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Title: Having lots of fun and soemtimes jus for 25 cents Location: Copan Ruinas, Honduras
Copan de Ruinas is called 'the Athens of the Maya World'. While some other sites have more structures, Copan has the best-preserved ' stellae' - stone panels with intricate carvings. A crude comparison would be to liken them to native American totem poles. It also has one of the tallest stairways lined with hieroglyphics that leads to altars and other structures built even higher up. Unfortunately, no one has the key to what the carvings say. And to make matters worse, much of the stairway tumbled down during an earthquake. When it was rebuilt no one paid much attention to the 'writing'. So now it is a complete jumble. They have found a picture taken almost 100 years ago and hope to restore it- someday.
The Mayan culture shows evidence of having lived in the Copan valley for almost 2,000 years or perhaps even more. But there is no 'record' of a Mayan dynasty here till around the year 470 or so. What is fascinating about Copan is the detailed artwork that is on almost every structure. Even the ball court has carvings on each end. The ball court is an amazing structure- straight lines with slanted sides for the ball to be bounced off of, with stone benches for viewers. There are many theories about Mayan ball games- some say the winners lost their heads, while others say the losers. Take your pick.
What I liked most was the stillness of the place. I was, at times, the only visitor walking along the tops of structures. Sitting completely still and trying to visualize what the plazas must have looked like filled with the almost 20,000 Mayans that lived there was a rare privilege for me. The thought that the structures were all built by hand with stones lugged from who knows where, was humbling. While it is true that Machu Picchu and the Incas knew their way around stone, their structures were much more massive. The Mayan structures seem to have a delicacy about them, even though they were built 1,000 to 1, 500 years prior to the Incas.
I am here in Copan de Ruinas for 2 weeks of Spanish immersion school. Most tourists come for a few hours or at the most an overnight. They miss the flow of the town: the kids going to school at 6:30 a.m. - they have double sessions so the first shift of kids goes from 7- 12:30 and the second shift from 12:30 - 6 p.m.; The kids playing every day at the soccer field- which is directly behind my bedroom window. I hear whistles and shouts of " GOL!" in my sleep; Antonio- the shoeshine boy- who when he has no customers, shines his own shoes. He told me it was good advertising; the little girl in the green dress who stalks tourists and sells them hand made corn husk dolls for $1( I bought 2); the backstrap weaving of Slyvia who worked for 3 days making a beautiful white table cloth decorated with butterflies; the farmers who come in from little villages on Saturday and hang around the plaza just joking and talking to each other. Each has a little mustache, a large white straw hat and attached to their belt a long two and a half foot machete; the men's groups who meet in the church for Bible Study on Saturday afternoon; the fun of watching gringos looking lost; the excitement of riding in the 3 wheeled motor- taxis that zip all over town, over bumpy, hole ridden cobble stone roads, at high rates of speed, turning on a dime and narrowly missing trucks full of riders who are all standing up and holding on to whatever they can grab. All that fun for about 25 cents a ride anywhere in town!