Guatemala has plenty of things to discover. The 8 weeks that I am spending here are really not enough to see all of it unfortunately. Maybe it sounds a little ironic that I decided to go and see the Mayan ruins of Copán, which incidentally are situated in Honduras, one of the neighbor countries of Guatemala. Copán is no further than 10 km away from the Guatemalan-Honduran border, and that’s one of the reason why visiting Copán is very popular among the tourists visiting Guatemala. Another reason might be the 4 additional stamps that you get in your passport… 😉 No, joking aside, it is really worth visiting, it really a great place, as you will hopefully believe as you read on.
I went with Romina, my mate for the Acatenango hike, and Claudia the other Swiss student who resides in the same host family as I do. It turns out that us three make a great team, not only for traveling but also for studying and doing things after the Spanish classes.
We left very early on Saturday morning, scheduled at 04:00. Actual departure was at 04:30. I don’t get nervous anymore because of half an hour delay here in Guatemala, it seems to be normal. They loaded us in a Toyota minivan (which are very very common here) with a bruised windshield, along with other people who wanted to travel from Antigua to Copán Ruins this day. If I recall correctly we were 13 passengers plus the driver in that van. We drove through night and eventually dawn, passing once more the capital city towards the east. Some of us were sleeping, some dozing when we heard a loud bang coming from the back right wheel. My first suspicion was that we just lost a tire. The van barely moved, and we were stuck on the side of the highway after a curve, which was not a particularly great place for a car breaking down. The road went downwards, and lots of heavy trucks were on the road. The driver seemed to be a little helpless at first, then he decided to walk back a little and throw some branches on the road to let people know that something was going on. It turns out that it was an attempt in vain, everybody just drove over it. In the meanwhile, some guys who passed by in a transport vehicle kindly offered help. It turns out, the problem was not a broken tire. The break of the back right wheel seemed to be jammed, not loosening anymore. They tried to fix it for a little more than an hour, before they decided to do it the Guatemalan way, which was removing the break of this particular wheel entirely. Great. With the words “¡Confíen en Dios!” (Trust in God) and a big smile, the driver asked us to load up and continue, without trying whether the van moved and _breaked_ first. He did that when we were back in the van, and – gracias a Dios – it seemed to work. I start to comprehend why the majority of the people here are strong believers. In many situation one really has to trust in the help of God. In the meanwhile the 3 mechanics took off. Hat tips to these guys, our driver would have been lost without them.
That’s where this breakdown happened:
After this incident and probably the slowest moving border security officer that I have ever encountered at the Guatemalan-Honduran border, we made it to Copán Ruins, the town just next to the Maya site. It was hot. More than 30 °C. Back in Antigua it is around 25 °C every day, and dry air. We needed some time to adapt to this new situation. We checked into the hotel, which was very basic, but given the price of USD 35 appropriate. The worst part was that we had to share the hotel with a bunch of students, probably from El Salvador. Not the most quiet group of people anyway. We were just in time for our tour at the ruins at 13:00, but first nobody showed up. The hotel staff made some phone calls, and told us that they were giving us time to relax since we arrived late. That’s really nice of them, but how the heck are we supposed to know that? We used the time to observe the bustling life in the town, Tuk-Tuks coming and going, drivers chatting. Anyway, eventually we got loaded up on the back of a pick-up truck, and were driving out to the ruin site.
We were greeted by our guide, who gave us all the necessary information about the site. I really think it is a great idea to have a guide, you miss out so many little details when you just wander around in the site. What surprised me the most, is the fact that a big part of the city has not even been excavated. When walking in the forest surrounding the main site, one can see many little hills. We were told that all these hills are in fact Mayan buildings, covered by soil during all these years. In fact, the Copán valley once hosted around 20000 people between the 5th and 9th century. The parts which have been excavated are the biggest and most important buildings and structures, which was were the kings resided. While we are at the kings: They had really funny names, like Smoke Shell, Smoke Monkey, Smoke Jaguar and – my personal favorite – 18 Rabbits. The Mayas were extremely intelligent people, knowing a lot about mathematics and astronomy. They had their own number system, 20 being the base as opposed to our system with base 10. They had their famous calendar. All of their important buildings are laid out according to astronomical directions. They had some strange habits too, for example they played a ball game, after which they sacrificed the winner of the game, offering the most important person to their gods. We contemplated countless statues, hieroglyphs, and buildings meticulously built by the Mayans, and the guide frequently challenged us for the names of all their gods and kings.
After this very interesting tour, we headed back to the town, eager to get hold of some food. We found a nice little place, where we ate delicious quesadillas and fajitas. We called it an early night, since we were on the road since 4:00 in the morning, and wandering the town at night didn’t seem to be the best idea.
In the next morning, we ate some breakfast at the hotel (beans and cheese wrapped in flour tortillas), and then caught some Tuk-Tuks and headed up to Macaw Mountain. This is a place just outside of Copán Ruins, where they take care of birds that were hurt or illegally held as pets. If possible, they release them again. Again, we were led through the place by a nice guide, who showed us the birds they keep, mainly parrots and toucans. The most impressive parrot is without any doubt the macaw. I almost did not believe it, but they really can reach ages up to 110 years, and couples stay together forever. They are really social birds as well, enjoying the contact either among themselves or with other species. At the end of the tour we were even able to hold two of these fascinating birds. I liked the concept of this adventure, because the macaws could choose whether they want to play along or not. If not, they can just fly away.
At 12:00, the shuttle was leaving for Antigua again, and we were hoping for a different driver, or at least a different van. Well, that didn’t work out for us. The broken windshield of the van gave it away. Anyway, after a 6 hour ride we made it back to Antigua safely.