I can now claim that I have been to Honduras but I do have to admit it was just for 24 hours and just to the Mayan ruins of Copan. Still, it was well worth two 6 hour bus journeys and three countries in two days.
The small town of Copan Ruinas feels much older than it’s eighty-odd year history would suggest, with it’s cobbled streets and low adobe houses with their red-tiled roofs. The town only really exists to support the tourist trade to the nearby Mayan ruins of Copan. You can walk around the whole town in less than an hour, including some ridiculously steep hills. I’m over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday so the whole town buzzes with local tourists and the villagers celebrating the holidays with the ornate multi-coloured carpets that have become so familiar to me this week and somber processions around the town.
It’s a lovely little town to spend an evening in.
The next morning, it’s an early start to get to the nearby ruins before the heat of the day; I hadn’t realised how high I was in Guatemala and therefore how much more manageable the temperature was and I am now cooking gently in the baking sun. The ruins at Copan are considered some of the best preserved in the region, although less well-known than their counter-parts at Tikal or Chitchin Itza. They were first discovered by the Spanish in 1570 but excavation did not start properly until the 1890s. The site is believed to have been abandoned in the tenth century after more than 900 years of occupation; it is thought that deforestation to support the settlement eventually led to starvation and the civilisation’s collapse.
One of the most interesting elements of the ruins – which you can’t see on the site – is that there were three key stages of development of the site, with each subsequent development building directly over the previous structures. The people lacked the technology to dismantle the previous buildings so archaeologists describe the temples as ‘Russian dolls’.
The city as seen today is made up of a main complex with several smaller sites around it. In the main complex, there is the Acropolis complete with several statues me moralising the various kings – including my favourite, 18 Rabbits. There is a huge stadium-like ceremonial plaza, where a traditional ball game was played – the winners were sacrificed with the promise of virgins in heaven (what is about religions offering young men virgins in heaven?!) – complete with bleacher-esque seats rising up above it. As you walk through the court, you see a huge stairway – the Hieroglyphic Stairway – which has more that 1800 individual glyphs carved into the steps. This is the longest known Mayan inscription and is believed to essentially be a library.
The necropolis sits over the hill and is remarkably well-preserved, stretching out on the valley floor below. As you climb higher up the temple steps, the most amazing vista of the Honduran countryside opens up, with jungle stretching for miles. In fact, in parts, the jungle is taking back parts of the city, with huge ceiba trees growing out of the rubble. These massive trees are the Mayan symbolic tree of life but, in the ruins, take on the appearance of huge octopus with thick, thick roots spreading out for tens of metres.
The ruins at Copan are the first Mayan ruins I have visited and I am blown away (not too mention very, very hot!). I kind of feel like I’m in an Indiana Jones movie; all you needed was Harrison Ford to pop up out of grave-robbed tomb!
And so, after such a short time in Honduras, it’s on to El Salvador. I’ve heard so many good things about Honduras that I’m sure I’ll have to come back one day and explore more throughly but at least I have more time in the next three countries 🙂