Thursday, January 18, 2007


so this bus ride was more expensive than we thought it was going to be. courtney had no quetzales left, and i only had like 130 or so. it was 50 quetzales each for the bus ride, which meant we only had 30 and some coins left. this bus was only going to chiquimula, and we’d still have to get to a bus to el florido, the border town between guatemala and honduras that lead to copán. but there was nothing we could do, so we paid the fare and hoped we’d have enough money for the rest of the trip to copán. the bus ride was long an excruciating and about an hour and a half or so into it i really had to go the bathroom bad. we got to a stop along the highway where the driver and cobredor got off the bus and were eating food at a comedor and i’m like – i have to find a bathroom. well, the only bathroom there was closed so i just had to sit and wait it out. finally, the bus continued and we still had like 2 ½ hours to go. we got about 50 km. from chiquimula and i thought i was gonna i was almost in tears! then we turned off the main highway and stopped at this terminal in zacapa and the bus stopped again. this time i ran off the bus and i’m like – i don’t care if the bus leaves without me! so i found the bathroom and it was the greatest thing ever. i returned and thank god the bus hadn’t left, and so courtney and i sat around on the bus talking about our plans for copán and one of the guys who was selling water and soda came up to us and said “you guys have to get off here and go on one of those microbuses over there.” we’re like “what?” and we saw that he was right and it was like, why didn’t the cobredor tell us that? seriously, the water guy was telling us where we needed to go? anyway, so we got our stuff off that bus and got on this crowded microbus and we were finally on our way. they really cram these microbuses to capacity and beyond. i was in-between this woman and this guy and i was basically all over this guy and it was hilarious. i mean, as reserved as central america is, you really lose all sense of modesty on these microbuses because you’re always inevitably crammed up against someone, closer than you’d ever get under normal circumstances.

so we arrived in chiquimula and hopped off that micro and found the next bus we needed to get on, going to el florido. only that wasn’t the right bus...well, it was...but that bus wasn’t the NEXT bus leaving for el florido, so we had to get on another bus that was leaving next. we sat on the bus forever and waited at this intersection. i just kept people watching out the window and it was so interesting, just seeing everyone going about their daily business. finally, that bus took off and wouldn’t you know it, but we had to stop for gas. ??? so after that little stop, we continued on our way and after a while we got to this one-horse town and slowly crept through it. then the bus stopped and we sat there and it was this huge mystery as to whether or not we were supposed to get off that bus or what. and so it turned out that yes, we were supposed to get off that bus and onto another one. courtney and i were losing patience because this trip was taking forever. we had already spent like an hour and a half on this trip to el florido and it wasn’t looking like we were gonna get to the border anytime soon. finally, that bus left and we got to another small town, went down the main street and then turned around and went back the way we came in. and on the way back, the bus stopped and picked up some people that were on a bus coming the other way. they were backpackers going to copán too, and so they got off their bus, and crammed into ours (they had been on the bus behind ours). courtney and i were like “this is fucked up!” then, we got back on the highway and then pulled into another town and the same thing happened, only with these three other backpackers. i swear, this trip was neverending and it was like we realized how put together the bus system is in el salvador. it’s totally different...just way more organized and sensible. i mean, if a bus in el salvador has a route, it takes you from one destination to doesn’t get you “almost there” and then you have to get on another bus to complete the trip. in guatemala, it’s not like that at all. this trip from chiquimula nearly took as long as the bus ride did from puerto barrios to chiquimula. totally crazy.

finally, we arrived at florido and everyone got off the bus and we went up to the immigration checkpoint and the guy checked our passports and said that we need to pay 10 quetzales each to leave guatemala and we were confused because we’ve never had to pay to leave guatemala before. and we didn’t have 10 quetzales each. so i had to cash in the only american money i had, $10, and get quetzales for it. that left me with no more american money at all, a few lempiras and now some leftover quetzales. i asked the border patrol guy why we had to pay to leave guatemala and he said that the border between el salvador and guatemala is different (which is how we’d crossed before) than the border between honduras and guatemala. el salvador seems to be pretty tranquilo with other central american countries...things are way more easy between those borders. but apparently, there are all these rules and regulations between borders of other central american countries. in any event, we finally got our passports back and headed onto another microbus to take us to copán. we waited around for a bit while the microbus filled up, and had to deal with this crazy guy who had a walkman and kept trying to get us to stay at this one hotel when we got to copán.

