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Posts Tagged ‘Roadschooling’

Well, we’re back!

As per usual, I’m going to collect my thoughts in this space and do a bit more systematic collection of what and where and a bit of why. Go to the end of the post and to this tag for the posts and this page for posts on many (not all) of our bigger trips over the past few years.

Just a reminder, first, of the why:

My youngest son has had a deep interest in Mayan archaeology for years, inspiring three and a half trips so far.

The first, to the Yucatan in 2014, the second to Guatemala in 2017, the third, this one to Honduras, and the half? Our Holy Week trip to Mexico City and Puebla in 2018. I say “half” because only half – maybe even less – of that trip was attributable to his interest (which would take us here – not Mayan, of course, but general ancient Mesoamerican will do) – the rest of it was about my wanting to spend Holy Week (their spring break that year – they were both in school) somewhere where they did Semana Santa right. And so Honduras.

He’d been talking up Copan for a while, as a major site still on his list (and one that I would be wiling to take him to, unlike, say El Mirador – for that four day trek into the jungle or whatever it is, you’re on your own, sir). The other purpose of this trip was to experience some intensive Spanish instruction.

My first thought was Antigua, Guatemala, with Copan tacked on at the end. Antigua has been on my radar for a while – I wanted to go there during Holy Week in 2017, but for some reason I changed my mind and off we went to Mexico City and Puebla (which was great).

The more I thought about Antiuga as a focus for this trip, though, the less sense that made. Spanish lessons would take up at least a half of each day, and Antigua, while it is an interesting place, didn’t, I think had enough half-day activities that would really interest him to fill the rest of those “school” days – the major activities that would interest him (volcanoes, the lake) would take at least a day.

After doing some research, I saw several people in online discussions mention Copan Ruinas itself as a good place to learn Spanish. The more I looked into it, the more attractive it was – it seemed as if there was a lot to do during those half days, and he was interested in the archaeological features anyway (which ended up taking up one full day and two half days). And then my son pointed out the Celaque National Park in Gracias would be an interesting place to see. So there you go – the major focus of week one, with the added few days at the end.

Where to stay?

I often do apartments and rental homes when traveling, but honestly, now with only the two of us most of the time, the need for space isn’t so pressing. In addition, in this situation, since I wouldn’t be renting a car and wasn’t really sure how I’d be getting around or even the details of what we’d be doing outside of the Copan ruins and Spanish school – I thought a small hotel or B & B would be a better idea than an independent apartment. I could, I thought, use the help in planning and coordinating that a B & B owner could provide.

November 9-17

In Copan, I settled on the Casa de Cafe – a fantastic choice, if I do say so myself. I’m very glad that we spent a week in this almost idyllic spot. I would say it’s on the “Outskirts” of Copan, but when a town is about ten by twenty blocks…are you really on the “outskirts” if you are four blocks from the center? Nah.

Owners Howard (American) and his Honduran wife Angela, also own some rental properties and a boutique hotel in Copan. They’ve created beautiful, peaceful spaces in this busy little town.

This was our room, inside and out.

Breakfast was served every morning – your choice of drink, of course, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, and then either the offering of the day (omelet, traditional Honduran breakfast, pancakes and so on) or simply scrambled eggs and toast – or nothing! Along with housemade hot sauces and marmelade (pineapple). The cafe also functions as a stand-alone restaurant. There were other guests – but only a couple of days in which the place felt full. Most of the guests, it seemed, were French – someone I met staying in another hotel confirmed that yes, her hotel was bursting with French tour groups as well. These tours usually begin flying into Belize City or Guatemala City, take in Tikal, various natural sites in eastern Guatemala, perhaps include Antigua, then swing down to Copan Ruinas and then back up to Quirigua …or perhaps it’s the reverse order. Let’s just say that the French are keen on seeing these Mayan sites – are you?

The level of service here (as well as at the place we stayed at in Gracias) was superb. Frequent offers of coffee or tea, prompt and thorough room cleaning, and great assistance in planning activities and transportation. If you’re even faintly considering a trip to Copan Ruinas – the Casa de Cafe is really a great place to stay (they do have family rooms as well.) Then it was off to Gracias.

