Copán, Honduras, 25 February 2005
My son and I left Antigua at 4 am. It’s now 3:30 pm and I feel a bit bus-lagged, as if it were already late at night. But it really wasn’t so bad, Justin has really turned into an adult and a companionable one at that. No balking, no complaining. He even let me sleep on his shoulder while we were driving for two hours in the dark.
We were on the archaeological site at 11:45 and explored every nook and cranny, climbed every temple, every pyramid, burrowed into every tunnel. It was probably one of the most beautiful Mayan sites I had ever seen and we practically had it all to ourselves.
The Royal Tomb
There is a coziness about Copán deserted plazas (if you can say cozy when thinking of rather grandiose Mayan structures), some shaded by trees, their ground carpeted with fawn-colored dead leaves, silent but for the song of birds. We took our time, resumed our steps to places we particularly loved, chatted and laughed. Good thing Justin was there to captain me around or I probably would have irretrievably gotten lost. The Olmec sculptures had something of an almost Buddhist serenity about them. They could very well have belonged to an Indian temple: half-closed eyelids and enigmatic smiles. They seemed far more human, less threatening in their demeanor than most of their Mayan counterparts. There was a beauty and harmony about the place that seemed to set it apart from the aura of bloody rituals that permeates some of the other sites. Not that the bloody rites might not have occurred here just the same as elsewhere: the altars were there to bear witness to that, but the human sacrifices might have been performed more gently…
Some theories sustain that the Olmecs were descendants of the Nubians or black Egyptians, thence their Negroid features and hieroglyphic writings. Is there any basis to that theory? Nobody knows but it would be astonishing that the resemblance between Olmec and Egyptian hieroglyphs be merely coincidental.
An Olmec Face in Copán
We came back to the hotel and that’s where I lost Justin. There was a soccer game on TV, featuring the famous Madrid team. Everyone, apparently, should know who they are. Well, now I know. We had picked that particular hotel because of its gardens and pool, but the gardens and pool were apparently one kilometer away from the hotel. Nevertheless, brave me took her back pack, changed from hiking shoes to flip-flops and walked down the hill, on a dirt road among roosters and hens, expecting very little indeed from that garden and pool. I was to be pleasantly surprised. It was gorgeous! And the soccer game was even playing somewhere in the bar. Justin should have come. He could have had it all: the game as well as the misty mountains lushly blurred by a screen of tropical jungle, hammocks, lounge chairs and a cold Corona. Latin America truly is for me! I was walking along the very unpromising road leading here, counting my blessings.
Our evening in Copan, for uneventful that it was, couldn’t be described as one of quiet recuperating. The town pretty much closes at 8p.m., which Justin found out when trying to get one last beer in a bar. But that doesn’t mean that NOISE stops. We were both in bed by 8:30 but the racket didn’t stop until 12:30, echoing on each concrete wall of our little hotel. It was actually mostly the voice of a very loud child, enthusiastically reciting some sort of a lesson while her father was coaching her and egging her on. Mercifully, her learning zeal didn’t last all night. There was a lull until about 6 a.m. when all that joyous cacophony started allover again. Justin, who pretends to be unable to sleep if there is the least bit of a squeak or ray of light, didn’t seem to be bothered. I was up, dressed and in the street by 7:45, in search of a place for breakfast. The town was still closed and I had to seek refuge at the fanciest hotel in town from which garden I wrote this, sipping an enormous orange juice and neglecting half of the toasted bread heap I was dealt as a Continental breakfast. Life is not so tough indeed.
The return trip was…well…long ! And boring ! After the great sleeping green beasts of the Honduran and Eastern Guatemala mountains, as bizarrely shaped as prehistoric animals, the scenery got drier and turned to desert and tree-sized cacti, saguaros perhaps, and then mine-ravaged landscape. The mountain eaten up, with nothing but its bare bones left.
There was nothing much to do but observe our fellow travelers. A handsome young Japanese who spoke no English or Spanish and who had a very forlorn look about him; indomitable Karin, a pretty German lady of a certain age who had explored the world from Easter Island to Kazakhstan and had just come back from a mule trip to the archaeological sites buried in the jungles of the Petén. Eventually, out of boredom, Justin and I started taking bets. When would the head of the young Japanese, who was nodding away, end up falling on the shoulder of his neighbor, a very proper Honduran young man? Nod, nod, a bit more, almost there…while the Honduran boy’s shoulder simultaneously shrunk and recoiled. Neither one of us won, he always pulled back at the last moment.
Little detail, we were escorted for the whole trip by a police patrol. You can never be too cautious on those roads.