so we arrived in copán and the micro stopped in the middle of town and when the cobredor threw my backpack off the top of the bus, i saw that it was ripped down the side! see, courtney and i had gone and bought cheap backpacks to go on this trip. we both had backpacks that weren’t big enough for a trip as long as this one and we really didn’t have the money to order big hiker backpacks online and have them sent to us in el salvador, so we just went with the cheap market option. and i didn’t expect my backpack to last that long, i figured it’d fall apart at some point, but i didn’t think it’d happen that quickly. but we were in copán, the last stop on the trip so i didn’t really care that much. so we walked around for a bit and found a hotel and crashed for a while. it was then that i realized i lost my favorite red sweatshirt at some point between el florido and copán. it was really pissed off about it because i loved that sweatshirt!

copán, or copán ruinas – the real name of the town – was very cool. i really liked it a lot. the streets were all cobblestone and even though it was a tourist town, it didn’t feel like a tourist town. all the businesses and restaurants fit into the town nicely instead of screaming “get your cheap trinkets here!” it kind of reminded me of santa fe, new mexico....even though it had a lot of businesses and such, it didn’t feel overwhelming. honduras has more of an old west feel to it as well, moreso than both guatemala and el salvador. the land is more mountainous and rugged and nearly all men wear cowboy hats and boots. in guatemala, once you get into the touristy areas, the normal townsfolk kind of take a back seat to the tourists, but copán ruinas was filled with ranchers who went about their business as if the tourists didn’t exist. there were no scamming vendors or anything and it was just really tranquilo.

we walked around looking for comedor-type food for a while but couldn’t really find anything that was open. we asked these two women in a tienda where we could find normal central american fare and they said there was a good place called “momo’s” that had good carne a la plancha. so we found this place and man, were those two women right. we stuffed ourselves to capacity and headed back to the hotel to sleep it off.

we got up super early the next day because we wanted to get to the ruins early to beat the other tourists. we walked through town and then down this road that followed the road leaving copán ruinas. finally we came upon the entrance and went in and realized we were the first people in the door! we were approached by this suave looking guy who kept asking us in english if we wanted a guide and we said we did, but we wanted a spanish-speaking guide. he kept arguing with us, telling us that it would be better to get an english-speaking guide, because we spoke english, but i knew that was bullshit because it’s always better to get a guide who gives the tour in his/her native language because they can really explain everything. because sometimes when you translate things from spanish to english, the translation isn’t the same – the words are translated literally, and sometimes it’s not correct. so we finally got this other guide, manuel, to give us our spanish-speaking tour. we paid our entrance fee and we made our way towards the ruins.

the sign on the front of the building at the entrance (how come the united states doesn´t have a department of history and anthropology. both guatemala and honduras have one. i mean, that would be the perfect department for me since i have a degree in history with a minor in anthropology. it would be like a dream come true!)

a layout of copán in the building at the entrance

he started off by telling us about the grand ceiba tree. there are ceiba trees in all of central’s the national tree of guatemala. they are amazing trees – you’ve never seen anything as beautiful as a huge ceiba tree towering over everything in the forest. they obviously aren’t as big as the giant sequoia trees in california or anything, but they are just as beautiful. anyway, manuel told us all about how they were valued to the maya and then he showed us a baby ceiba tree that had all these spiky thorns on the trunk. it was really cool.

next we approached the gate to go into the ruins grounds and there were all these imposing birds, called guacamayas. they were hovering in the trees and on the fence by the gate and they really penetrated the silence of the forest with their loud cawing. we followed the trail to the ruins and saw a bunch of small hills in the forest, covered with rocks. manuel said that these were unexcavated ruins. the cost of excavations is really high and nobody had enough money to excavate these particular areas within the forest yet. we continued on to the grass covered plaza and it was just so eye-opening to see the ruins laid out before us like that. i never knew this, but apparently the grass that is on the plaza wasn’t originally there....what’s underneath is actually more stone and the park planted grass on top of the stone to protect it. it’s so peaceful when you’re standing in the ruins, on that green grass, just looking out at everything.

the amazing guacamayas. the maya related their colors to life (red), sky (blue) and sun (yellow).

