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Irene's Adventures

Honduras - Copan

HONDURAS | Friday, 28 November 2014 | Views [218]

COPAN

 local lady

We caught the Hedman Alas bus to Copan. It is the direct luxury bus, not the chicken bus that stops at every small town. The seats are large, lean back like a recliner and they give you a small bagged lunch. They also give you a blanket, which is a good thing because the temperature ranged from 18 - 12 degrees C!! I almost wish I had my toque. It was a 7 hour ride. The roads were very rough, making trying to read impossible.

Suddenly the bus stopped. There was an accident ahead. A semi was jackknifed and blocking the entire road. We waited an hour and a half. The steward informed us that we had to walk, again, to meet the tuktuks they had arranged to take us the remainder of the trip to Copan. It was dark and raining and not especially warm, particularly because we were already chilled from the bus. The tuktuks are golf cart type things, with only a roof. The wind and rain still come at you from the sides. The poor fellow seated with us had no jacket, so Ed dug out his airline blanket and wrapped his shoulders.

When we got into Copan about 15 minutes later, the tuktuk driver recommended a hotel. He took us to Carrillo's Hotel, which charged a modes $20 per night. The room was small, but decent.

Carrillo's Hotel courtyard

He also recommended Mary's restaurant around the corner. This was a gem! It had a beautiful interior with one side under a bit of a roof, but basically outdoors. It was filled with flowers, ferns and other plants. Because we were chilled, we opted for the indoor part, which was equally nice, but less flowers. The waiter was excellent and the food fantastic. We came back a few more times over the next few days.

Comedor y Pupuseria Mary  Comedor y Pupuseria Mary

A note about Copan roads and tuktuks: Tuktuks are the only taxi's in Copan. No matter where you go in town, it is $1. The streets are very hilly and steep.  They are mostly rock, or very large cobblestone if you want to be nice, and very rough riding. The crazy thing is, they have speed bumps every so often. I am not sure why; maybe to give you a break from the constant jarring.

 tuktuk with a spoiler  steep streets & rough rocks

Every small town has its town square, and Copan was no different.  As always, it was a meeting place for people to just hang out and for vendors to sell their wares.  This square had a built in auditorium. 

town square  town square

As always, the church faced the square.

church facing town square

COPAN RUINS

 Copan Ruins

The next day we went to the Copan Ruins. It was a cloudy day that looked like it might rain at any time. This worked to our advantage, as we got a very passionate guide all to ourselves. Cesar explained things so well he made the site come alive. He pointed out things that we would have glanced at without a second thought. One of the first things he pointed out was how the Mayan started in that area, then because of overpopulation and strain on agriculture the ruling Royal class was being ousted by the politicians. People finally just packed up and moved on. All Mayan languages stem from the original from that area – kind of like Latin for us.

Then he explained the significance of the ceiba tree. He showed us a newly planted sprout, an 11 year old tree that still has thorns, then the massive adult trees with roots that spread so far and powerfully they they look like massive snakes and push apart the stones that make up the Acropolis. The tree has spiritual significance. The leaves reach to the heavens, the roots to the underworld and the truck to this living world. Everywhere we have traveled, the people have revered the ceiba.

 ceiba tree ceiba tree roots pushing out stones

As we were passing through the gates into the actual site, we were greeted by a flock of wild macaws! What a beautiful bird! They are Honduras national bird and were highly revered by the Mayan people.

macaw

Cesar pointed out bits of brightly colored stucco that remains from the original buildings.

 colorful stucco  colorful stucco

He pointed out areas where there was a layer of stucco over the floor bricks, giving a smooth, polished finish to the floors.

 stucco floor

The highlights of the site are the Cemetery Group, The West Court, The Royal Residence, The East Court, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, Ballcourt, and Main Plaza.

the west court  the east court  ballcourt  

Each area bears significance in regards to how the high priest entered. There is a passage way in the center where the priest would appear coming from the various directions. No one could see him passing through from one side to the other and it all meant something important to them.

 passageway

Ancient ruins are not always serious.  These whimsical statues speak of a sense of humor.