 

November 17-21

The place we stayed in Gracias had a similar vibe to the Casa de Cafe – clean, simple rooms in a lush garden setting. Owned by a Dutch woman assisted by an excellent mostly local staff, the Hotel Guancascos sits on the hill upon which the Fuerte de San Cristobal stands sort -of-tall. Gracias itself is bigger than Copan and as a busier, lest tourist-centered vibe, as well as being a little more prosperous, it seems. The Guancascos seems to be a slightly bigger place that the Casa de Cafe, but that might be because it’s laid out differently. The restaurant, though, is definitely bigger and more clearly established as a stand-alone – and in a lovely setting, on a large porch/patio overlooking the city. A great place to eat breakfast (provided with the room) as well as just park yourself in the afternoon when you have to really want to do your Spanish or in the evening when you need some Me Time.

The rooms were, as they’d been in Copan, immaculate, and kept so every day. Guancascos is working very hard and consciously at being eco-friendly, so water is solar heated, and there are other environmentally friendly features. Both hotels feature purified water whenever you need it – at the Cafe de Copan, when you walk by the kitchen and there’s someone in there, I’d just ask them to fill the carafe – and at Guancascos , purified water jugs are provided through the hotel. My impression is that drinking bottled water is pretty standard for everyone, not just foreigners, in Honduras.

As was the case the Casa de Cafe, Fromie, the owner and her managing partner were unfailingly helpful in helping me get things set up – in correspondence they gave me feedback on actually getting to Gracias from Copan (more on that tomorrow), on getting from Gracias to the airport on the 21st, and then in setting up ways for us to get to activities – Fromie’s son drove us to the zipline and thermal baths, they set up a guide for us for the Death March up the mountain in Celaque National Park, and they arranged that driver for the airport journey.

Not a lot of folks were staying there when we were, although they were expecting a big tour group of hikers this weekend. I spoke to a couple of American medical missionaries staying there one night, and it seems that this is a important clientele – as it is, I assume in much of Honduras. So there you have it!

Sometimes apartments make sense – when you need the space, when hotels are stupidly expensive for what you get, when people are going to need to eat food that needs to be prepared by you at times frowned upon by the local restaurant culture, and when you just want to live in a neighborhood, with the locals (although AirBnB has kind of, in intending to meet that desire, ruined the possibility in many instances), and are just fine with minimal interaction with other human beings like desk clerks and housekeepers – but then there are other times when you do want that interaction – and even need it. I personally have soured on AirBnB in the last year, not only because of their Woke Politics, but also because of the many questions and concerns raised about their business practices, lack of renter support and impact on neighborhoods. We have no huge travel plans for the near future aside from a couple of trips to Charleston over the various upcoming holidays and one to NYC in February, but if I do go the apartment route again, I’ll be trying to do so outside AirBnB – I did it before their rise, and I’ll do it again! But really, as I mentioned before, with just the two of us doing the bulk of the traveling now, a place like this is just fine

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All the Honduras posts so far:

Sunday 11/10: Mass and a wedding. Touring the Copan ruins with archaeologist David Sedat

Monday 11/11: Spanish school and Macaw Mountain

Tuesday 11/12: Return visit to the ruins

Wednesday 11/13: Las Sepulturas and El Rastrojon ruins near Copan

Thursday 11/14: Hacienda San Lucas and Los Sapos

Friday 11/15-Saturday 11/16: Last day of Spanish school, a day-long coffee-farm tour on horseback; Luna Jaguar hot springs.

Sunday 11/17: Traveling from Copan to Gracias, Honduras. Mass. Settling in. 

Monday 11/18: Ziplining the canopy and more hot springs

Tuesday 11/19: Hiking the El Gallo trail in Celaque National Park

Wednesday 11/20: Fuerte el Cristobal; relaxing, preparing to return

 

 

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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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Well, good evening from Gracias, Honduras!

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Same country, new hammock.

For the first time in over a week, some of us were able to sleep past 7 am – I knew there would be evening Mass in Gracias, so we made that our plan, and a bit more sleeping was therefore in order. For some of us. I was still awake at six, but no Facetiming French people were at fault this time.

A lovely breakfast – as per usual at our stay – La Casa de Cafe, about which I’ll write more in my traditional summary post of “Why We Went/How we got there/Where we stayed.” Short version: If you go to Copan (and you should consider it) – stay there!

