What springs to mind when you think of Honduras…?
If Mayan ruins, colorful macaws, and epic scuba diving do not come to mind, I hope that after this post and the next, they will be among the first images evoked when you hear “Honduras” in the future.After a cramped shuttle ride, an uneventful stroll across the Guatemala-Honduras border, and a traffic jam for a jackknifed semi-truck that was stuck on a steep, narrow mountain pass, we arrived in Copán Ruinas. We were glad that the uncomfortable 8-hour shuttle ride finally came to an end. We hauled our packs from the racks atop the vehicle and set out on foot.
Towns always look smaller in guidebook maps than they actually are, and hills are impossible to discern on unidimensional line maps. While we walked, I rotated our Rough Guide in my sweaty hands, trying to figure out which direction we were headed and where the heck we needed to go to find the lodging we’d booked. We’d been spoiled by a few days in the Guatemalan highlands and were now boiling in heat of western Honduras.
A mile later, we arrived at La Casa de Copán, a charming bed and breakfast. We lucked out. Because they had promised us a room and then overbooked, the manager booted us across the street to a townhome. For not a single Lempira more, we had an entire two-bedroom split-level home with multiple ceiling fans, a hammock, a television, and fast WIFI. All. To. Ourselves! And they still included the B&B breakfast. Jackpot!
Mayan Ruins at Copán
The Mayan ruins at Copán are smaller in stature than two of the most eminent Mayan ruins, Tikal and Chichén Itzá, but they are special for other reasons. While Tikal and Chichén Itzá are said to be the Manhattans of the Mayan world, Copán is considered the Paris. The artistry still evident in the ruins make them unique. Since neither of us have visited any other Mayan ruins (we’ll check those off our bucket lists when we eventually reach the Atlantic coasts of the Americas someday), we cannot make a proper comparison. We can say, however, that the detail in some of the images communicated grandeur in ways that stature cannot. In their zenith, Mayan complexes were vibrantly colored structures. Centuries of fierce sunrays seared away the color and wind and rain have scoured many of the architectural details. Today, Scarlet macaws flit about the ruins, perhaps the only remnant of that aspect of the compound’s colorful past. Macaws were believed to be messengers from the Gods, and Mayans considered them important spirit companions. Feathers of the revered birds were harvested for the costumes of important figures.
The complex was expansive, with numerous plazas, courts, and an acropolis. One of Copán’s most renowned monuments is an immense staircase, on which the longest Mayan hieroglyphic text in existence is etched. The staircase was covered by a long tarp to preserve the stonework from further degradation by the elements. Unfortunately, the tarp also eclipsed the magnificence of the structure.
Numerous stelae, or tall stone shafts dot the complex. Gods and rulers, serpents, and other creatures stare frozen in time with oversized teeth, gaping mouths, and ornate headdresses. The detailing in the stelae are one among Copán ’s treasures and are so precious that some stelae have been moved to museums and replaces by replicas.
A mile or so walk from the main group of ruins is the Sepulturas, a collection of decaying structures that were once homes of the elite. The trees were thicker around the Sepulturas, and a blanket of fallen leaves lay decomposing on the ground. In the air, a cacophony of humming reverberated. Hordes of cicadas clung to the bark of the trees, much to Neil’s delight. The sound was intense.
We spent our day at the ruins with Tim, a British backpacker, whom we liked immediately. We could not have known where our chance meeting with Tim would lead us and just how much a part of our lives he would be in the next two months.Macaw Mountain
Throughout history, humans have had a destructive way of expressing admiration for the natural world. Case in point, Honduras’ national bird. Large swaths of scarlet macaw habitat have been deforested, and the birds have been captured for their beautiful feathers or hobbled and turned into pets, which reduced their numbers in the wild.
Macaw Mountain is a sanctuary for macaws and other exotic birds, just a 10-minute mototaxi ride from Copán Ruinas. Ten USD gives you entrance for three days and an open invitation to swim in a rather dodgy-looking pond. Birds that have been abandoned or abused are rehabilitated. Those that are wounded are given respite, and visitors are provided an opportunity to learn about and interact with the animals.
The cages of the macaws are closed each evening to keep other critters out; however, the birds can roam the park or fly to the ruins to congregate with other birds. If a bird is not back by dusk, their cage is simply left open should they return before the park reopens the following day. Some of birds have had their wings clipped by prior owners and can no longer fly, so they saunter along the ground and use their strong beaks and claws to climb trees and branches. A grown dog and a rescued puppy live in the sanctuary as well, guards for their feathered friends.
In addition to the Mayan ruins and Macaw Mountain, there are hot springs, zip lining, and a coffee plantation just minutes to hours away. Copán Ruinas is well-worth a visit!
Truth be told
Travel is marvelous for a great many reasons. There are spectacular vistas and historical sights and wonderful people. Inevitably, however the fabric of adventure is also stained by disturbing, sometimes embarrassing, moments. Those moments sometimes often involve local cuisine (ahem Tim at Sunday Funday) and frequently become among the most “memorable” of stories. Like our friend we met in Mexico, Jamie is Running, who truly shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of his travels, we decided the truth must be told about [what was supposed to have been] our final night in Copán Ruinas.
We spent the evening watching a horrifically bad movie with Tim at “our” townhouse, enjoying a beer, and eating Honduran takeout. We first tasted Baleadas during our visit to Isla El Tigre, and they became our favorite local meal. A grill-fired tortilla, beans, marinated onions, perhaps some chicken or ground beef. Yum. We enjoyed our time with Tim so much that by the end of the evening, we’d extended an invitation: “Wanna join us for a few days aboard The Red Thread…?”
A bad movie, but a good night…until the next morning. On what was intended to be our day of departure, I was startled awake when Neil launched out of the bed and rushed into the bathroom. A string of explicatives and a slamming door followed. The sun had yet to peer above the mountain peaks surrounding the valley. I squinted my sleepy eyes in the gray light of dawn. “What the hell is the matter with him?” Neil is not the most chipper in the wee hours of the day, but he is most definitely not a swearing, stomping wild man! “Babe, what’s the matter? Are you okay?!” More cussing. It turns out that he had a case of baleada belly. He had shit the bed in his sleep and been awoken with even more alarm than me! The planned trek to our next destination, which would require roughly 12 hours of bus rides, was not in the cards. For the next 24 hours, we stayed put.