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Dave and Jan's travels, day 258:

1st February
This is the story of our first few days in Honduras. After a rather fraught border crossing, we moved on quickly to Santa Rosa de Copan for our first night. After Santa Rosa we moved on to Copan, one of the three or four really important Mayan sites and the only one in Honduras.

Santa Rosa de Copan is a small colonial town, highly reminiscent of several we've encountered in Mexico and other Central American countries. Square plaza fringed on one side with a church, on another with a Palacio de Gobierno containing educational murals, and a rather grand neo-classically architected theatre. And, a return of the men in white stetsons lounging around the place. It really needs a photo, but unfortunately they're as interested in us as we are in them and pointing a camera just is not on.

We also had a pleasant meal in the US-owned 'Pizza Pizza', the source of the best pizza we've had since New York. Very nice. Another, less welcome, reminder of New York is Honduran beer. Basically there are three choices. Presidente is bland, Port Royal is weak, and Salvador is very week. And while we're complaining, why isn't the coffee just a little better, given that they do actually grow the stuff here?

On to Copan. The town is called "Copan Ruinas", and owes most of its - limited - facilities to the nearby ruins. Most important news here was a repair to the car. Our car has something called a "core support" (a large piece of steel from which radiator and headlights hang) and which has corroded through here and there. In the US, we had been quoted $120 for a scrap replacement part and $400 more to fit. However, the local man in Copan saw no problem welding up the existing part in situ, and $30 later we're in great shape. I also took charge of replacing two lightbulbs myself, using my world-famous mechanical skills.

Copan is the most expensive site in Central America. Eventually we invested in visits to the site itself and to the museum, but skipped the "tunnels" dug recently by archaeologists. The museum is easily worth the money, a real lesson to the people running sites in Mexico and Guatemala. It centres around a full scale model of one temple exactly as it would have appeared in its heydey, painted red and restooned with fearsome stucco scupltures in greens, blues and yellows. Quite stunning, and organised for maximum theatricality as you exit from a darkened tunnel into the light.

The site's biggest attraction are first, by far and away the deepest and most realistic relief sculpture in the Mayan world, and second, the hieroglyphic staircase. The former is well represented at the right, largely in images of King 18 Rabbit, who wasn't shy about raising monuments to his own greatness. King 18 Rabbit? What kind of a name is that? I have to say that I have to start to question whether these archaeologists have really quite cracked this language to the extent that they think. In any case, his image is preserved in umpteen stelae, or tall relief sculptures with accompanying explanatory text. The stelae are reminiscent of those that we saw in Quiriguá, but the deeper relief and more naturalistic sculpture at Copan is much more impressive.

The hieroglyphic stairway is, as you might have guessed, a stairway with lots of hieroglyphics carved into it. In fact, it's the single longest Mayan narrative ever discovered. This makes it important, and in fact, so important, that it's completely covered by a low lying canvas tent. And it's pretty eroded too, and all in all it's a lot more attractive to linguists than tourists. A bit of a disappointment. The rest of the site is pretty fine, though, with lots more of that beautiful realistic carving.

At this point David set off in search of a cold drink. Jan, who is made of sterner stuff, continued on to the satellite site of Las Sepulturas. This was apparently a residential suburb of Mayan Copan. These days the most excitement is a local peasant who's not quite clear whether he's walking the bull or vice versa.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Street scene, Santa Rosa


Sculpture detail

Reproduction Temple