One of the great aspects of traveling is the people you meet, and this morning was no exception.

Are you afraid to get out? Hesitant to go beyond theme parks and all-inclusives? Afraid to go to places designated as “dangerous” by First World governments?

Well, meet Pamela.

Pamela is in her mid-70’s if she’s a day, lives between Cambridge and London, travels for two months every year, and this year her two months have been in Central America, getting around solely by bus, staying  only in hostels.

By herself, loving it, and fearless.

As she said, “If I listened to our Foreign Office’s warnings, I’d be afraid to go to Wales. ” 

And so we left her, there in the sun she’d been seeking when she came and sat near us, Pamela from somewhere between Cambridge and London, drinking her tea and reading her book there in a Honduran garden.

It was a fifteen-minute conversation, but it gave me enough inspiration, I think, for the next ten years.

And, I hope, adding to my son’s treasury of wisdom about life, journeys, openness and courage for the rest of his life.

After breakfast, we dashed out to do a few more purchases – I was actually surprised at how busy Copan was on a Sunday morning – it’s not like Italy – everything is open, including the place where son wanted to buy a couple more shirts and this spot, featuring the weaving of an indigenous community up near Hacienda San Lucas, where we walked on Thursday. 

Well then, ahem…to meet our, yeah…driver to go to Gracias. From which Pamela had just come on the buses. Hey guys, I explained this to you before…schedule…connections…etc. Okay. That’s my excuse. Next time. Bus. 

Anyway, yeah, the driver. A very nice guy, no English, arranged by our hotel. About a three hour drive through increasingly gorgeous country. I mean, the entire country of Honduras is beautiful, but the drive between La Entrada and Gracias was stunning. Mountainous and pristine. A photograph from a rapidly moving van can’t capture it.

Then to our present stay, an orientation, a walk around and a lunch at what seems to be a local fast food place called Buggy’s Burgers – it being Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t a lot open, so we went with the somewhat safe, although local fast food is always an adventure. I wouldn’t say it was “fast” – more like what we’d call in the US “fast casual.”  Served, by the way, on china plates with real silver, etc. It was big enough so that there’s going to be no more eating for the rest of the day….

Then back to the room for a couple of hours until Mass. Here:

Totally full, overflowing church. I was wondering why the presiding priest wasn’t wearing green vestments, but the introductory words by another concelebrating priest indicated that it was this priest’s fiftieth anniversary of ordination – so the Mass was a celebration of that, I’m guessing. Notes on the Mass:

  • Music was one guitar and some vocals in this large packed church. I really liked the setting of the Gloria and the Sanctus – I might try to find it online, although it will probably be impossible. The trouble was that the guitar was so terrible. Not in the playing, but in the quality of the instrument. Unless it was some native Honduran instrument. I felt like going up and making a personal donation so they could buy a better guitar.
  • As I said, church was packed. And not, as the mythology dictates, old women. It was everyone, from all walks of life. It was just Catholic.
  • They did this in Copan too – perhaps it is some Honduran thing – they did little introductions to each of the Scripture readings – you know, how we used to do it in the US in 1985?
  • They did this in Copan as well  – after the consecration of each element, there is some congregational response. In Copan, it was a general murmuring – probably of a prayer I just didn’t understand. Here it was an antiphon of sorts – the first phrase was “Dios es aqui” – God is here. Followed by something else I didn’t catch. And then with the memorial acclamation in the usual place.
  • As was the case in Copan, the entire congregation recites the Eucharist Prayer Doxology.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was sung, and the version was…not literal. I mean, it had the whole Lord’s Prayer in it, but each phrase was interspersed with “Gloria a Dios”
  • At the Sign of Peace – La Paz – there was a general rush up to the front which was very confusing, until I realized what was going on was that a lot of people were going up to give the pastor celebrating his anniversary their greetings.
  • It did seem to me – untutored, narrow, minimal experience – from the music and the priest’s (not the one celebrating his anniversary – a younger, concelebrating priest) very energetic, dramatic style of preaching, as well as the greater level of congregational interaction – that there might be a deliberate attempt to bring some Evangelical stylings into the Mass down here…just guessing.

And then, right after the Agnus Dei…

BOOM!

