July 21, 2006 GMT
Copān

This is too good to be true. As I ride up the Nicaragua-Honduras frontera at Los Manos is quiet. I am first at the Nicaragua windows to cancel my moto visa and stamp out my passport. A quick $5.00 changes hands, for what I don't know but I'm on a roll. Now I am first at the windows for entering Honduras. While I do the Border-Cross Boogey, a hired chico washs Katie for a buck. Another young tramitador is helping expedite my paperwork for 2 bucks. Things are going tickety boo until the Honduras aduana officer gets in the money game. That'll be $45 for the forms and processes to get into her country today. What!? That's Bullshit!

Turning her back on my arguments and protests, she closes the door in my face. A poster, stuck to the door, ironically suggests reporting cases of corruption to officials. My tramitador quietly suggests it is Saturday, parts of immigration are closed and if I want into Honduras, I can pay the price and go. The thought of going an hour back to the nearest Nicaraguan town and waiting til Monday is almost as distasteful as this banditry here. In the end I pay the money. It's my Stupid Penalty for not paying attention to which day it is.

The Honduran roads are good, the mountainous scenery sooths my nerves. I am into another country, it is the weekend and I can make Tegucigalpa today. Life is good again. I am one frontera closer to my lovely wife.

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The weekend in the Honduras capital of Tegucigalpa goes quietly but well enough and by Monday I am on the road to the Mayan ruins in Copān. Security is normal latin american, as evidenced by the lads helping out at the service stations. They don't pump gas for you but they will pump lead at you if you try anything criminal. I note my friendly Shell guard has a handgun casually stuck in his jeans and a shotgun so worn the blueing is polished off the receiver.

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The Gringo Trail town of Copān pretty well thrives on tourists making the pilgrimage to the Mayan ruins of Copān. The town is pretty and immaculately clean. No shortage of cobblestone, hotels, pizza, or souvenirs.

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The ruinas are brilliant and well worth the journey. Early in the morning I hire a guide and we walk the ruinas as the sunrise mists slowly lift. The ruinas de Copān mark the southeastern limit of Mayan dominance. The last estela, etched like a tall tombstone with a hieroglyphic history, was carved between 800 and 820 AD. The recorded history only stretches back for five centuries. Seems to me a pretty short time for those energetic little Mayans to build all this, live here, then walk away from it all.

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Although partially restored by the Carnegie Institute in the 1930's, most of the buildings lay unexcavated under jungle trees, roots and soil. Ancient building blocks, some decorated, lie about. Pale green moss, like a 10 day beard, grows on scattered skulls carved of stone.

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Where the temples have been restored, the now-known ceremonies showed respect for serpents, jaguars, toads (symbol of fertility), monkeys and birds. Gold was not valued, in contrast to the Incas, instead the Mayans treasured jade, sea shells, leather and bird feathers of the toucan and macaw. Buildings then were richly painted in many colors.

As found in all other Mayan ruins there is at least one ball court. Played by the best athletes, an 8 pound ball was rolled up either of the two sloping sides, the object of the game being to score by hitting one of the three stone markers. No hands or feet were used. Broken bones were common. Depending on which version you believe, either the captain of the winning or the losing team was sacrificied at the end of the game. "Tiger, we've got some good news for you and some bad. The good news is the men have picked you to be their captain...."

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Archeologists are still tunneling into the temples and pyramids and discovering hidden tombs. Seems when the old king died, his son built more temple on top. Considering it costs over $3 million to do the work these days on one temple, I'd say many more new exciting discoveries are yet to come.

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The most amazing feature is the Hieroglyphic Stairway. Each stair as it climbs the pyramid tells a story. Archeologists, such as the one below, continue to interpret the elaborately detailed history inscribed. There are portraits of the royals with inscriptions telling of great deeds done and their lineage as well as dates of birth, marriage and death.

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After a day of stone history I am ready for cena y cerveza. The daily, almost set-your-watch, thunderstorm inundates the ruins and town of Coban. I am safely in a restaurant when the ducha de Dios arrives.

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Posted by Murray Castle at July 21, 2006 11:07 PM GMT
 


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