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Mayan Ruins, Irish Backpackers and Late Night Chicken

2010 August 25

I woke up the next day to explore what I came here for: the ruins.

The view looking back into town.

Located about 15-20 minutes by foot from the town, the Copan ruins are the best in Honduras. I’m no anthropologist nor historian so I defer to Wikipedia for the history of the ruins. You enter through a visitor center and then it’s a short walk through a forested area to the ticket checkpoint. All of the visitors are funneled through here to make sure you paid the $15 to get in. Although no Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, they were still pretty impressive. The complex consisted of numerous temples, statues and a ball court. Residential areas were in the back and there’s also a museum (which I skipped).

Parrots near the entrance.

Looking to the right when you first enter the complex.

What I find most interesting about these places is the struggle between man and nature. Like Angkor Wat, nature had taken it’s toll over the centuries. Thousands of years ago, man cleared the area and built these massive monuments. Then as their civilization declined, the area was lost and forgotten, swallowed by the jungle. Over the centuries, the elements undid a lot of which was built. It wasn’t until a couple hundred years ago that explorers rediscovered the area and began unearthing the remains. What they found was a fusion between man and nature. Trees and bushes had grown directly into the ruins. Sculptures and carvings were faded from the centuries of sun, rain and wind. Entire sides of pyramids had collapsed with jumbled rocks as evidence of their prior existence. Man had taken, nature had taken back, and now we were at somewhat of an equilibrium, hopefully preserved for the years to come.

Man vs. nature.

Looking at the main structure.

I wandered the area for several hours and even took a little nap on one of the mounds. There weren’t many people there so there were plenty of times when you’d have a whole area to yourself. Massive trees provided plenty of shade and once in a while you’d get a nice little breeze. It was a nice break from the nearly inescapable heat. When I had gotten my fill of Mayan culture, I headed back to town.

Some more photos:

One of the many sculptures.

Worn down over the centuries.

A group of ladies take a break.

The view from the top.

A side view of the main structure.

– – –

Upon returning to my hostel, I found a pleasant surprise. While I was out and about, a group of Irish backpackers (13 to be exact) had checked in. There are certain types of backpackers that you’re almost guaranteed to have a fun time with. The Irish are one of them. There’s some truth to every stereotype and it goes without saying that the Irish are known for their drinking. Tonight was going to be a big one, for sure.

I headed to the store and picked up mi amigo Ron: a fifth of the finest Caribbean rum for about $5. This brings me to another reason why I love third world countries: everything is so damn cheap. You can drink yourself silly for under $5 bucks. And it was pretty tasty stuff too, unlike some of the nasty shit we get back here which resembles more of rat piss than alcohol. I came back and saw that they had secured a 3L bottle of Coca Cola. Excellent, two key pieces to a big night were in place.

Pre-gaming at Hostal La Manzana Verde.

As we sat around and had a couple of beers, I found out that they had been volunteering in Haiti for several weeks.  Now on the tail end of their trip, they had a few weeks to backpack Central America before going home. A couple of them were older (25, 26) but the majority were in their very early 20’s (20, 21). That’s the thing I like about the Brits/Irish/Aussies/Europeans, call it non-Americans. They see the world. What was I doing in my 20th summer? Taking classes and dicking around. And here they were, saving the world and having a blast while doing it. I know there are a lot of people without a passport and it’s a damn shame. Our world is a big place and people should get out there. You learn a lot about others and even more about yourself while backpacking. But this is another topic for another day. Back to the drinking.

– – –

We finished up the beers and popped open the Ron. I can throw back cuba libres like a champ and before long we were all running pretty good buzzes. We headed out and found our way to Via Via. Like I said in my previous post, Copan is a small town with only a couple of places happening each night. Tonight Via Via was dead. My Irish compadres had found some people they met along the road so they decided to stay. I decided to bounce and met up with my German friend Jonas at a “wine bar” (the exact name escapes me). Don’t let the description fool you because this wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill, stuck up and snobby wine bar.