Out! Went the power. Pitch black, except for a few candles and an increasing number of phone flashlights. As the Communion Rite progressed, more candles were brought in, and at Communion, the altar servers holding patens were further assisted by another person standing over them with a phone light.

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We would have hung around after Mass or wandered a bit, except, you know…there was no power. Anywhere in town. You could see a store light here or there, but it was from places with generators. So might as well go home – we weren’t hungry, and it was 8:30, so what else should we do? Led by phone flashlights, then, we made our way through a pitch-black Honduran town on a Sunday night.

A few minutes after we returned, the power came back on, but still – we weren’t feeling any need for food, so might as well settle into our new home for the next few days. Except for those hours we’re out climbing mountains or some such nonsense.

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(And for the record, there is not a McDonald’s in Gracias, Honduras. One popped up on the map, and we walked over to see if it was so…but no. Someone must be playing games with Google Maps…)

 

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Tried to pop off this post this morning before we left, but the power went out, internet left my life, and so here we are.

(The power was out in Copan all day – it was a scheduled outage. So just as well that we were out and about!)

First Friday:

Well, not the First Friday, but you know what I mean.

A fairly quiet day: Son had his last Spanish class, which ended with decisions to continue the instruction once a week via Skype. For lunch we went a little more American – doing chicken nachos at a place called Twisted, a rooftop place looking over the town square. It actually hit the spot very well.

We’d checked off most of the items on the “Copan Day Trip” list – with one major one remaining for all day Saturday – so we knew it would be a slow afternoon. There was one remaining museum we wanted to see – this one, which is described as a “children’s museum,” but which all accounts attest is interesting for anyone. So we made the short hike up the hill to the north of town and found…it closed for the week, for some reason. Ah well. We saw things, were given access to the small tower on the property so we could take in the views of the town from that side, did some shopping, returned for rest, then went out to dinner at a Uruguayan steak place – it was quite good. My son had a hamburger, I had (shared)  a 12-ounce filet, thin, served with a steamed potato and salad, with an excellent chimchurri sauce. A little more shopping, sitting in the square watching soccer balls being bandied about – in how many places around the world was that same scene being played out in the evening hours?  – and then back to the room, meeting, on the way, an interesting friend.

 

 

Saturday:

I am at a point in my advanced life in which I require only about six hours of sleep a night. At home, I usually go to bed around midnight or one and wake up at 6 or 7. But here, we’ve been tired and going to bed earlier, which means…an earlier rising for some of us. So this morning, yeah, I woke up at 4. AM. Tried to go back to sleep, was halfway successful until I was fully awakened by the voice of a Frenchwoman in the garden speaking very loudly to someone on the other end of her phone – she was Facetiming or had someone on speaker – because the Wi-Fi is strongest outside – I guess she was making her connection to someone in Europe, because it was 6 am, things were urgent and she was loud. 

Ah well. Soon enough, it was time to get up anyway for  an all day trip up and out to Finca el Cisne – a coffee and cacao farm northeast of Copan, and not far from the Guatemalen border. It was absolutely marvelous – although if you’re prone to carsickness, don’t do it. You have to ride (in a truck) for about an hour over twisty, severely rutted roads. I don’t get carsick, thank goodness, but I can see how it could easily cause someone some trouble

Anyway, we arranged the tour through another local hotel/bar – we went down, I think, on Wednesday night, found someone in charge, they called the farm, made sure they had room on Saturday, we paid, and were told to come back to that hotel 8 am Saturday morning to be picked up  – and to bring bathing suits and towels, since hot springs would be part of the program.

The tour was led by an employee – a man who, has it happened had, a few years ago, done an intensive three-month English program at Georgia Tech – and had lived around Piedmont Park, so we had that to talk about besides all things Guatemalen (his nationality) and Honduran. There were two others on the tour – two young women from Roatan, one native (runs a nursery and does landscaping) and the other, an American who owns a B & B there. (Part of our conversation with our fellow tour attendees involved the pressing question…what the heck is it with all these French people here right now????) 

After we were picked up, the bumpy journey up and down began, past small settlements, folks walking by the side of the road (as per usual), dogs (as per usual), chickens and other livestock. The first part of the tour involved an explanation of the processing of both the coffee and the cacao – they don’t roast coffee there except in small specialized batches, but they do, of course, dry it.

