had been living in Guatemala for a number of years, alone, and for the last five had been trying to create a sustainable agriculture project in a small indigenous village outside of Panajachel. The story she told was involved. and somewhat incredible. She lived with the natives, got them to trust her, and began showing them how to grow organic crops. After years of trying to get her project funded, it seems that some high level government officials offered financial assistance, but that she came to understand that the whole thing was a scam, and their intent was to develop the area for upscale tourism. This would uproot and disenfranchise the very people she was trying to help. She refused the money, and said she was threatened with death several times, if she didn't back off and stop what she was doing. Apparently a lot of big money Europeans were moving into the area, and the government saw this as an opportunity. Complete with peasant skirt and undyed, long gray hair, along with some mysterious auto-immune disease, she was a woman on a mission. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering then and now, how much of her story was exaggerated, and questioned the extent to which she had "gone native," or just gone round the bend.
Later, on our own, we wandered around town, which was quite charming, and went to dinner that night with a different group of people, a young British couple we had met in Antigua, and another couple, in their late 50's, from Australia. It was nice to see other people our age, traveling in a similar style, only they seemed to have obtained bargains that we couldn't come close to matching. For example seeing the Galapagos for under a $1000 US, for both of them. We spent more than twice that. What did they know that we didn't, or was this yet another fantastical story?
The next day we met up again to visit the ruins. Together, we hired one of the local guides to show us around. He was obviously Mayan, and quite proud of what his culture had accomplished at Copan and elsewhere in Central America.
It was a treat to have him explain the significance and history of the carvings and the hieroglyphic staircase. The pyramids were not as high as Tikal, but there was a lot to see, especially the remarkably well preserved stelae.
These are 10-15 feet high, intricately carved stone columns, that many of the Mayan kings had commissioned to depict themselves and aspects of their kingdoms. Many had been built by 18 Rabbits, whose reign extended from 695-738 AD.
Others dated from earlier in the classic period, 250-900 AD.
There were also elaborate temples and soccer fields, the ball supposedly being a human skull. More than enough to keep us busy the entire day.