Sunday, October 23, 2005

Of Copán, Honduras

We're back from a swell four-day weekend in Copán, Honduras (henceforth known as "Copan" because it's easier to just type it than inserting the technically necessary accent on the "a" each time). We were worried Wilma would make Copan a soggy mess, but fortunately nature decided to cut us a break this time and focus on kicking Mexico's ass this time. And besides, how could we resist our first big chance to flash around our Diplomatic Passports at some dusty border post?

Anyway, Copan is one of the four or so most important known Mayan cities. As we heard multiple times while there, Tikal was the New York of the Mayans, with tall buildings and impressive scale, but Copan was the Paris of the Mayans, a center of art and poetry. Unfortunately, all their amazingly precise astronomy and mathematics didn't help them figure out that in a millenium or so, acid rain would come and eat away all their limestone masterpieces. So now the originals are all under tin roofs, giant tarps, or in the case of most of the truly impressive pieces, they're in a museum to be preserved for future generations. Perhaps due to ironic intervention of the death-obsessed Mayan gods, it turns out the museum roof leaks and isn't doing such a swell job of protecting the art. So, the museum is closed, and apparently has been for some time.

Luckily, they have replicas in all the original locations, so you can still get some sense of how the city was set up back in 700 AD. Of course, the jungle has had its way with Copan for a thousand years or so now, and most everything is a reconstruction of what modern scientists guess it looked like back when. The outlying residential area still mostly looks like grassy mounds, which have the jumbled blocks of former middle-class Mayans' homes underneath.

Also in Copan, we enjoyed some well-maintained "nature." There's the home of the "Butterfly Guy," who apparently is just really into butterflies and has built a giant butterfly-arium on his land. It was educational and had a charmingly home-spun vibe to it, like the guy was out personally mending holes in his butterfly shelter and collecting cocoons from the jungle with all his spare time.

Presenting an interesting but not unpleasant contrast was "Macaw Mountain,"(FULL DISCLOSURE: The linked picture was not taken at Macaw Mountain (TM) but it is a legitimate Macaw resident elsewhere in Copan) which has fliers in every gringo watering hole and hotel in town, and is the kind of place that makes sure you have time to stop by the snack bar during your guided tour and leaves you at the gift shop when you finish. Much slicker than the Butterfly Guy, but they also had a lot of really cool birds in aviaries, all of them rescued from various states of avian servitude or malady. I never was exactly clear where these birds were being "rescued" from, but it made the whole thing sound very noble. (NOTE: On further reflection, they probably rescue the Macaws from whatever agency keeps the above-pictured Macaw at the entrance to the ruins. I personally witnessed some giant-tailless-rat-looking rodent making off with the Copan Ruinas macaws' food!) And if rescuing injured Toucans wasn't enough, Macaw Mountain takes advantage of all their leafy acerage to produce shade-grown coffee. Take that, Starbucks!

In all, we give Copan two big thumbs up. Cool stuff to do on the whole range from touristy to "authentic," good restaurants, relatively safe, and perhaps most importantly, they have THREE different beers. Capitalism at work!

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