Articles tagged with "honduras"

Bad driving

Bad driving

All our travel up until now had been on local buses. We were a little daunted at the thought of the Guatemalan bus system, having been advised by the Foreign Office that fatal crashes are frequent, and by other travellers that the buses are unbelievably crowded. We were also not too keen on negotiating our way across Guatemala City, about which we’d heard more horror stories than Managua. So when we discovered that you can get a minibus all the way from Copán to Antigua in Guatemala, our next destination, we decided that we would cop out and take it. It’s a service used solely by tourists, and I certainly felt like a cheat as we got aboard. We crossed the border at a very quiet border post, and no-one tried to rip us off. It was boring.

On the whole, though, it was probably a safer and more sensible option that the five-leg journey we would have had if we had got the local buses. It wasn’t all plain sailing, though – we had a marvellous run for the first four hours, through beautiful mountainous Guatemalan scenery, but during our slow, traffic-jammed crossing of grim-looking Guatemala City, we were hit by a bus. It was a low-speed impact, so no-one was hurt, though it took some time to get my backpack out from the crumpled boot.

Our driver got out to discuss things with the other driver, and I fully expected punches to be thrown, but fortunately everything was calm and sensible. After a short discussion we drove on to a petrol station nearby, taking the conductor of the bus that had hit us along with us. I wasn’t sure why this was – perhaps the minibus firm were keeping him as security? We then stopped and waited for a replacement minibus to arrive. When it came it had three armed guards with it, but we completed the final leg of the journey safely.

We arrived in Antigua late that evening. It was hard to shake the odd feeling that the trip was nearly over, as here we were in our final country with Costa Rica already a distant memory. But we still had nearly three weeks to go, and much to see and do.


Copán

Copán

The Maya were one of the three great ancient civilizations of the Americas, along with the Incas of Peru and the Aztecs of Mexico. The civilization began to emerge at least 4,000 years ago, was advanced by 300AD, and reached its peak (the so-called Classic Period) from around 600 to 800AD. During this time, they built great cities at a prodigious rate, covering them with towering temples and pyramids, and in many cases spectacular stone carvings. They were advanced in agriculture, astronomy and mathematics, and quite independently of the Arabs (who generally get the credit), they invented a positional numbering system and the concept of zero. They also had a literary tradition, though much of the hieroglyphics have yet to be deciphered, and an accurate calendar, which was adopted by the Aztecs and is still used in more remote parts of Guatemala.

At the height of the Classic period, the Mayan empire spread across the southern Mexican states of the Yucatán peninsula, the whole of modern-day Guatemala and Belize, and western Honduras and El Salvador. Around 900AD, though, the whole of Mayan civilization went into dramatic decline, many cities being abandoned to the jungle. After something of a renaissance around the 1200’s, Mayan civilization was again in decline when the Spanish arrived, and they conquered the Mayan lands rapidly.

In their religious zeal the Spanish razed to the ground most of what they conquered, destroying the ‘pagan’ temples and pyramids and the idols inside. Fortunately, the decline of the Maya meant that there were many cities which were now abandoned and totally covered in jungle. Today, many have been uncovered, and every year more are discovered. Just before we left the UK, we heard that a huge new set of ruins had been found deep in the jungle in central Guatemala.

Copán is one of the most famed of the Mayan sites of Central America, and we were certainly impressed when after a short walk down a forest path we emerged into its Great Plaza. With a low pyramid in the centre, carved pillars (stelae) scattered around, and larger pyramids visible further off, it was quite a sight.

Copán was founded by 1200BC at the latest, and started to become a great city in 426, when a king called Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw came to power. He and his descendants began Copán’s great tradition of recording their achievements on stelae, slabs of rock about eight feet tall, great numbers of which can be seen today at Copán. Copán’s most productive king in this respect was Uaxaclahun Ubak K’awil, the thirteenth king, whose name sounded very fitting for a powerful king until its meaning was deciphered. Somehow a king called 18 Rabbit hardly seems destined for greatness, but under his rule Copán came to dominate many surrounding cities, including Quiriguá, which today lies across the border in Guatemala. 18 Rabbit’s rule lasted nearly 45 years, during which time many of Copán’s finest structures and stelae were built and carved, but unfortunately the people of Quiriguá had never accepted their subjugation to Copán, and in 738 they captured the unfortunate King Rabbit and beheaded him.

