Today was our first day of proper ‘rest’ and gave us the opportunity to explore the town of Copan a little more.
Andrea and I woke up early this morning and went and got some breakfast in a little cafe just off the plaza. We then returned to the hotel for 9am, and headed off to the ruins with our tour guide Saul, a self-proclaimed frustrated rock-and-roll singer, who claimed he was a King in a past life.
On the way to the ruins, we passed over a river and went past a man with a megaphone selling mangoes. That’s extreme selling for you. We had the option to get a tuk tuk to the site, which is a kind of open-sided taxi, but we decided to make the 15-minute walk. Saul started off by telling us about the disjointed culture of the Hondurans, with four different languages spoken – mainly Spanish, but also English by those who had originally colonised in the Caribbean, some speak Afrikaans and something he called ‘misquitos’, the language spoken by those who live in the jungle. As soon as we walked into the ruins area, we were greeted by calls from macaws in the forest. I would finally get to see the national bird of Honduras in the wild instead of in a zoo! The forest, lying at a 2000 ft elevation above sea level, is officially a tropical forest, although Saul said that it is hard to determine which trees are in the Honduran forests, as the cultural groups within the country call the trees hundreds of different names. We are currently in the rainy season, with the hurricane season hitting between September and October.
The ancient city of Copan was estimated to have been established between 400-500 AD, and was a dynasty. The population was between 40,000 and 50,000, with a river running through it to separate the rich from the poor. Excavators across the site have made preservation their priority, and the money we spent on entrance goes towards this. Archaeologists in Honduras are called “gringos” and they use high-tech equipment, which is far less destructive than it has been in the past.
Saul told us that the Mayan tradition was to build structures up in layers, which has left a lot of ruins undiscovered because they have just been covered up. Apparently you can dig just about anywhere in the modern town of Copan and find rocks from the ancient structures, including huge circular ones which are supposed to be wheels! One massive excavation project took place in the 1990s, where over 10 years of digging revealed a beautiful painted structure called ‘Rosalila’. One of the areas of ruins, called the “Plaza of Revelation”, was full of carved monsters unlike anything you’ve ever seen – despite being incredibly beautiful, Saul said that they were created whilst the artists were under the influence of what he called “bacci”, which is a hallucinogenic ingredient found in plants such as cacti.
Learning about Saul’s life experiences was just as entertaining as learning about the ruins – he also had a bad encounter with “bacci”! He told me how much he loves the BBC (apparently they always get weather forecasts correct), and when we paid him at the end he told us we made him “happy and rich”.
Seeing the scarlet macaws was an amazing experience for me, as I’ve never seen such colourful birds out of the zoo. I even had my photo taken with one (watch out on Facebook). Apparently when they are young, macaws are grey and ugly. Hard to believe!
After seeing the ruins we headed out for lunch, in a restaurant which had hammocks in it. We ordered the Honduran version of a kebab, but for some reason it seemed to take ages to arrive! Within that time though we discovered more about our tour guide Marvin’s dark past – he punched a girl in the face when he was young and also killed a fish. He insists he is a changed man now, though some of us are yet to be convinced, particularly as he hasn’t learnt all of our names! He gave us some fruit called “Nancy”; the closest English translation is ‘yellow berry’. I wouldn’t recommend them. People have been driving around the town today, with fans on in their cars to create a lot of smoke. It’s meant to kill the mosquitoes and therefore prevent Malaria – clever huh?!
I am currently sat by the poolside writing this blog post – I can confirm that the weather here is gorgeous (I hear it is in Britain too, so I don’t mind showing off). Tonight I am going out for dinner with the group, but we have an early start tomorrow, so I will try and go to bed early. 5.30am for the start of a long journey to Roatan in the Caribbean Bay Islands – it better be worth it!