 

In the box are cacao beans being fermented – the mix is called what would be translated into English as “drool.”

Then, to the horses! These are small mixed breeds, very docile. And cooperative. I’m not a rider, but I’m telling you, the experience of riding those mules down, down, down the switchbacks at Bryce Canyon that were about half as wide as the mules, their hooves loosening gravel as we went – took any fear I might have had of riding right out of me.

It was a lovely ride. Up into the hills, seeing the mountains in the not-far distance – right over those mountains is Guatemala. We paused several times to look at plants – my camera glitched out at the coffee plants, so sorry about that, but here’s some cardamon instead.

 

Then to lunch – prepared by a local woman in a spot that used to be a guest house of sorts but now is used as a much-needed secondary school. I didn’t get photos, because it didn’t seem to be the time or place, but know that it was delicious. Yucca – boiled and then fried, which was the best-prepared yucca I’ve ever had – topped with a mix of radishes, onion..and some other things I can’t remember. Rice with chicken, a type of squash (that my son took seconds of…something that never happens at home), tortillas of course, and then a lovely, simple little dessert of a banana (one of the small bananas they grow here) in a delicate sauce of milk dotted with chocolate, cinnamon and cardamon. And coffee, of course, for those who partake of such things.

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Then – here! To the Luna Jaguar Spa Resort – between the farm and Copan. A very, very popular and well-done hot springs. Kind of amazing, actually. It was beautifully done, with various pools of different sizes and levels. The water coming out of the hill was….ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY DEGREES. I mean, I’ve never been to a hot spring before and maybe that’s normal, but it’s also ALMOST BOILING GUYS.  Our guide said that it’s very popular at night – which I can understand and think it would be amazing to experience, but I also don’t think you could pay me to drive (or even ride) back to town from there on those roads, in the dark along with all the people who’ve been drinking at the hot springs all evening….

 

And yah, we’re pretty tired. Returned to no power, still – but it was restored about thirty minutes after our return. We headed to town, had tacos, skewers and gringas at our favorite street place, bought a few necessities…and now it’s time to pack!

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….$4 for the both of us.

(Not counting the extras – hot chocolate and cheesecake)

So…

Morning, school as per usual.  He seems to be making progress, and what he’s doing is certainly equivalent to a couple of months of American high school Spanish II. So…I just put it all in the “I could be paying this in tuition” column.

After class, we refreshed, then went to Buena Baleada – a fast-food place (w/the appearance of a chain, but I don’t know if it is or not) – centered on the typical Honduran food called, well – a Baleada – a flour tortilla spread with beans, with the addition of your choice of meat, cheese, and a sauce or two. Served with pickled carrots. $1/each plate, plenty for lunch.

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We then found a mototaxi driver to take us out to Las Sepulturas, return in 90 minutes, and then take us a bit further out to another ruins site – El Rastrojón –wait for us while we looked around (it’s small) and then take us back (cost, $15 USD for his time and driving)

On Las Sepulturas:

The site has a very long history of occupation, including a house dating from the Early Preclassical period. In the Middle Preclassical period, great platforms of cobblestone were constructed and several elaborate burials were made. By the year 800AD, the complex consisted of about 50 buildings arranged around 7 large squares.

At this time, the most important building was the Bacabs’ Palace, the residence of a powerful nobleman in the time of Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat. The exterior of the building has high quality sculpted decorations and a stone bench with carved glyphs inside. One part of the complex formed a sub-district, or neighborhood, occupied by inhabitants who were not Mayans, but natives of central Honduras, involved in the commercial network that brought goods from that region.

On El Rastrojon:

In Rastrojón, the ancient Mayas built two impressive architectural groups of residences. One of them has been under continuous investigation since its discovery. It has buildings with rooms built with stone blocks. Part of the decorations was stuccoed benches with finely carved exteriors as if the inhabitants of the site had belonged to members of the Copan nobility.

Research reveals that the Mayan complex presents architectural collapses never before seen throughout the Copan valley. This is because El Rastrojón was built on the slopes of the hill with unstable terrain and geological faults. Researchers believe that the Maya knew of the danger present to their buildings, however, the religious significance of the place, its altitude, and the water springs that it possessed perhaps motivated them to build there regardless.