whimsical face Dancing Jaguar

There are some fantastic statues (stelas) with intricate designs. Amazingly, most of the persons in the statues are holding their hands in what appears to be mudras, Buddhist hand positions that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain. So many of the spiritual beliefs these people had make one wonder about the root origin. Many things tied in to beliefs that we have seen in other countries and cultures.

 statues wich hands in mudra statues wich hands in mudra

Some of the roof drains were beautifully designed to move the water in a way that looked like a cascading waterfall.

 roof drain

The Hieroglyphic Stairway is the feature of the entire site. As each King died, his successor built a new temple over the old. There are 14 layers. Each new layer bears something to commemorate the previous king.

hieroglyphic stairway  layers of temples

There is a square alter that depicts this very well. There are 16 kings, 4 per side, each passing the scrolls of wisdom and knowledge to the next king. However, on one side the oldest king is passing the scroll to the newest king.

 passing the scrolls of knowledge

Archaeologists have been digging under the ruins that we see to find the older temples, whose colors are still brilliant. Pollution and acid rain have eaten away at the ruins terribly in the past 40 years. Old pictures show what things looked like 40 years ago, and they were much better then than now, even with the site being declared a UNESCO heritage site and the protection and restoration that comes with that.

macaw detail at ballcourt

There is a museum on the grounds where they have constructed a life size model of one of the buried temples. It is huge. They painted it in match the colorful condition they found it. There are displays of many of the original sculptures. Many of the sculptures that we saw while walking about were, in fact, replicas. A very clever way of maintaining the spirit of the ruins without worrying about tourist abuses.

reconstructed temple   crane eating fish  water urn

That evening we were walking around town and happened to run into Fergus, who I had dived with in Roatan. He was chatting with a Florida ex-pat named Casey who recommended a German brew house nearby. Off we went to find Sol de Copan. The owner, Thomas, gave up the hectic corporate life in Germany six years ago and came to Copan with his Honduran wife and two sons. He has won awards for his German brews and even sells the license for his brew back in Germany. He believes that no one should drink (or eat) alone, so when we arrived he seated us with a Dutch couple – even though we were the only four people in the place. A Polish Australian was soon seated with us, even though the other 6 tables were empty. The beer was good and the homemade sausages were to die for! His 11 year old son is a talented painter and his art is displayed on the walls, but not for sale.

 

Sol de Copan  homemade German sausage & beer  Owner's son's artwork

The next day we took a tuktuk to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park. This is a bird sanctuary and nesting place. The cages are big enough for the birds to actually fly around inside them. Some of the cages have a double gate so visitors can walk through, allowing for some fantastic pictures. There is a bird handler who put three large macaws on our shoulders and arms. They are BIG birds. We were told that the macaws that we saw at the Ruins actually come from this park. They are free to come and go. It was a beautiful park-like atmosphere along a river, and complete with small snack bar and a coffee bar.

Ed with Scarlet and Green Macaws  Irene with Scarlet & Green Macaws

Macaws are not the only birds here. They have a wide variety of local birds including the Keel Billed Toucan, various parrots and parakeets and even owls and eagles.

keel billed toucan  parrot

That evening we went to the Tea and Chocolate Place. It is not your usual tea house. It is an Experimental Botanical Research Station. It is a beautiful visitor center that show cases locally grown herbal products using innovative methods to regenerate the landscape, reduce erosion and land degradation, and help mitigate poverty and nutritional issues in the area. They are bridging the ancient past and a better future. We sampled several teas and cocoa products. We bought some products, not only in support of their good cause, but because they were delicious. We had tea on the veranda, overlooking the valley. Nice.

Tea & Chocolate Place

The next day I went back to the ruins to take a walk down the nature trail. It is basically a nice path through the jungle on the outside of the fenced ruins. There were interpretive stations periodically explaining Mayan culture but mostly pointing out significant trees.

nature trail

The trail ends at the gates to the ruins, where we had seen the macaws a few days prior. Today was not different, but there were more. I think they were trying to breed because a couple were wrestling around on the ground and being very loud. This drew dozens more to also squawk and jump about. It was quite the colorful and noisy display.

macaw

We were going to head to Gracious the next day so we decided to go up to Hacienda San Lucas for breakfast. We heard it was amazing. We took the tuktuk up the mountain, with the intention of walking back into town, as it was only 5 Km and downhill. That was the plan.....

