Or how we found ourselves dangling upside-down over the Copan Valley
03/12/2007 - 03/16/2007
One of our last forays in Guatemala was to the gringo hippie enclave of San Pedro La Laguna, mostly out of sheer curiosity. Almost on cue, we were met at the dock by a guy who offered to play the bongos for us. Um, no. And then the local women and girls arrived en masse offering sweet rolls, banana bread and chocolate cake for sale. Interesting. Actually, the cake was pretty good, but we received several other offers which would have required the assistance of the U.S. State Department if we had accepted them.
After a brief return visit to Antigua, we moved on to Copan, Honduras to see the famous Maya ruins. First though, we saw some amazing birds at the nearby Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve. All of the birds are either unwanted pets or were found injured and now live in sizeable enclosures in a really pretty 10-acre setting. The park has 28 scarlet macaws, including 7 born in captivity through its breeding program, as well as an abundance of toucans, owls, hawks, parrots and other tropical beauties. Life for the inhabitants isn´t completely idyllic, as a boa constrictor once got into one cage and wolfed down a toucan, and opossums have been known to munch on the smaller birds from time to time, requiring the workers to set out traps. Still, the birds seem very well cared for and we got to hold several of the tamer ones in a cool interactive section of the park. And yesterday, when it was 100 degrees in the shade, we returned to have lunch and swim in the park´s great natural pool.
We also visited Hacienda San Lucas, a historic old farmhouse in the hills above town that´s now an inn and restaurant. We hiked to a small and strange Maya ruin on the property called Los Sapos, or The Toads, where some experts believe Maya women may have gone to give birth. Watching the sunset, drinking rum and lemonade, and eating a candelight dinner made in the hacienda´s original wood stove kitchen weren´t too shabby either.
And although we nearly melted in the sun, the ruins at Copan were really incredible, especially the detailed carvings and intricate heiroglyphic stairway. It´s amazing how archaeologists have been able to decipher the gyphs and understand a considerable amount about the ancient city, which seemed to have reached its peak in the 8th Century AD and may have supported up to 28,000 people within it and the surrounding valley. There´s a great museum right at the site, and a smaller but just as fascinating one in town.
Nearly as awesome was the Copan County Fair, or something suspiciously like a fair in New Jersey or Minnesota, complete with creaky rides (including a hand-turned Ferris wheel and a Tilt-a-Whirl that looked like it was a few loose bolts away from whirling through the fields), good greasy fried chicken and fireworks. A bit more irritating, though, has been the preferred way of drumming up visitors: a particularly loud burst of fireworks at 4 a.m. followed by a meandering van fitted with a loudspeaker.
Finally, we received a birds-eye view of the Copan Valley earlier today with a ridiculously fun but slightly terrifying canopy tour that involved 14 cables. Our young but professional guides seemed rather amused at our wide-eyed responses to their innocent suggestions, like telling us it might be a good idea to brake a bit early on the 1 km-long cable dangling over a particularly steep ravine, or encouraging us to dangle upsidedown during our slide down another cable and letting them brake for us (which we did and survived to our astonishment), or goading us into flying like Superman down the final cable while they held our legs from behind.
Yes, we did that too, and then laughed in relief like five-year-olds. As an added bonus, I now have a particularly good blackmail photo of Geoff hanging upsidedown. Coincidentally, the ancient symbol of Copan is also a bat.