Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Feb 28, 2009

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Flag of Honduras  ,
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

There was only one afternoon bus to go to Honduras from Perquin, El Salvador, so one better not miss it. I asked around to inquire about when the bus arrived and always got an answer starting with "como a las ..."  which means "something around" whatever time, I took the earliest time that I had been told by one of the locals and went to a special "bus stop" at the road intersection to wait for the bus. An hour later I was on the road to Marcala, Honduras in a chicken bus. To be honest, on the road was a big word as literally there was no actual road but a winding dirt mountain path on which I was very surprised the chicken bus dared adventuring. It took us two and a half hours to drive the 26 km to the entrance to Honduras. This border was by far the easiest and fastest crossing. The bus pulled over on the side of the road next to a little house outside of which two officers were loitering. The bus driver stepped out, shook their hand and had a chat while some people went out of the bus to get pupusas from the back of a pickup truck next to the "immigration office". After five minutes, the driver came back in and we droved off. That was it, we were in Honduras. Wasn't that cool?
The road on the other side of the border was the exact same and it took us another two hours to drive 20 km to the town of Marcala. The infrastructures in Honduras are much less developed than in any other countries I have been to in Central America. Most of the time, I found myself in a chicken bus on some hard core dirt road and Marcala was a dusty place with a flea market in every street.
From Marcala and on my way to the ruins of Copan, I stopped in Gracias which was for a brief time the capital of all Spanish conquered Central America. Therefore, remains of centuries-old buildings such as the Castillo San Cristobal (a bit similar to Versailles but a smaller version, the picture speaks for itself) and numerous colonial churches. I also spent a night in Santa Rosa de Copan, a cool mountain town with cobblestone streets and a large coffee factory (of course) but also a cigar factory. The processing plant of the coffee was interesting but the best was the Flor de Copan cigar factory. I could not take any pictures inside, which is a shame because it was very impressive. Over a thousand people worked at this manufacture and it was amazing to see every single chair occupied - I am used to visiting glasses factories where this is not the case. With the smell of tobacco all around, the employees were working hard, doing everything all by hand, and rolling every single cigar with a lot of care.
For those interested in tobacco and to give you a brief overview of the cigar making, the tobacco leaves are stacked in piles, sprayed with water and left to sit for several months. Because of the chemical reaction in the leaves, the piles literally cook themselves, reaching temperatures over 45C.  After leaving the piles, workers remove the veins by hand in a separate room and the leaves are again sprayed and stacked. Rolling is accomplished in two stages: first the filler leaves, usually four of them, are rolled and cut into shape, and then put in a mild overnight. The next day, the wrapper leaf is put on, and the cigar is moved into the humidor room for storage and packing. Everything is done by hand from start to finish.
I stayed a few days in the beautiful city of Copan Ruinas where I met a very funny Dutch couple and went horseback riding with them. After the El Salvador experience, I finally made it on a horse. We went to a very remote community village that lives off making straw dolls and selling them to tourists at the ruins. With nearly 100 kids in a village of 140 people, no wonder the kids are the ones to go out and sell the dolls. They were all very cute and it reminded me of the orphanage in Cambodia. I also went to a bird sanctuary with mostly Honduran birds. They were all very colourful. Toucans, macaws, owls; it was great to be able to interact with the birds as some of them were out of their cage.
Of course, I went to visit the ruins as well. They were magnificent. I found them very different from all the others I have seen in the way that there were no tall, impressive pyramids, but the sculptures and hieroglyphs were awe-inspiring. The remains of 3450 structures have been found surrounding the 'Principal Group' and in a wider zone, 4509 structures have been detected, which indicates that at the peak of Maya civilization, around the 8th century, the valley of Copan had over 20,000 inhabitants - a population not reached again until the 1980s.  Today, archaeologists are continuing to explore and make new discoveries, even within the 'Principal Group' itself as buried underneath the visible ruins are layers of other ruins which are explored by means of underground tunnels (some of them now open to the public.)  
Their history is also inspiring. The city of Copan was founded around 426 AD by a mysterious king named Mah K'ina Yax K'uk' Mo'. Then Smoke Jaguar (628-695) was the one who consolidated and expanded the power of Copan. He might have even taken over the nearby princedom of Quirigua and most of the monuments have been constructed during his reign. But the one that  made Copan famous is his successor, 18 rabbit, who was a warrior, always seeking further military conquests until he was captured and beheaded in 738; then starting the beginning of the end of Copan's heyday with 18 rabbit's successors Smoke Monkey and is son Smoke Shell who nonetheless commissioned the most famous monument, the Great Hieroglyph stairway which bears the longest inscription ever discovered in the Maya kingdom. Yax Pac and U Cit Tok were the last rulers of Copan's dynasty around 822 before it was abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle.
The ruins were first found in 1576 but the discovery was not pursued until three centuries later. The ruins became known to the world when John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published the book Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan in 1841. As part of the story, Stephens was actually able to buy the city of Copan for a sum of $50 and had dreams of floating it down the river and into museums in the United States. After all that... do you remember the names of the kings who ruled Copan  ? What about the name of  the founder? (without going back to read it)
After Copan Ruinas, I took a long bus ride (well many different long bus rides) but mainly on paved roads this time in direction to the lake of Yojoa. Unfortunately, the weather was not at its best and when I tried to go and visit the north waterfall, I got surprised by the dark and got stuck with no buses to get back to my hotel twenty km away. Everybody in town was telling me there was no bus after dark but I kept on seeing a few buses here and there, but they were apparently 'special' buses. Special or not, I did not care, I needed to find a way home. So I tried to stop a bus waving on the side of the road as I normally do but none of them were willing to stop. I started to walk and waited at a speed bump. The next bus inevitably had to slow down to go through the bump and I jumped in. I got yelled at by the bus driver, but as I asked nicely to get to the next town, he let me in. There was no light but I could guess there was not a single woman nor kid in that bus. I believe it may have been a soccer team or something like that as they were loud men shouting and singing the whole way. Never mind, I made it back safely to my hotel and that was all that mattered.
The next day, I visited some nice caves on the way to Comayagua where an important US military air base is stationed. While wandering through town, it was not hard to spot the American army guys. Then my last stop in Honduras was Tegucigalpa which is a typical sprawling Central American (and very American) capital. The streets are snarled with fume-belching traffic, while the crowds are thick and the pace is frenetic. However, at an altitude of 975 m, Tegucigalpa is nestled in a valley surrounded by a ring of mountains and has a certain chaotic charm. I spent the night in a very secure hotel right in front of a police station. I ended up not closing an eye as the police station became alive at dark with people going back and forth all night.
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