Hacienda San Lucas

First of all, the location and views were breathtaking. Breakfast was served on a lovely outdoor patio overlooking the river valley with the town of Copan and the Ruins. Each table had a small pitcher filled with local flowers. There was a large lawn area that seemed to just fall into the scenery. Breakfast was amazing. It came with a lovely fruit starter, lots of good coffee and more eggs and beans than we could eat. After breakfast, we wandered around a bit taken in by the beauty and tranquility. Ok, we came, we ate, we looked around, now let's go. Oh wait, what is that building off on its own? Oh My! It was a yogo / meditation cabana at the end of a long shrub lined trail and overlooking the valley. The picture can really say it better than words.

yoga meditation area  yoga meditation area

It was so breathtakingly beautiful. I asked Ed if we could stay, at least one night. Needless to say, I didn't have to convince him too hard. The Hacienda arranged for a taxi to take us back to town to collect our luggage and bring us back.

Hacienda San Lucas

Our room was very spacious, with two queen beds and loads of room to move around. The entire structure was of stone, brick and wood. The bathroom was modern but the stone shower and sink had a very rustic appeal. Our veranda was huge. It wrapped around two sides of our room and had two hammocks, a small table with two chairs and a built in bench with huge cushions. The room had huge screened windows on either end with large wooden shutters for the night.

Hacienda San Lucas room   Hacienda San Lucas veranda  Hacienda San Lucas veranda

That night the stone pathways were all lit by candlelight and oil lamps. There were oil lamps spread throughout the grounds. The covered veranda dining area was aglow with candles. We were the only guests, and this place had an entire staff to serve us. Dinner was brought on a tray by one girl, while another girl took the plates from the tray to our table. She explained what each of the five courses were as she placed them before us, taking each plate away before the next course arrived. We felt like royalty.

dining by candlelight

When we made our way back to our room, properly stuffed from the 5 star meal, we found our room aglow with candles and our bed had been turned down. Wow! Our original one night turned into three. If you ever want a place to relax and be pampered, come to Hacienda San Lucas. It wasn't cheap. It worked out to about $250 per day, but 10 times better than any all inclusive I have ever been to.

Hacienda San Lucas room

There were some Mayan ruins on the Hacienda property called Los Sapos – the toads. It is believed to be a fertility / birthing area for the Mayan women. We were given a guide to help us navigate the jungle in order to find it. It takes some imagination to see what is depicted on the plaque situated near by, but it is quite easy to make out the frogs. I am not sure how they figure this is a birthing place.

Los Sapos

We carried on a bit further to a small village. We hadn't gotten within 50 meters of the place when children came running toward us waving corn husk dolls. Ed sat on a step and all the children were beside and behind him, all waving multiple dolls from both hands at me from around his head and body. How I wish I had taken a picture! It was too funny. We had not brought small bills and it took a while for them to round up some change. The dolls were 20 lempira each, with the bigger ones 30 lempira ($1- 1.50) How do you buy from one child and not another? In the end, I bought one from each child, then an eighth child came running from the bushes, also waving a doll. Ok, eight dolls. But they did not have proper change and kept insisting I take more dolls. I finally convinced a mother to keep the change and to buy something for the children. The whole trek to Los Sapos and the village took about an hour.

corn husk dolls

We had heard of Finca el Cisnewhen we were still on Roatan then again in La Ceiba. Now here was our wonderful retreat place encouraging us to go, and even spend the night, at Finca el Cisne. Anna Marie set it all up for us. We would do a day trip into the mountains on the other side of the valley. Her friend, Carlos, was waiting to show us his plantation.