a gyacamaya eating a tortilla..hee hee

so here’s another history lesson, this time about copán:

settlers moved into copán around 1400 BC, but archaeologists don’t think that the city was constructed until around 100 AD. copán’s rise to power came in 553 AD with the ruler moon jaguar who built the rosalila temple (which is buried under temple 16...there are tunnels where you can see the remains of the rosalila temple....we didn’t go there though because it cost more money that we didn’t have!). the rulers (who have the coolest names ever) that followed moon jaguar were smoke serpent, smoke jaguar and eighteen rabbit (there was also a smoke monkey in there somewhere....seriously, smoke monkey? is that the coolest name or what?!) during the time of eighteen rabbit there were at least 28,000 people living in the copán region, which was the highest population of any city in the entire mayan region. eighteen rabbit was responsible for most of the detailed stela and constructed the great plaza and ball court. as i told you before, cauac sky (from quiriguá) captured eighteen rabbit and had him killed and all construction in copán stopped for 17 years. smoke shell then came into power and regained power in the region and finished the hieroglyphic stairway (the longest mayan writing in the world). copán’s demise came in the form of inadequate food supply for the rising population and “environmental collapse” around 822 AD (seriously, don’t you think the world today needs to take note of this????) anyway, the spanish conquistadores knew of copán but found it uninteresting, which preserved the ruins. here’s a little tidbit of info taken from one of my books: “a court official, don diego de palacios, in a letter written in march 1576, mentions the ruins of a magnificent city ‘constructed with such skill that it seems that they could never have been made by people as coarse as the inhabitants of this province.’ ” isn’t that crazy?! john lloyd stephens and frederick catherwood wrote about copán in their book “incidents of travel in central america, chiapas and yucatán,” and in 1891 the ruins were first excavated by alfred maudsley, a british archaeologist working with the peabody museum at harvard.

ok, so with that being said.....i think i’ll just show you the pictures and you can kind of follow with my comments along with those.

the huge plaza, seen from the top of the highest temple

the god of wind (i think he also resides somewhere around apaneca...)

one of the alters

a huge ceiba tree, the roots of which stretched all the way down from the top of the highest temple to the other side of the ruins

the ball the ball game was quite interesting. players were situated in the grassy area between the two stone sides. a ball was tossed and players had to keep the ball in the air using only their torsos. they could hit the stone sides on either side of the court, but never the ground they were standing on. then, to score points, they had to try and hit one of the three stone guacamaya heads on either side of the court. then, the winners of the game were sacrificed! yay! there´s nothing like a bunch of decaptitations to celebrate a big win!

more views of the ball court

a closeup of the stone guacamaya head

the ball court, yet again (i´m fascinated by the whole juego de pelota thing)

view from the top of one side of the ball court to the other, where a mayan-style false arch was perfectly constructed

ok, so this is the hieroglyphic stairway...the longest mayan writing ever. it is comprised of steps and each on is made up of different inscriptions with dates and stories of the mayan history. however, back in the day, before archaeologists figured out they needed to protect the structure, some of the stones from the steps fell off and they tried to replace them, but didn´t do that good of a job and some of the stones weren´t put in the correct place. so the hieroglyphic stairway can never be fully transcribed. also, you will see kind of a space in the center where it looks as if a sculpture is missing...well, that´s because there is one missing. where is it? in the peabody museum in harvard. i think that´s so doesn´t belong at harvard, i don´t care if the archaeologist responsible for first excavating area was working with the museum in harvard. it doesn´t belong there....i think it´s a travesty that it´s there.

the front of the left side of the stairway

another view of the stairway

the jaguar court, where they would perform dances

one of the plants in the area...we have this plant in el salvador, i can´t remember the name of it...but manuel said it has great medicinal value because it cures diahrrea.

the ¨casas¨ area of the ruins. this is where the higher class people lived. the middle class people lived out near sepulturas (a couple of kilometers away), and the lower class people lived up in the mountains surrounding copán.

stela A

stela A

stela B

closeup of stela B

stela C - this is a stela that shows the two sides of eighteen rabbit...this side shows eighteen rabbit as a young guy. this side of the stela also faces the direction of the sunrise, signifying birth.

stela C - this is the other side, showing eighteen rabbit as an old man (he´s got a beard). this side of the stela faces the sunset, signifying death.

the two-headed turtle sculpture....this side of the sculpture shows the turtle head with its skin on, which signifies life.

this is the other side of the turtle, and you can see the head is that of a skeleton, signifying death.

stela D

stela F

closeup of stela F

stela H

closeup of stela H

stela N

closeup of stela N

view from the top of a temple overlooking the sacrificial plaza....the round stone below is where they would decapitate people. the ruins surrounding the plaza are where the people would sit and cheer. the acoustics in the plaza are fantastic..can you imagine back in the day, the craziness of a decaptitation and all the people going nuts and clapping and yelling?

