Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

April 5, 2011

Mayan Mysteries

Two Australians, two Brits (Henry and Janice from Cloudy Bay) and an Israeli/American (Ari from La Paloma) set forth on a little adventure with Jorge (Hor-hey) of Tour in El Salvador. It’s a treat when you spend a lot of time in a confined space (the van!!) with a wonderful group of people. Jorge was a great driver and did not really scare us, well, most of the time!!
The stories Jorge told us of the local area made a difference to what we were seeing along the way and we swear he talked the whole way!! For us, bouncing around in the back of the van (rough roads, poor shock absorbers) we were at times relieved that Ari got to sit in the front seat!! For Ari and Jorge, they were like the kids in the playground.
We were spoilt at border crossings as we got to relax as Jorge took our passports and jumped the queues. By land, you can travel on one visa for Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. No worries.

The first day we had a few stops in El Salvador (covered in an earlier blog) then off to Copan to see the ruins. These ruins are a little older than Tikal (Guatemala); Copan existed between the 5th- 9th century AD in a fertile valley bordering the Copan River. Its survival was very unique as it was on the border of the Mesoamerican cultural region and almost surrounded by non-Mayans. At the peak of their power, the population was estimated to be around 20,000. The Mayans had an extensive social, economic and political structure. Interestingly, although a much of the ruins have been excavated, no bodies have been found.

The town of Copan is surrounded by mountains in the NE of Honduras. Rural life for some continues to be the same as it has for centuries, with villages dotted all over the landscape and getting produce to market.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were surprised to see many men slumped along the pavement sleeping off their alcoholic excesses. (They could have been in the Geraldton Race!!)  Beautiful cobbled streets adorned with many tourist shops and restaurants with wonderful colonial hotels, redolent of the Spanish occupation. Henry, Peter and Ari (not quite the 3 wise men!) found time to relax outside our rooms.

Being a mountain location, we enjoyed the escape from the coastal humidity and heat.

Jorge had the best restaurants to take us to. Erica, spent much time practicing her talent, first with plastic glasses. A beautiful, enterprising young woman has found a way to make huge money via tips. Ari had designs on her (he is looking for a woman) but mentioned the threat from his daughter if he bought home a woman younger than her! (We will leave her threat to your imagination. Good for her, we say.) Ari (who hails from California now) is a good guy to have around as, apart from his sense of humour, he has been part time cruising in Mexico for the last 10 years and spoke good Spanish. We often gave him a hard time as he seldom wore a shirt and we were even more surprised on our tour that he did in fact have more than 1 with him!!

The Copan ruins are not dissimilar to Palenque in the jungle of southern Mexico as it is thought that a Copan Prince married a Palenque Queen and therefore followed a sharing of knowledge.

Our guide for the Copan Ruins was Saul Molina, a music professor who has developed a passion for archaeology after meeting and befriending many archaeologists who have come down to excavate the ruins over the last few decades. Saul’s stories, information and passion made a significant difference in our enjoyment and understanding of the Mayan culture. His ability to articulate these stories and the eloquence in which this was done left us with such admiration for this man.

The Mayans had an elaborate system of cisterns with aqueducts in order for there to be enough water during the dry season. The main pavilion was built so that the drains could be blocked and used as a reservoir. The pavilion was built so that the water could be gravity fed through the nearby houses of the wealthy people.

As there is an amazing likeness with many Chinese characters, archaeologists feel there must be somehow a link between these early civilizations. ( 1421 is a great book to read in the light of this).

Not much is known why the Mayans, after having such an elaborate societal structure, died out so quickly. One theory is that the red paint they used for decoration was made from Mercury, which via the rain, washed into their water catchment and slowly poisoned them. This of course, happed in other Mayan settlements as well. With the civilization expanding over so many centuries, each successive culture built on top of others that had been covered up. Archaelogists have constructed this piece as it would have looked like underneath the current structure found. Notice the red paint!

The new way of excavating ruins is to leave some of the original mounds so we get to see the comparison and how ruins can be buried for centuries.

Luckily I saw this colourful chappie before he saw me!! He was bigger than my big toe and I suspect could put out quite a bite.

