Copan: Red Stone, Green Jungle
The Captain and I wake up to the blaring sound of an alarm clock. It was only five in the morning but we had to get up and prepare for our excursion to see the ancient Mayan Ruins in Copan. We were still exhausted from our long, laborious hike in Cusuco National Park the previous day, and our bodies ached all over. It was tempting to cancel the trip and remain in our comfortable king sized bed the whole day, but in the end our need to go adventuring prevailed. The Captain and I dressed quickly giving us time for some breakfast – coffee and the leftover semitas (sweet bread) that Juan Carlos and his friends surprised us with the night before.
We left our room and headed for the lobby downstairs to wait for Juan Carlos to pick us up. His timing was impeccable and within ten minutes The Captain and I were on our way to Copan. The drive to Copan from San Pedro Sula was around three or four hours long so Juan Carlos favored his personal car over the 4×4 for this trip.
During the long drive Juan Carlos regaled us with stories about his adventures in Honduras including the time when he and his friends were hiking in the jungle late at night and a jaguar started to stalk them. We also shared stories about our own adventures. Mostly about our travels in other countries and also about the Captain’s career as a pilot (everyone we meet is always interested to hear about the fascinating world of aviation).
Once we arrived in Copan Juan Carlos led us to the counter to purchase tickets and handed us off to one of the guides. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there weren’t any large crowds of tourists around. To be honest I’ve always found large crowds to be distracting and am not too fond of them.
In order to get to the archaeological site we had to go through a path surrounded by trees and up a steep hill. The muscles in my legs ached as I slowly made my way up. The dry heat, vexatious mosquitoes, and the sun’s harsh rays directly shining down on my head did not help matters. I kept wishing that I brought a hat to shade me from the sun. But I didn’t let the heat, fatigue, the biting mosquitoes, or the pain I felt deter me from immersing myself in the Mayan culture. I’m a big fan of ancient history after all.
The Maya were a mysterious ancient civilization that once occupied a vast area of Central America and Southern Mexico. You can find what is left of their temples and pyramids in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras. They are well known for their accurate calendars, art, knowledge of mathematics, cryptic hieroglyphic writing, and their brutality. But perhaps the most mystifying thing about the Maya is that they just seemingly vanished from existence.
The centuries old Maya Ruins of Copan are enshrouded by the thick jungle. As you walk around you can hear the sounds of a variety of animals. The Captain and I often tried to identify what kind of animals made the noises we were hearing. We passed by giant stelae with their intricate hieroglyphic carvings, toured The Acropolis, The Great Plaza, and the Ball Court where the Maya played a deadly ball game. The penalty for losing was the death of the defeated team’s leader.
I found the Hieroglyphic Stairway to be the most impressive. It also happens to be the most famous monument in Copan. The Hieroglyphic Stairway has 63 steps and several thousands of glyphs that perpetuate the success and history of the kingdom. The inscription found on the stairway is the longest known text of the Maya Civilization.
The Captain and I also checked out the museum which featured many replicas and sculptures. What’s so interesting about the entrance to the museum is that it is made in the form of a snake’s mouth. The Maya believed that snakes represented the journey into Xibalba or the Underworld. Inside the museum is a full size replica of the Rosalila Temple, it is here that we learned that the Mayan ruins were once resplendent in bright red paint.
After eating lunch at the restaurant in Copan we met up with Juan Carlos and took a ride in a mini taxi to Las Sepulturas, another archeological site near the ruins where the members of Copan’s aristocracy lived. It is small but paints a detailed picture of how the Maya lived.
Before heading back to our hotel we stopped by the town of Copan Ruinas to look around and to have a few drinks. We went to Twisted Tanya’s a rooftop restaurant located in one of the colorful buildings. The Captain had Salva Vida, a Honduran beer while I ordered a delicious non alcoholic cantaloupe flavored drink. It was pleasant and relaxing and since it was our last night in Honduras the Captain and I felt a bit melancholy. We were having a good time and leaving was always difficult.
On the drive back to the hotel Juan Carlos had to make a stop at a gas station. He said that going to rural stations always made him feel apprehensive. At first I couldn’t understand why until I saw a man in a cowboy hat standing outside the station with a shotgun. With all the fun that the husband and I were having I forgot about the crime that is prevalent throughout Honduras. Also it was my first time in Central America and I wasn’t aware that convenience stores, gas stations, and other establishments were mostly guarded by security guards with automatic weapons. We were advised not to wander around San Pedro Sula so the only security guard we saw with a firearm was the one at our hotel. San Pedro Sula along with the other major cities in the country have a reputation for being dangerous places for visitors. Even going on the road to Copan was risky because robbers were known to target vehicles traveling through there. They would force the vehicle off the road and armed individuals would rob and sometimes assault the victims.
Since the Captain had to use the restroom he and Juan Carlos left me alone in the running car. “Don’t leave the car. Seriously, do not leave the car.” Juan Carlos warned stepping out of the vehicle. “I won’t.” I replied. As the guys walked away I leaned over to lock all the doors, put on my sunglasses and sat back down (told you I took precautions). It wasn’t long before the guys came back and soon we were on the road again.
Around 12:00 pm the next day we were on an airplane to Atlanta weary and covered with mosquito bites. The Captain had large red ones all over the back of his hands and I had them on my arms. Even though we didn’t run into any problems flying standby we still got home late, to be precise, one thirty in the morning. After arriving in the parking lot of the airport and discovering the car buried underneath fifteen inches of snow we were both tempted to get back on an airplane and fly to someplace warm. Just days before we left for our adventure, Chicago was hit with the third largest snow storm of the century. With the excitement of trekking through the jungles of Honduras and exploring Mayan ruins we forgot about the car and the snow storm. Needless to say, scraping off snow on a cold February night while jet lagged was indeed unpleasant.
If you decide to go to Copan I recommend checking out the Mayan ruins, Las Sepulturas, and the quaint town of Copan Ruinas. There are also a lot of companies that provide horseback riding and ziplining so you may want to do your research on that. Lastly, if you go to the more remote parts of Honduras it is imperative to see a doctor for anti-malarials and other vaccinations before visiting the country.