Although most architectural monuments of the Rastrojón are destroyed, the site is unique and important because of its excellent location and the vast array of archaeological material to be found. Buildings, sculptures, mosaics, spears, arrowheads and an impressive temple are believed to have been built in honor of the twelfth Mayan ruler “Smoke Jaguar”, the main propeller of the development of the Mayan state.

The location of the site in a strategic place in the Copan valley, together with archaeological material (spearheads and arrows) and sculptural themes, suggests that Rastrojón was a place designed for the defense of the city during the time of the greatest political conflicts for the kingdom of Copan and to honor the memory of one of the most important rulers in the dynastic history of the city.

There was a nice nature trail that takes you around the first site – loads of birds, a toad and an agouti were spotted. (There are no monkeys in this part of Honduras, in case you are wondering – there were when Stephens came in the mid 19th century, but it’s too populous now). It was good to get a sense of how this residential group was situated in relation to the main ruins, and to see the Scribe’s House, in particular, but the main palace was mostly under tarp cover and was being actively excavated and restored – which was interesting to see happening – the digging, the sifting, the cataloguing. Also visible were (I understand from reading around) benches/surfaces with original plaster still intact.

El Rastrojon was a quick trip – the site is on a hill right next to the property of a Clarion hotel, situated up a road and behind a gate – I’m glad we didn’t stay there, so far from town!

As the excerpt above indicates, El Rastrojon is important because of its location and theorized role in relation to the main site – for current visitors, it’s fascinating to see the building, split in parts, half slid down the hill, as well as the image (on the right) of the leader emerging from the mouth of the puma.

Mototaxi driver dropped us back off at the square, where we found the Municipal Building, which is now housing an exhibit of photographic prints (in a space shared, as you can see, with Christmas Decor Central)  from the late 19th century Harvard’s Peobody Museum-funded excavations. You can read about these photographs and see the images here. 

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One of the largest and most valuable collections in the Peabody archives contains more than 10,000 19th-century glass plate negatives. The earliest images in this unique collection were taken at Copan, Honduras, and are part of this exhibition, “Fragile Memories.”

The Copan glass plate negatives are “dry plate,” a process introduced in the 1870s of coating glass plates with a light-sensitive gelatin. As long as the fragile plate itself was not broken, the medium was hardy—relatively resistant to temperature and humidity fluctuations. Indeed, for more than 115 years the Copan negatives have endured, surviving the tropical climate of Central America, where they were shot, as well as transportation to and storage in the United States.

The digitization of the Peabody Museum’s glass plate negatives, which took two years, has opened a new chapter in the investigation of Copan by revealing new archaeological details and information…

….The United States’ fascination with Latin America’s cultural heritage in the late 19th century grew simultaneously with its economic and political interests in the area. By the time Peabody Museum Director Frederick Putnam first dispatched an expedition to Copan in 1891, scholars and the public alike were intrigued by ancient Maya writing, sculpture, and architecture.

The young expedition explorers were barely prepared for the tropical environment and cultural differences they were to encounter. Their initial enthusiasm often dashed by illness and even death, it is remarkable that they returned with anything at all.

The 600 glass plate negatives, paper molds, stone sculptures, ceramics, maps, and notes they carried back established the Peabody Museum and Harvard University as forerunners in Maya and Central American archaeology and ethnology.

You can go to the site and see the images – very instructive and even startling to see the “before” of the ruins and compare them to the “after” of the present and consider the process for pulling these structures together in a way faithful to their original construction…

You might be particularly interested in this shot of the community gathered with the visiting priest for the celebration of the feast of San Jose. 

It was about four by that time, so back for about an hour rest, then catch a mototaxi up to The Tea and Chocolate Place – the family business of our Sunday ruins guide, retired archaeologist David Sedat. You can read about it here.

In 2003, David Sedat and his family started the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station (or 2012 Project, named so because the year 2012 marked the next cycle of the ancient Maya calendar) to regenerate the steepest, most eroded landscape in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and helping mitigate poverty and nutritional issues in the area. This experiment was founded on 20 acres of very steep, badly eroded and ruined farmland overlooking the Mayan Ruins of Copan, Honduras. Here, the utilization of simple soil-conservation techniques (no burning, preservation of native species of plants, living hedgerows, and micro-terraces) along with the planting of many different kinds of trees and shrubs has demonstrated the viability of regenerating the landscape with useful permanent crops.

