A Quick and Busy Trip to Copan
14 January 2014 | Copan Ruinas, Honduras
Beth / 30's
Despite our worries about whether the Hedman Alas 6am shuttle bus would really pick us up at the hotel on Monday morning (we had to change the reservation because of Alex’s flight delay and the office didn’t return calls on the weekend), it was there at 5:35 am! Fortunately, we were just about ready so we hustled out the door and joined 5 others already in the van. At the Guatemala City station, we were issued new boarding passes, had our passports checked and pictures taken before boarding the comfortable bus with working toilet!
At the border, we handed over our passports to the Guatemalan immigration officer expecting the same efficient stamping we had experienced on our last trip. The first indication of trouble was when the officer took them into another room. Soon afterward, she opened the door and smilingly invited us in. Uh Oh.
The three of us trooped into the office of an elderly man who invited us to sit down, and announced that we had a problem but he wanted to help us. Imagine our surprise when he said that James and Elizabeth’s affairs were in order, but Alexander had not checked out properly when he left in March 2013. Alex’s protestations that he had never been in Guatemala until just a few days ago and that his passport would show that made no difference at all. The man just said, “It must be in your old passport – the computer shows that you were here.” The issuing date of 2011 of this passport also seemed to be irrelevant. He announced that the fine would normally be 2000Q, but he was prepared to help us for 200Q. After more (polite) arguing, and his insistence that he just wanted to help us, the payment came down to 100Q. The bus was waiting, and we knew we were unlikely to win this argument so we handed over the 100Q, demanded his assurance that there was no more problem in the computer or anywhere else, collected our passports and walked out. As we passed the first officer, we decided her smile looked more like an “I gotcha” grin.
We were all irritated and surprised at the way this went down. It does not really surprise me when an officer says a permit will cost 5 or 10 dollars, but the way this guy invented a problem and kept insisting that he wanted to help Alex seemed so ridiculous. Interestingly, we had been told by the bus conductor that they would charge us 10Q per person (unlike at the last border crossing), but they never did ask for that – I guess that would seem greedy!
There were no issues at the Honduran office except that because of our frequent Guatemala stamps, the officer questioned whether we really lived in Guatemala instead of Canada. We assured her that we were just travelling here, the bus man came along to hurry things up, she stamped us in and we set off again.
From the bus terminal, we caught a taxi to la Casa de Café – our home for the night – and what lovely hotel it was. Our genial host, Howard, welcomed us and showed us down a few steps and through the garden to our delightful rooms. It was 2 o’clock and we were hungry so we sat down in the shade to enjoy icy glasses of lemonade and the best tamales I have ever eaten, before going off to explore.
First stop was ViaVia where we reserved spots on the shuttle to Rio Hondo the next day, followed by a stop at the ATM on the square for some local cash (lempiras – approx 20 = $1.) and then hailing a tuktuk to Macaw Mountain for a visit to the birds. We had a wonderful couple of hours there, admiring the magnificent macaws – national bird of Honduras – with their gorgeous red and blue plumage. Several other varieties of rescued or born-in-captivity birds make their homes here and offspring of the breeding pairs of macaws are released into the wild each year. At the end of the walk, we were thrilled to hold them on our arms.
Unfortunately for Jim, he was suffering badly from an attack of gout so he had to take a pass on both the delicious tipico dinner Alex and I enjoyed at ViaVia, and the visit to Copan Ruins the next day.
After a good night’s sleep and an enormous breakfast of fruit, eggs, beans, bread, juice and coffee, Alex and I walked through town and along the 1 km path to the site. At the entrance, we paid our fee of 300 lempiras ($15 US) and hired a guide, Juan, who gave us an excellent tour for $35 US. We had only 3 hours available and we wanted to include a visit to the onsite museum (another 140 lempiras or $7 US) so he paced us accordingly. We saw lots but would like to have had more time. Given that we had 2 weeks to cram in as much Guatemala/cruising experience for Alex as we could, we thought we could spare only one night in Copan. Later weather systems would show that we could have spent longer – but who knew??
Copan is a much smaller site than Tikal (in Guatemala) and the excavations and discoveries indicate that at the peak of Maya civilization here (end of 8th century) there were probably 20,000 people living in the area. While it does not have the massive temples and plazas of the larger sites, it does have intricate and deeply carved stelae – and they are most definitely worth seeing. Some of the stelae are in place where they were found complete with bits of colour, and others can be seen inside the on-site museum. We saw detailed rabbits and monkeys and birds and even an elephant carved into the stone monuments. Copan boasts a well preserved ball court – and the story here is that the winners sacrificed their lives to the gods (that seems to vary from site to site). The magnificent hieroglyphic stairway is like nothing else we have seen – with huge figures centred on the steps. Some of the stelae featured rulers with feathered cloaks and in a wonderful connection between past and present, we saw a flock of gorgeous macaws winging across the open plaza to roost in a nearby tree. It’s easy to understand why their feathers were considered the appropriate decoration for cloaks and headdresses of the rich and powerful.
I’m glad we hired a guide this time, but I would like to just wander on the grounds next time. (Ideally, we’d have been able to spend another couple of hours – with the guide first and then revisiting the areas that most appealed). We paid the extra fee to visit the museum – entering through a dark tunnel and emerging into the light to see the brightly coloured Rosalila temple as it must have been once upon a time.
And then it was time to collect Jim and meet the shuttle at ViaVia. We had a very pleasant ride back across the border – with no delays or “extra” fees this time to Rio Hondo. The bus was continuing to Antigua but we wanted to head the other way so we hopped off this bus and onto the Fuente del Norte bus that pulled up within minutes. We snagged seats that we kept all the way to Rio Dulce – where we squeezed our way past the 20 or so folks in the aisle to disembark into the frenetic activity of downtown Fronteras.