It was located on the second floor on a street corner. There were some couches in the middle with tables and chairs running along the edges of the railing. There were no windows, only a waist-high guard fence preventing you from stumbling over the side.  A nice cool breeze wafted and broke up the stench of spilled beer, sweat and smoke. I stuck my head out and looked down a couple of streets. The town was mostly dark. Copan was a town that ended early. In fact, this would be a common theme during my trip. Most places shuttered around midnight and there were only a couple of times where I stayed out past 2am.

That night, the bar was having a party and had a live DJ. It was packed to the brim with locals, other travelers and “expat locals”, ones who had decided to make Copan their base camp for weeks or months at a time. I was having a great time and before long I was doing the limbo, taking free shots and having drunken conversations. The Irish crew arrived a couple of hours later. But by that point, I had consumed my fair share of drinks and was now firmly committed to finding drunk-munchies. “If there is a god, the street vendors will still be out,” I thought as I left the bar.

Sure enough, within a dozen feet of the bar, there stood a woman behind a cart. Apparently there is a god. But oh what a cruel, cruel trick he was playing on me. To my horror, she was packing up her cooking supplies. I pleaded with her, “Senora, por favor, porrrrr favorrrrrrrrr.” No dice, she wasn’t having any of it. A stomach full of alcohol and no food to soak it up? I was good as dead. But in my darkest of moments, there came a light. This light came in the form of an older, probably mid-40’s, security guard carrying a machete. He probably saw the shocked look on my face and felt sorry for me. With my broken Spanish and hand gestures, I realized that he knew of somewhere that was still selling food.

I followed him to the promised land which turned out to be the outdoor reception area of a hotel. There I met the manager who had a stash of BBQ chicken left. 100 lempiras (~$5) got me two massive thighs and legs with a hearty base of tortilla. The chicken was delicious: juicy, tender with a perfect BBQ glaze. I gotta give it to them, Hondurans really know how to make their chicken. This would be my first encounter but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In the midst of inhaling my food, I managed to take a few breaths of air and talked to the manager. We were shooting the shit when suddenly the security guard stood up with his hand on his machete. He peeked outside and looked down the road. False alarm but it wasn’t without reason. Turns out that even in a small, touristy town like Copan, the drug trade is never too far away. Drug lords lived in the surrounding hills and there had been some violence a couple months back. It was a sobering reminder that despite its beauty on the surface, Honduras was still a country plagued by poverty and crime.

– – –

I finished my chicken, thanked the guys and walked home. It was now about 1:30am. What I haven’t mentioned is that I booked a bus leaving for Utila at 5:30am, or approximately 4 hours. This was because I wanted to get to Utila in time for Sunjam. This was something that I had not heard about until I got to Copan. In a nut shell, it was an all day/night rave on a deserted island. I’ve never been to a rave, let alone one on an island but when in Rome, right? In a move that I’ve pulled off several times before, I figured I would go out and sleep on the bus. The going out part was done, sleep would soon ensue.

But there stood two more obstacles before I could hit the sack. One, the water was out. Two, my pillow was covered in ants. Screw it, I won’t brush my teeth. But there was no way I was sleeping in a bed with ants. How this happened you may ask? I met two awesome Danish girls, Martine and Caroline, and we planned on catching the same bus tomorrow. They decided to take the night off and sleep. When I returned, I found a note written by them with a couple of snacks left on my pillow. The snacks were meant to help my hangover. One was a Nutrigrain bar, the other, a piece of bread covered in Nutella. What they failed to take into account was the feeding frenzy caused by the Nutella. There were probably a hundred ants on my pillow. It looked like a black, withering mass in the dim light of the room. Had I been sober, I probably would’ve shat my pants. But oh the wonders of alcohol. I took the swarming piece of bread and chucked it outside. Then I managed to bat as many ants as I could and finally laid down.

I passed out with the feeling of ants on my neck and back.  In 3 hours, I had what would surely be a painful, miserable wakeup to look forward to.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010

    Oh my, don’t think I could handle the ants. Ick! Can’t wait to hear the rest!

  2. Skopes permalink
    August 25, 2010

    haha the bread wrapped in nutella!! that is a good story. I can’t wait to see photos from sunjam

  3. NPLF permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Paul, you are so crazy!

    begging for food even when you are drunk in the middle of the night, then greeted by a bunch of ants in your bed, what a story!

    Can’t wait to hear the rest……

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