Copán’s fifteenth king, Smoke Shell, was another great builder, and started the Heiroglyphic Stairway, the longest inscription known in the Maya lands. But the following two kings oversaw Copán’s terminal decline, as its ever-growing population finally outstripped its food production. Skeletal remains from this late period show evidence of malnutrition and disease, and most of the people had left by the year 1000. A few stragglers remained for a long time, but by about 1200AD the site had been completely abandoned to the jungle. It was found by a Spanish explorer in 1576, but then not visited again until 1839. At this time it came to the attention of archaeologists, who have been working at Copán ever since, uncovering ever more structures (3450 are now known, covering an area of 24 square kilometres) and deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics.

We wandered around, admiring and appreciating the art and architecture, and trying hard to really believe that this was once the centre of a great city. We climbed the Temple of Inscriptions, at the top of which you find walls covered with intricate carvings, a fine view over the ruins and surrounding countryside, and (on this occasion at least) a Honduran television crew, asking visitors to give their impressions of the place. Always eager for 15 seconds of fame, I happily told them what I thought of the place. Moh was media-shy, and hid behind a wall until I was finished.

After we had spent a good long time exploring Copán, we walked further down the road to one of its suburbs, today known as Las Sepulturas. This was a residential part of the city, and though it is certainly less dramatic than the main site, provides a greater insight into how the Maya lived. It’s also much quieter than the main site: we didn’t see anyone else while we were there.

We were lucky with the weather – it didn’t start raining until after 4pm, when the ruins are closed for the night. This meant we only got soaked once we’d seen everything, which was good. We squelched back to the town of Copán Ruinas, and prepared to leave Honduras the next day.


Across Honduras

Across Honduras

We left before the sun was up the next morning, and thus failed to see Tegucigalpa in the daylight. I am told this is not a great loss. We were headed for Copán Ruinas, some 500km away, and we needed to get a bus first to Santa Rosa de Copán, 400km up the road. We were pleased to find that, for our fare of L90 (about £4.50), we had a luxuriously comfortable bus for the six hour journey. We wished we were spending longer in Honduras as we passed through its beautiful mountainous forested scenery.

After two further short bus journeys, back in the yellow school buses, we arrived in the town of Copán Ruinas, which is right next to the Mayan ruins of the same name. We booked into a very cheap hotel, at only £2 each per night, which had a rooftop terrace with fantastic views over the Valle de Copán. We’d forgotten that it was the weekend, and we wouldn’t be able to get money for two days, so we were too skint to pay up front, but fortunately the friendly family said we could pay up on Monday.

The main purpose of coming to Central America had been to see volcanoes. Honduras has none, so we were originally going to pass right through without stopping. However, right on the border between Honduras and Guatemala lies the huge Mayan site of Copán. It would have been silly to pass by without seeing it, so the next morning we left early to walk the 2km down the road to the ruins.


Border nightmare

Border nightmare

The next day it was time to brave our second border crossing. While we were in Granada, the news had been that a bridge on the road to the border at Guasaule had been washed away. This was indeed the case, and the bridge was still down, but by now the flood waters had subsided, and the bus was able to ford the river. It was a very slow journey, road conditions being pretty bad after the rains, but we made it to the border in reasonable time.

Here we did not have a fun time. We were only going to be in Honduras for a short time, and we knew what border banks were like, so we decided to brave the money-changers. Unfortunately, they had a habit of quoting a good rate, then counting out money at a bad rate. You can then argue all you like, but they’ll deny ever having said ’14 Lempiras per dollar’, and we had to settle for 13, which was at least still better than the bank rate.

Then we got a lift across the border in some bicycle/rickshaw type of things. As we got in, I asked how much it would be, and the driver said a dollar. However, by the time we reached the other side, this had gone up to ten dollars. This was clearly ridiculous, but unfortunately, the driver had a large group of friends on his side. In the face of this there was little we could do but hand over some money and get on the way.

I had a pretty low opinion of Hondurans at this point, but things soon got better as we got on a bus to Choluteca. It was fast and large, and infinitely more comfortable than Nicaraguan buses, which are exclusively old yellow American schoolbuses. The bus from Choluteca to the capital, Tegucigalpa, was equally luxurious, and though we once again arrived in a big city after dark, we got a taxi to hotel and again avoided mishap.