Carlos' grandfather had once owned half the mountain, but the government expropriated much of it. He and his siblings each own about 200 acres. His grandfather was quite the visionary. He built the road and planted trees along the road which are now being harvested for lumber. The government comes in and decides which ones are big enough. Each year the family plants more trees to maintain this cash flow.

fence trees for lumber

Grandfather also built a power plant on his land. It generates 750 kilowatts. Although they have to sell the power to the government, they are doing their part in providing electricity to the region. The area around the power plant has a fish pond.  The water leaving the plant goes down an attractive waterway to the river.  There is an entire picnic area, where the family can come and enjoy a relaxing time.  Efficient. Beautiful. Practical. Multi-use.  Brilliant.

area around hydro plant  area around hydro plant

Grandfather also sent his kids and grandkids off to college to get degrees in various skills that would help the farm and the industries within the farm, such as electrical engineering, business and eco-agriculture. Carlos has a dream to build a boarding school to provide education in eco-agriculture, right on his property.

This is eco-agriculture: He plants large trees to be cut for lumber in amongst the coffee bushes and cocoa trees. It shades and protects the smaller trees and eliminates the risk of soil erosion. All kinds of ideas and methods to protect the land. It also provides a sustainable income well into the future. It also explains why the entire countryside looked like green velvet from the airplane. The farms are camouflaged under trees.

 

He grows cocoa trees. Not just any cocoa, but the creole cocoa. It is the rarest and best cocoa in the world. The best chocolatiers in Europe demand cocoa from creole cocoa. We walked through his cocoa trees and he explained the differences between the trees and how this is not a fast road to riches. It will take up to 10 years for the creole trees to really begin to produce, but the payoff is that it fetches three times more money when sold.

cocoa tree 

His main source of income is coffee. This is what Ed had been waiting for. We went to the processing plant where we were shown how they bring in the berries, how the pulp is separated from the bean, how the bean ferments for 3 days to soften any remaining pulp and then run through a water bath to wash any remaining slimy pulp off before it is run through massive driers. The driers are heated with wood. A huge shed of wood awaits to feed the big drying drums. From there it is bagged and awaits sale. Good coffee beans sink, second grade coffee beans don't. There was second grade coffee laying out on a cement pad to dry by the sun. This can take a very long time when it is raining, as it was when we were there. When asked what they do with this inferior grade, Carlos said they sell it to the locals. Sometimes it is sold to the big corporations, who mix it into the good coffee to act as filler to expand a profit. Good to know. We went to his Mother's house and had a “good” cup of coffee. It was buttery smooth with no bitterness, despite the strength.

coffee berries   coffee bean bath    drying coffee 

At his Mom's house there were pictures of some men with a dead jaguar. Carlos explained that it was his Dad, back in the 1950's. The jaguar was killing his livestock. Although jaguar are endangered and it is illegal to kill one now, times were different back then.

jaguar kill

He also grows cardamom. Cardamom is member of the ginger family. Some of the huge rose-like flowers we had seen in many places are torch ginger.

cardamom  torch ginger

We went horseback riding to the power plant and had a quick overview of his plantation before ending our tour at his house with a nice meal. While we were eating some kids were shelling cocoa beans, which his housekeeper then run through a meat grinder looking thing. The bean mush came out looking like peanut butter. This was 100% pure cocoa. We bought about a pound of this cocoa, two pounds of his top quality coffee and a pound of cardamom pods. Everything locally and organically grown!

fording the river    cocoa - from pod to paste

Carlos then dropped us off at Luna Jaguar Hot Springs, making arrangements for us to catch a ride back to town with a local tour bus. We had read about the hot springs in the guide books, and dismissed them as another set of hot springs. How wrong we were! Until only a few years ago, this was a stream that ran through the jungle, with the locals picking a spot where they liked the temperature and sitting in the water. Today there are seven stone pools descending down the hillside, where the stream passes through each, getting cooler as it descends. There are built in waterfalls you can sit under and pools with massaging stones for your feet. We had to cross a suspension bridge, go through a man made cave, up some stone steps and up more jungle type steps to get to the top. We were literally sitting in the middle of the jungle. Since we came at the end of the day, we picked a warmer pool and simply parked ourselves until it began to get dark and the bus was leaving.

Luna Jaguar Hot Springs

The next day we said our good byes to the Hacienda San Lucas staff, to Anna Marie and Pilo, our driver, and took another Hedman Alas bus back to La Ceiba.

 

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