Monday, September 12, 2011

Copán, the Paris of old, well-constructed piles of rock

We had picked out Jocotán, Guatemala as our destination based on its proximity to the border with Honduras. It had some initial charm, as it was a market filled city, with a lot of people around, all with lots of curious looks. For some reason, many people in Jocotán had a real hard time understanding Mike´s spanish, so Jill got more entertainment than usual by watching their facial expressions. But we had a chance to wander around and catch a harcut...

(yes, that´s a straight edge razor and some short hair, but whose head is that?)

(a new, improved Jill ´do! Even though it was fairly short before, this #6 blade shave is super easy and noticeably cooler)

We opted to stay in Jocotán for 2 nights, allowing us to leave the TA in a garage while we bussed across the border to Copán ruins for a day trip. We looked into riding the TA, but that would´ve cost us $35 to import it temporarily, which we would have had to pay again after our upcoming visit to El Salvador. The day trip on busses across the border made us really appreciate having our own mode of transportation. It was easy to catch a bus to the border, at a (mostly) agreed upon price of Q16. A short ride later, we deboarded to cross on foot. Even though our CA-4 visa should not require any payments within the 4 Central American countries (Guate, Hond, El Sal, Nica), we seem to keep having small payments pop up. To leave Guatemala, migración required a payment of around US$3. To enter Honduras, another payment of US$2 was required. All of these payments were at the official window, received a receipt in return, and no amount of questioning changed the official´s mind. We luckily asked some tourism officials what the expected rate for the bus to Copán ruins should be - around 20-25 lempiras each (just over US$1). The microbus driver across the border was used to hustling tourists, telling us that Q150 would get us to the ruins. We said no, that the price should be more like 40-50 lempiras (or Q15-20), and he immediately came down to Q100 (not much help as that´s still around US$12). We started to walk, but finally agreed on Q20 for the both of us. The driver didn´t seem happy, but some boss type guy told him to do it. But it turned out to be doorfront service, through town, right to the ruins themselves. The driver´s son even shared his ciruelas with us. We covered the US$15 entry fee, pocketed the money we knew we needed to return by bus, and had about US$6 left over for lunch. Perfect! (it turns out there is an ATM at the ruins, and Copán the town has banks/ATMs, but what fun would that have been?)

Copán ruins are incredible! There has been so much work done to improve and maintain the grounds, which is appropriate given the level of detail found in the carvings all throughout the ruins. There are many stellae all around the grounds, especially at the main plaza, which at this time of year is a lush, green, grass covered meadow.

(noticeable differences in door/hallway architecture from other ruins)

(features such as these were literally covering the temples of Copán)

One of the most well known features of Copán was the Escalinata de los Jeroglíficos (Heiroglyphic Stairway), 62 steps with over 2000 glyphs forming the longest known Mayan text. It was in poor condition when rediscovered around 1900, somewhat reconstructed, then visitors were allowed to walk on it until the mid 80´s. The intricate detail is overwhelming and cannot be captured on film. (So here´s a digital attempt...)

Climbing the temple next to the staircase provided a good view of the main plaza. The stairs we climbed were used as a vantage point for the ball court. Without the tree in the way (it ain´t that old...), you´d have box seats up there.

(another example of types of features carved into walls)

(Heisman trophy model jaguar)

Walking out from the main plaza, there are many more examples of ruins. Immediately behind the grandstands is an area assumed to be the residence area of royalty.

(water drainage for most of plaza, or maybe a doggy door)

We had a good chance to see some nature while there too. There is a big program to release macaws into the wild, located right at the entrance to the ruins.

And on the walk back to the town of Copán (no bus for us, gotta eat with that U$S 6), the ruins tour continued. There is evidence of the Mayans all up and down the valley around Copán. Horse tours and hikes are available to check out more sites, but we headed on back to town.

There we happened to run into Manny, a guy from California who was at our language school in Xela. We had a great lunch with him, then toured Copán for a minute. The town was quite nice, with plenty of hotel options, a nice market, lots of food options ranging from street stands to a nice looking steak house and other foreign fare. We jumped back on the bus to the border though, catching the last one leaving for the day at about 3:30 (after missing the one that was supposed to leave at 3).

Jocotán provided us some food, an uncomfortably filthy bed and room, but at least a place to rest before heading to El Salvador the next day.

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