The first self-sustaining endeavor to come from the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station was Noni Maya Copán, a family business (also established in 2003) that began to process and market natural, sustainably grown products (the Plumed Pyramid Products) from both new and old crops found suited to the area, among them the Noni tree (Morinda citrifolia).

Today, from the vantage point of the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station overlooking the Ruins of Copán, visitors can see first-hand the effects of both ancient and modern populations in shaping the landscape.

On the outskirts of Copán where we live, we have built what it is now our Visitor Center (The Tea & Chocolate Place), a peaceful, garden-like setting where you can enjoy a healthful tea or chocolate beverage (along with a traditional local snack) while watching the sun go down. The Tea & Chocolate Place is not a traditional coffee shop nor restaurant but a state-of-the art showcase for natural herbal products grown at the nearby Copán 2012 Experimental Botanical Research Station.

 

Enjoyed hot chocolate and chocolate cheesecake, bought some items, communed with a friend, and then walked back, stashed the purchases, and went to the street place we ate at the previous evening, this time just to share (not with the dog, sorry)  three tacos al pastor – $2 for the plate. Delicious and just enough.

Today – after class, probably (I hope) some hiking in an area up on one of the hills above the town….

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday began as every weekday here will – with four hours of Spanish for someone (not me). After that, we gave into someone’s  (not mine) pizza craving and had lunch at a place recommended by our tour guide on Sunday – a spot that seems to be owned by an aged American fellow with Honduran family members. And yes, the pizza was good.

We then caught a mototaxi back to the ruins – son wanted to take a more leisurely look, as well as see some features we’d missed on Sunday.

 

What you might be able to see from some of these photos is the impact of the vegetation on these structures. If you can dig up a map somewhere of all of the Mayan structures in Honduras up through the Yucatan, you will see thousands …most in overgrown, dense forest. Stephens says that they had to cut down trees around the stelas in order for Catherwood to get enough light to be able to see to sketch. Basically, everywhere you see a mound scattered with stones and trees growing out of it – you’ve got a Mayan structure.

 

Macaws have been released in the park, and they make a real racket – they also swoop and caw in great numbers, which I couldn’t capture on video, but believe me, is quite a sight. Macaws are so strange – they are not sexually dimorophous, so male and female bear that same stunning coloring – so vividly patterned that it seems as if they are pieces of art, not from nature – as beautiful as nature is!

 

We ended up walking back to town – it’s only a bit over a mile, although we would have taken a mototaxi if we’d have seen one. A bit of a rest, then out to eat. So here’s where we went, and boy am I dumb. I had seen this place twice before on our evening walks, and was determined to eat there. But then I could never find it again. I knew it was on one of the three or four cross streets on the way to the square, and every time I traveled those paths, I looked, but couldn’t find it. After we returned from the ruins, I left my son in the room and set out again, determined.  I was going to find this place – and came back, dispirited. Maybe, I told myself, they just set up on certain days.

And then out we went for dinner – just deciding we’d do whatever struck us on the way – we turned a corner – and there it was. And once I finally registered the location, I finally understood – it’s right across the way from the main market, in a space that, during the day, functions as another wing of the market. So no, it’s not there during the day, only in the evenings. And now I know exactly where it is.

 

Because we’ll probably return. I had a skewer of cerdo (pork) with various accompaniments, son had a torta (sandwich). They cook on a fire and a flattop grill close to the street, a long table is set up behind in the market space, and beside the folks coming and going are, of course, the ever present dogs – three sat mournfully around us, waiting…

IMG_20191113_073925Afterwards, it was over to Cafe Welchez, for a piece of cheesecake for someone (not me) and a glass of wine. All together – the meal, dessert and wine – I paid about $13 USD.

Something I read indicated that about 100,000 tourists a year visit Copan – not bad for a place that is not super easy to get to. To illustrate the extent of the tourism, here are my breakfast companions this morning – both Guatemalan tour guides, one leading a group from France, the other from Italy. So…be not afraid! Come on down!

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Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!

Humbling…

We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 

Later!

(Don’t forget Instagram!) 

 

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