Saturday, August 6, 2016

[COPAN] Mayan Pyramids and Flirting Macaws

Honduras doesn't really have a very good rep as far as travel is concerned. The country seems to have a lot to offer when it comes to beaches and other natural attractions, but most people tend to just err on the side of caution and avoid it altogether. Perhaps the capital, Tegucigalpa, having one of the highest homicide rates in the world is one reason. But I wanted to cross out this country off my list of Central America, and so I did. I stayed really close to the Guatemalan border, though.

I’m not sure if there are direct flights from Mexico, but even if there is, it should be crazy expensive. That’s just the reality of air travel in this region. And so what I did was fly to Guatemala and then rely on the bus systems connecting the C-4. From Guatemala or Antigua, you can ride a Pullmantur bus to El Salvador, while Hedman Alas appears to be the leader for trips to Honduras. A typical one-way trip is around four to five hours, but more like six if you factor in the time spent for the border immigration process.

No, the C-4 is neither a boyband nor an elevated express way. It is a geographic zone which consists of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The rumor that the next country you go to won’t stamp your passport if coming from another C-4 member is not true. My passport is now almost out of pages and full of Guatemalan entry and exit stamps because I transited there for both trips, and those stamps sure are huge! For Honduras, you have to pay a USD3 immigration fee upon crossing the border.

The weird thing is that there really are no physical obstacles to bar you from crossing from one country to another. It is you who have to voluntarily get your passport stamped on both sides of the imaginary fence, which leads me to think that you can actually just sneak in without officially crossing. I mean, your bus driver will not even check if your passport has been stamped or not. But whatevs, I like the new additions to my passport stamp collection, although I’m a bit worried now that I only have two pages left!

The ruins of Copán are an archaeological site full of Mayan pyramids and sculptures. Checking out the zone where Mayan civilization was concentrated during its glory days, it looks like these ruins in Honduras were the extreme easternmost point of their former dwellings. I think the hotspots are still in Guatemala’s Tikal and Mexico’s provinces in the southeast. But I really liked Copán Ruinas, for what it’s worth. I’ve been to several ruins already, but this one is a really good mix of the ancient and the natural. So green!

Hedman Alas will drop you off at the Copán Ruinas office which is a 20-minute walk to either the town or the ruins themselves. The distance is almost the same because you head north and then the road forks, with the town to the west and the ruins to the east. I opted for a tricycle ride. Don’t hate me. That cost nothing more than an Uber ride in Mexico City, and it cut my travel time by 15 minutes! What? I’m a busy guy, yo. Walking is not a bad option. We do need exercise after all, but I had a shift at 4 PM. So there.

Characterized by their colorful plumes, a Macaw couple greeted me at the fence. Or not. They were just flirting there for everyone to see. They weren’t chained to that fence, though. They were there on their own volition, which made me think that maybe they’re just insufferable exhibitionists who are that comfy with PDA. Maybe those birds immigrated from Mexico? Who knows! You leave your backpack with the personnel at the gate. Mine had my laptop in it and it was still there when I came back for it.

My assumption is that the ruins are of the same size as Xochicalco, but I can never be so sure. What I do know is that there is more to see here courtesy of the sculptures littering the place. Oh, one important tip! Bring an umbrella with you. The weather was bipolar AF when I was there. It would rain really, really hard for 10 minutes or so and then the sun will make a very impassioned appearance. And then it will drizzle again. It was crazy. The good thing is there’s a lot of shade because most of the sculptures have a roof over them.

You’ll immediately see the main plaza which houses a decent sized pyramid that serves as camwhore central. To the west is a pretty large field with more than six huge sculptures spread out as if playing football or something. That mental image is not farfetched because the Maya were said to be sports fans, and the pyramids to the east a couple of cartwheels away actually surround an area called Campo de Pelota (ball field) where an ancient sport used to be played.

The Escalinata Jeroglifica is a taller pyramid whose staircase is coated with hieroglyphs here and there. An artist’s rendering shows what used to be a testament of grandeur for Mayan architecture. It’s a shame that it’s covered with a tarpaulin now, which makes it looks like a water slide, but it’s all cool for the name of heritage preservation. Excavations are ongoing and every day they are discovering something new. Think of it as a work in progress! Climbing the stairs is not allowed, obviously. Selfies? Well, yes of course.

The last attraction I saw was the Plaza los Jaguares, which leads to a tunnel entering the pyramids. YES, this is why Copán Ruinas is fun. You can actually go inside one of those pyramids and get to experience what a baked potato feels when it’s cooking in the oven. That place was hot as hell, but not without archeological wonders thanks to the sculptures preserved on its walls, mostly of Macaws worshipped as Gods of Brilliance back then. The plaza itself is awesome and looks like an Amerindian version of Siem Reap.

I ended the trip on one of the pyramids adjacent to the plaza which gives you a good bird's eye view of the smaller pyramids down below, along with another artist’s rendition of how it should have looked like back then from the same vantage point, ceremonies and all. There are more ruins farther back, which used to be a residential area. Since I was pressed for time and quite hungry, I no longer dropped by. I already saw the highlights anyway. The tricycle ride to town did not take more than five minutes.

[COPAN] Mayan Pyramids and Flirting Macaws

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