Copán Ruinas, A Mayan City
Copán and the ruins have been a nice surprise. The little town has had some great little surprises and despite a few fears from the general warnings of how dangerous Honduras is, it quickly dissipated with the warmth and friendly smiles. Of course, Copán is considered a "safe" area being a tourist town.
That said, my timing for arrival couldn't have been worse, as apparently Honduras decided to combine all their individual holidays into one week so that people had vacation time. At least that's what I was told. Therefore the streets were crowded with parked cars everywhere and the hotels were booked. I'd found a private room in a hostel for my second night, the upshot being that it opened into the lobby and had no airflow unless the door was open. That evening I had enjoyed the company of several folks who couldn't resist popping into an open door, only to a vision of Gringo Gigantica in his underwear that they'll never be able to wash out of their minds.
The next morning dawned sunny and with blue skies, something I'd rarely seen on this trip. Much of my plans have been foiled due to rains - Panajachel was so bad I couldn't take the boats to San Pedro and the other little towns, Antigua had such bad weather I never even saw the active volcano the entire week I was there, and Tikal was canceled due to the tropical storm.
I grabbed a tour to the Ruinas, packed into a minibus with several backpackers, but more importantly with a guide. Entry into the park was lush with many brilliantly colored macaws fluttering overhead, their reds and blues contrasting against the greenery and blue sky.
The Mayan ruins were superb, and our guide pumped so much information to us that I could have stayed all day. Explanations of the culture, religion and history of the site. It was the best $25 I've spent on this trip. The ruins are known for how well preserved much of the stelae are and it's an accessible site that isn't overwhelming in scope.
This is the actual sacrificial stone where an official would be beheaded after a ball game. The head was set in the round depression and the blood flowed down the curved trenches. The stone is in the shape of the rubber ball used in the game. The death differed in that the losers weren't sacrificed, but instead a royal official from the town. It was considered a high honor to be chosen. Hmmm. Sounds like a marketing ploy to me.
I followed the walking tour with a trip to the onsite museum for another $7 and it was well worth it. Definitely see the museum where so much of the original pieces are in pristine condition.
The tuk tuk back to town was split with another explorer, a Kiwi lady who'd been traveling solo for a year. She had traveled the world as a conservator and we were both struck as to how Asian the designs appeared to be. She commented that some pieces were almost identical to Maori things she'd seen.
I was enjoying the sunshine but it came with a 95º price tag. It seems the two choices are either rain, gloom and 70º, or sunshine, blue skies and 95º. Nature picks your poison.
I've also been surprised that Honduras accepts and uses US dollars and credit cards, besides Guatemalan quetzals. In Guatemala and Mexico, dollars are verboten and credit card use is limited. The gas stations in Guat accept them easily but not Mexico.
Next morning I slowly packed up for the road, my stomach rumbling and something that felt like a brick sitting in my intestines. My first real "laundry" was running late, quite welcome after multiple soap and shower washings that mask the smell only until you put them back on. I retrieved the bike from the side lot and took the time waiting to air out the side cases from the sour water smell of the penetrating rain. I actually washed the windshield so that I could see through it again. By the time everything was in order I was already drenched from the blistering sun and climbed on the bike, looking desperately for a breeze.
I rolled out of the town just awakening on a slow Sunday morning, to big smiles and whistles about the big GS. Street vendors were already selling vegetables on the sidewalks and setting up what appeared to be a market. Quickly I was back on the twisting roads out in the scenery, passing old and ratty dwellings of small villages, but the views were great. The road and traffic were immensely better than Guatemala. I passed horseman after horseman, cowboy hats and boots intact, and plastic tarps laid out on the roadside in the hot sun, covered with either ears or kernels of corn drying in the sun. Men and children with machetes and huge bundles of firewood carried on backs. Pines trees and banana trees mixed on hillsides and mountains, a combination I'd never imagined to see.
The previous couple of days, I'd heard what I thought were arguments on the street between people, but later discovered that the way Spanish is spoken there seems to be very loud and more forceful than what I've heard. In fact the same morning outside my hostel room, I heard a man and woman having a conversation that seemed angry, their voices raised and gruff. I peered out the shower window to see them smiling and giving hugs as they ended their talk. Interesting.
My goal for the day was either the town of Gracias, if the roads took longer and if my stomach party became a party pooper, or Comayagua, roughly half way across Honduras. As I rode, the scenery was stunningly beautiful. I thought Guatemala was pretty, but in Honduras I was treated to huge vistas of valleys and mountains. The roads were soooooo much better than Guatemala, that I dared not complain about the potholes which appeared only in short stretches. I actually had time to see scenery since the traffic was nil, even though this was supposed to be the worst day with tourists returning home. The road conditions were smooth and easy.
The GS was rocking and rolling and I was riding fast and enjoying the weather and scenery, and maybe more the lack of stress and terrible roads. There's no feeling like the big 1200 loaded and heeled over at speed, the Heidenaus howling in the curves. At one point, I hit about a 20 mile stretch of silky smooth new concrete highway that swept and twisted through the mountains. It was like buttah. So far, Honduras has been the prettiest country I've ridden this trip. Mix Guatemala, northern Arizona and a bit of Colorado together and enjoy the ride.
Honduras, at least in the part I've covered, is definitely a cowboy country. The men dress in western style clothes and cowboy hats, horse and saddles everywhere and I was quite surprised. Never knew of that culture here.
One thing they do appreciate is the big bike. Everywhere along the way, whether guys in the back of pickups, on the roadside, gas stations, car and bus drivers, they honk, whistle, wave or flash their lights with big smiles and thumbs up. My favorite is sort of a NFL referee move where they extend both arms out to their sides, pointing index fingers and swinging arms down to the ground. They do love seeing the bike, and more than anywhere I've yet been.
There have been a lot of military and police checkpoints but no interest in stopping me, thankfully. One thing I've noticed is that churches don't dominate the culture and towns like they do in Mexico or Guat. I was told by an experienced traveler that Honduras was the asshole of Central America. So far I've found it to the prettiest and quite friendly. You definitely can tell seeing bikes and guys from the US is very rare however.
That evening at the hotel in Comayagua, I was contacted by Christine and Jules, the French Canadians, late last night. Canuck Charlie had met them at Casa Elena and they were heading out together for El Salvador and the coastal route today. I will spend another day in Honduras before crossing into Nicaragua. We'll try to meet up in Leon or Granada most likely and look forward to seeing the crew again.