San Pedro Sula We had finished five days of non-stop meetings and waved goodbye to the organizers from ACORN Canada and took a chance of a field trip to see the Copan ruins some three hours away from the city. I had wanted to go since reading a book by John Stephens 40 years ago about his travels in Central America that were accompanied by illustrations of the temples, ball fields and huge sculptures by John Catherwood.
Asking around at the hotel, we were surprised that no one at the front desk had any information on how to get there. They had to look it up and see where it was. They knew there was some kind of bus for about $40 roundtrip, but thought that we would have to spend the night there. In this age of industrial tourism that seemed almost weird. We ended up making a better deal and paying the same, getting air conditioning (which the bus did not have!), and having the added luxury of being able to spend as much – or as little – time as we wanted, and get back in time to finish work and fly out Monday.
Two and a half hours of beautiful countryside, almost 200 horses by our car count, and roads sometime raggedy, we were there without fanfare. By that I mean that we did not have the billboards common in Cairo or even Machu Picchu or the souvenir shops along highways whether in Indonesia or Mexico as other historic ruins are approached. Driving directly from San Pedro Sula we avoided the normal entry point twenty minutes away at Santa Rosa de Copan that might have had all of those traps waiting for us as well as the hotels that made this a two day stay.
Instead, on a Sunday, we found peace. There were never more than 20 people and perhaps half of that over the entire acreage of the principal ruins. For 90 minutes I was able to walk, photograph, stand, sit, at my own chosen speed and let 2000 years of this Mayan civilization and its historic zenith between 500 and 900 AD, simply overwhelm me. The ball fields seen in so many pictures were at the bottom of breathtaking heights as I could imagine the players living and dying before crowds of thousands. Two lizards ran from me as I walked. I could hear the roar of the Copan River beneath the residencias at the back of the temples. Simply amazing.
Honduras wants to make this an industrial tourism site, but doesn’t seem to have the energy for it yet. There was a museum without a gift shop which is a refreshing sign that there is hope. The road is unwelcoming from San Pedro Sula. Driving back after a fantastic 31/2 hours on site, our driver moved towards the shoulder to avoid a bad pothole unwisely and blew the two right tires. It was a 45 minute delay on a beautiful day.
In the way of these things, as Joni Mitchell sang years ago, they’ll make this all a parking lot over the next decade or so, but right now, there’s a great opportunity to still greet the majesty of Copan with humility, peace, and an open spirit.