Our next adventure takes us to Copán Ruinas – a sleepy town, surrounded by the hilly hilltops of western Honduras and the home to just over 8 000 inhabitants. In comparison to Utila, Copán is like a nice Sunday afternoon nap. Getting there however, took us longer than the usual 8 hours of Central American travelling, because we broke down twice. Not in tears though, but due to mechanical errors. Our first breakdown saw our ferry returning to Utila just as we left the harbor. Our second breakdown was not as exciting though – we were stuck next to a good-for-nothing bus on the side of the road in the blistering heat. Other things that broke down during that breakdown was our spirit of adventure and sense of humour.
When we finally approached Copán 13 hours later, I was not only starving, but also amazed at how beautiful it was. There isn’t a symphony of adjectives in this world that would do the landscape I saw any justice. The town lies smack bang in the middle of the mountains, and it’s an easy breezy kinda place. Just the way I like it.
We decided to go to Copán for two reasons. Reason number one is the obvious one – we wanted to explore its world-famous Mayan ruins. The second reason was actually a bit more fun – I enrolled in a Spanish school to master the verbal art of Spanish.
No, I don’t have 30 anuses
I learned a lot of really important things during my five 4-hour lessons – things that will without a doubt save me from embarrassment and harassment. We started every lesson with basic pleasantries – where are you from, what do you do, how old are you, what did you do yesterday etc. Every time I answered “Yo tengo 30 anos” (meaning I have 30 years)to the ‘how old are you’ question, my teacher would politely stress that it’s important to pronounce it “años” not “anos”. Later on, I read that “anos” actually refers to one’s, ahem…anus.
Another mistake us gringos make is to say “Yo soy caliente” for when you’re hot. The correct way of expressing your current feeling towards the temperature is to say “Yo tengo calore”. The difference? Well, the first phrase means that you are, in fact, horny and would like to jump inside the pants of somebody else – pronto. When you use the second phrase however, someone will just turn the aircon on (instead of turning you on).
It is impossible to learn the ins and outs of a language in just a week. But just knowing how to put a sentence together in the present tense can save a life’s worth of frustration. Armed with a whole wack of verbs, I felt (and still feel) invincible. It also proved pretty handy when the Bearded Wonder and I had a bad case of food poisoning and had to get medicine from the pharmacy. Mind you, it wasn’t due to our street food consumption habits – we got sick from the food we made for dinner.
While we’re on the subject of food…
Even though Copán is really tiny, it has loads of yummy things to eat. On our first night, I had the best gringa el pastorof my life (I also think it was the first one I had in my life). A gringa is a similar to a quesidilla – mind you, everybody makes the same thing and calls it something different. A burrito in Utila is a baleada with extra lettuce, and a taco in Flores (Guatemala) is not a maize tortilla stacked with meat and tomatoes, but a deep-fried rolled-up maize tortilla served with guacamole and parmesan. But I digress. Back to the gringa – it’s almost like a tortilla sandwich. Two flour tortillas are filled with cheese and el pastor, then cooked on a grill until the cheese gets all gooey. As for the el pastor – I still have no idea why they call it el pastor and just not ‘pork’. I think the difference lies in the marinade or something.
We also went to a German microbrewery called ‘Sol de Copán’. The beer was delicious, the background music was awesome (old-school Honduran heavy rock) and the German-Honduran food was yummy. Another highlight was Café San Rafael where I had the most amazing cheese platter (pretty fancy for a backpacker on a budget, but we needed a reward after that horrible stomach bug). Way better than the cheese we had in Monteverde, and every single cheese is made by the owner. Delicious.
When the sun sets, everybody gathers around the town square for a sundowner chat. Old men with cowboy hats, young lovers and their friends and moms with teeny tiny babies. Around the square, fires are lit and starchy white corn is grilled next to tortillas and meat. Grilled corn is served with lime juice and salt, and raspados with lime juice and condensed milk. It would be impossible for me not to be reminded of our Central American days whenever I smell the zesty vigor of a lime.
And then we went to explore some ruins
Ahh, the ruins! They are old, crumbling and really interesting. They aren’t always that mind-blowing to look at (except if you’re an archeologist or Indiana Jones), but the stories they tell are literally the stuff that legends are made of. One of the Mayan rulers, Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil (but his friends and fellow countrymen used to called him 18th Rabbit), was an important patron of the arts during the Mayan times. During his rule, Copán became famous for its sculptures and hieroglyphics – the most famous being the Hieroglyphic Stairway. The stairway is almost like a giant scroll depicting their history and achievements.
What I enjoyed most about the Mayans is the mystery that still surrounds them. Archeologists are still figuring out what happened to them during the end of the Classic Period – the whole community just left for some mysterious reason. I, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out why the steps to their temples are so leg-breakingly high and steep. I could barely manage to climb all the way to the top with my shortish legs and hiking shoes. And as far as I know, the Mayans used to be really short, so I have no idea how they managed to get to the top with their offerings of human hearts and other interesting things. Oh yes, and that’s another reason why this post is so way overdue – the Mayans are such an interesting bunch. Once you start with some light research on their everyday life and human offerings, you just can’t stop. My favourite Mayan fact is that they believed humans were created out of corn. Darwin must have choked on his corn flakes when he read this interesting titbit in the morning newspaper.
Enough blah blah, let’s do photos!
A detail shot of a macaw’s head at Copán. The Mayans loved their feathered friends. This specific macaw carving acted as a goal post during their ball games – if you managed to hit the macaw with the ball, you score! But you are not allowed to use your hands, only your hips or head. Some historians say that the loser used to be sacrificed to the gods. And other historians say that the winner got the chop, because it was an honour to be sacrificed. On the right is a close up of the Hieroglyphic stairway.