me being stupid. if you can see the lines on the stone, you´ll see that they curve around to the bottom. so when they cut off someone´s head, the blood would run down these etched lines and they would put hollowed out gourds under each one to collect the blood to be used in other worshipping rituals.

i was fascinated by all the lines and edges that were so precise....the triangles and the squares and all that, juxtapositioned perfectly.

this is a capybara!!!! the largest rodent in the world. i had been waiting forever to see a capybara, and i finally got my wish.

this is a picture i like to call ¨nature vs. man.¨ when i saw this at the ruins, i just thought - you know, no matter how many buildings we construct in this world, nature will hopefully always do what it is doing in this picture.

so when we came out of the park and into the parking lot area, we saw this bright and colorful bus and we knew immediately it was from el salvador. we kept saying how it would be cool if we could get a ride back to el salvador with them. we tracked down a guy who was traveling on the bus and he said that we could go with them, no problem. but the only thing was, they were going back to el salvador through esquipulas and into santa ana, which wasn’t the way we needed to go. we were a little disappointed that our brilliant plan didn’t work, but it was worth a try.

the lovely bus from el salvador

we walked back down the highway and through town and back to the hotel and sat around for a while, just resting our feet. later that night we went out through town because we heard that there was some kind of fiesta happening in the streets. so we walked down to where the action was and there were tons of people out on the streets, drinking beers and listening to the various bands playing. then, a cover band came out and played a bunch of spanish and american songs. courtney and i were drinking salva vidas and singing along to stupid american songs that i never thought i’d be singing along to. then there was a fight and this one girl, who was american, kept saying that it was her fault that there was a fight because her boyfriend was defending her. i was like “what am i doing?” seriously.....we’re in copán ruinas, honduras...drinking beer in the street....hanging out with a bunch of people we don’t know...there’s a fight??? anyway, we walked over to this bar with these people and had some more beers and danced to reggaeton. then this one guy kept trying to give me chicken wings and i was like “no....” and then he’d try to dance with me. it was nuts! and at the bar, instead of seats, were swings. things were like a big blur that night...just all around craziness.

one of the traditional bands playing in the street the night of the fiesta

the next morning we were both hungover and after trying to gather our stuff together to head back to el salvador, we knew we weren’t gonna be able to do it. so we decided to stay one more day in copán and so we rested up and got over our headaches and checked out more of the town. later, we ended up back at momo’s and scarfed down more plates of carne asada.

a cowboy in copán ruinas park

a street in copán ruinas

a beautiful clavel in the park in copán ruinas

more flowers

the following day we got our stuff together and found the bus that was going to la entrada, which would take us back to el salvador. i think of all the places we visited on this trip, copán and quiriguá were my favorites....which isn’t surprising. i love the history about the people who lived in this area back then. a lot of the time when i was in both places i kept picturing what it would have been like to live back during that time. i mean, sure, things were probably difficult because of the all powerful rulers doing whatever it was they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it (hmmmmm, who does this sound like???). but in terms of living in the valley, away from all the other craziness that was going on in the world at the time. i don’t know, it just seems like it would have been rather peaceful. maybe not.

anyway, i’m so glad we visited copán. i’m looking forward to seeing tikal – which will be very different from copán because of its pyramids. i think most people come to copán after visiting tikal and are disappointed because there isn’t something “grand,” like the pyramids, to see. but the truth of the matter is, all of copán is grand....just standing on the top of that highest temple and looking out over the plaza is really something. and i really like how the stelae tell stories. it’s almost like the difference between seeing a movie and reading a book. sure, the movie may be this grand thing and have action and big pictures and all that, but reading a book kind of lets you imagine the pictures and everything on your own. i think the stelae allow you to do that...even if you can’t read mayan hieroglyphics or anything, it’s just kind of cool to be able to look at all the stelae and come up with something of your own in your mind.

there are always people who see nothing at all of value in seeing archaeological ruins or studying them or anything. my friend eric once mentioned to me that things like studying history and archaeology are interesting but they really don’t “do anything” for society. like what purpose are they serving other than “knowing more” about the past. i suppose this is true, but i think that “knowing more” about the past is important – just as important any other job out there. i know there are people out here that think that going to see “a bunch of rocks” is totally boring. like why in hell would i get a kick out of seeing this kind of stuff? i just do...these rocks friggin’ amaze me! the stock market and economic news DO NOT friggin’ amaze me, whereas that kind of stuff makes other people weak in the knees. so there you takes all types to make the world go ‘round, right????