The ruins at Copan are absolutely stunning.
And actually getting to the ruins is a rather adventurous experience. Javier and David inform us that the surest route to Copan from Santa Ana is through Chiquimula, Guatemala. After a cheap breakfast with David at a local pupuseria, we pay $10 each (gasp!) for the luxury bus direct to Chiquimula. Note: ¨direct¨ buses in Central America don´t fit our North American notions of direct…you pay a much higher fare, yet the bus still drives through every little town on the way, trolling for passengers.
En route, we are sleeping so soundly it´s a wonder Chris hears our driver call out “Chiquimula!” Chris rushes to the front of the bus to remind the driver to let us off while I gather our things. The driver literally pulls to the side of the CA-1 (inter-Central Americana) and lets us off with our packs.
So here we are. Standing on the side of a Guatemalan freeway without a clue as to where we are or where to go. Today, for the first time in my life, I´m relieved to spot a McDonald´s sign in the distance. As we head into a shopping center toward the golden arches, we both get that feeling you get when you think someone´s watching you. The guards (armed with rifles, of course) close in on us and politely direct us back out to the highway where they apparently herd all clueless backpackers to wait for local buses to the town center.
Long story short (and getting physically shoved out of two buses later), we walk across the border into Honduras and board a van that zips us into Copan. Does it seem fair that you have to pay to enter Guatemala, only to then have to pay again to leave as well as to enter Honduras?
The landscape in northern Honduras is awesome. Never before have we seen such beautiful country, and if we squint our eyes just so, we don´t even notice the piles of trash lining the highway. Every corner we turn feeds our senses and threatens our lives, as Honduran drivers seem to think tight turns make the most opportune places for passing slower vehicles. Each bend in the road brings even more spectacular views. The hills begin to layer over one another, creating a scene of breathtaking depth.
Copan is both adorable and disgusting. This is where one of the most beautiful natural areas on Earth meets the ugliness of mass tourism. We run into so-called backpackers in the cobblestone streets–you know the ones we mean, complete with oversized leather purses, flip-flops, gargantuan suitcases with wheels and monograms, face-consuming sunglasses, daddy´s credit card).
The room is dank and noisome. The thought of spending two nights here is horrifying but we still feel the lure of the ancient Maya, and so we stay.
The walk to the ruins is a leafy 1km stroll out of town. After paying five times the entry fee the locals do, we enter the park. Our hike on a nature trail before we enter the ruins sets the tone for the rest of our day. We can see only Ceiba trees spread all around us and hear several bird species singing in the trees above. The Copan forest truly transports us to another time.
The ruins are magnificent, the structures beautiful. Copan supposedly has the most rounded, full-relief carvings in all of Mesoamerica. Of course, we´ll be able to confirm this for you after future trips to other ruins. We see tombs, grand temples, altars, stelae, houses and irrigation systems. And talk about good engineering! We overhear a guide telling a couple that splurged on guide service that during Hurricane Mitch, the entire town of Copan flooded and spent weeks underwater, while the ruins at Copan efficiently drained away all of their excess water. Most of the ruins have been dated 400-800 A.D. and we find it kind of eerie to be touching rocks carved by a civilization that no longer exists.
Eerie, that is, until Chris leans against an ancient dwelling and a section of rock nearly falls to the ground. But these ruins have survived heaven knows what over the past 1,000-2,000 years, so no big deal, right? Since the military guards here carry really big guns, we decide to not wait around to find out.
And if it is a problem, maybe they won´t find us in the Caribbean…