Grand old trees, Ceiber trees, can still stand proud over the landscape. Seeing this tree, you can understand how the Mayans thought that they stood at the centre of the earth, joining the terrestial and spiritual world.

This interesting statue does not apparently fit in here, leaving archaeologists a little miffed as to how he got there. They are desperately trying to find his real home so he can be returned and be in peace. As he is a happy chappie, he is much liked!

 The workers lived on the other side of the river, near the fields and were bought across on  a daily basis to work for the wealthy and ruling class who lived around the main pavillion.

These small guinea pig like rodents are native to Honduras and very timid. They were enjoying the serenity around the ruins. Apparently he is called a Hutias and is native to the Caribbean.

Remember the Ceiber tree....we had seen many Ceiber trees since southern Mexico, the younger ones being covered in thorns to protect them. They were mainly used for canoes, some of which could seat 40 people. Today they are used for building.

From Copan we had too much of a short stay in Antigua, Guatemala.  A week here would not be enough!
The Guatemalan people are 70% Mayan, still wear their traditional dress and are active in the social/economic and political sphere of the country. They were very successful in passively resisting the Spanish occupation as they would attend church but secretly bring in their own religious icons.  The Pope, after his visit in 1996, gave them permission to follow their own beliefs in which the people found much mirth, as they had been doing this for centuries! They celebrate International Women’s Day and work hard to raise the standing of women in the community.
  Beautiful Jacaranda trees in bloom were adorning the town square which  was strategically designed so it lined up with the four points of the compass, with significant municipal building located on each side. Antigua is most famous for its language schools where you can come and learn EspaƱola immersion style.

The main statue in the square became such an amusement to Henry!!

Once again we walked around the narrow cobbled streets (how on earth do women wear stilettoes here??) and enjoyed fantastic restaurants and coffee.

We were so impressed at how our coffee was presented....not to mention how good it tasted…………..

that we put it on the floor to get a good photo, much to the amusement of the maker!!! They had very high tables!

Restaurants provided interesting music....
Such a beautiful town was completely surrounded by volcanoes (one of which constantly smokes). It was a little eerie thinking about Pompeii and I did spend a few hours at night planning a strategy of getting out in case there were any rumbles (as you do!!).  Of course we would not have had a chance!!
Our guide in Antigua was not as interesting as Saul and a two of us got bored very quickly. Ashamedly, we, who have the concentration span of a gnat (sound familiar Didy????) was perhaps not the best. He arrived smelling of an over powering after shave, slicked back hair with very, very, tight jeans that somehow held a partially unbuttoned shirt that displayed his necklace amid a hairy chest. A man certainly full of self-importance which he was keen to share with us frequently. How on earth could we take him seriously?????? Janice and I stood there is disbelief and were having a chuckle. Our poor guide, wondered what we were scrutinising….and promptly asked us what it was about him we were looking at. Janice, quick not to miss a beat, said it was his watch!! He promptly took it off to pass around so we could admire it close up!!! Sadly the morning tour did not get any better as the more he plied us with extensive facts, the more some of us got bored.

He did, however, manage to get us into the very old church that was slowly being renovated. The history of the church was remarkable, however as neither Henry nor I could deal with confined spaces when he took us below ground, we went off to do a little dance outside a narrow window (air vent) that the others could see …. two pairs of feet doing a Mexican Shuffle!!

It’s the women that usually carry heavy jugs of water and produce on their heads, but Peter made a gallant effort of trying out women’s work! Of course the problem was that no one was tall enough to successfully assist in getting the (empty) jug up on his head!!
A traditional dress worn by women may take 6 months to weave, which then signifies not only the geographical location of the person but also her language group. Antigua was a wonderful place to peruse the national market and purchase stunning locally made cloth.

As in El Salvador, the Guatemalan people are very welcoming, even though they have a considerably more developed tourist industry. Corruption in Guatemala has yet to be dealt with by the governement, unlike El Salvador which has made huge in roads to be rid of corruption altogether. As the locals explain, the governement has cut the grass from the top!!
For those who are coming to El Salvador, we recommend running around with Jorge. Some of the cruisers have rented a car to drive around Guatemala and El Salvador and have not had any problems doing so.
This is our last post for a you can all breath a sigh of relief!!!

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