Madelyn Given on a zipline in Honduras. What fun!

Fun in Honduras

One day while traveling in Honduras, Patricio, my guide, asked me if I would like to go to a bird sanctuary for relocating birds back into the wild. We were staying in Copan and it was a short distance so we took a tut-tut. The way was up a steep hill on a narrow bumpy road. That little three-wheel mini transport hardly made it.

A toucan at a bird sanctuary in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A toucan at a bird sanctuary in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We were the only visitors and the director stopped his work and took us around, explaining that this was not a zoo and the sole purpose of the sanctuary is to relocate native birds and to educate locals about not keeping native birds as pets, especially the endangered macaws. The sanctuary began the long process of reintroducing a single pair into the wild a few years ago. Now there are 52 pairs in the area. The macaws that have been domesticated as pets unfortunately will not survive in the wilds as they have spent a lifetime depending on humans. Also to get a pair is very difficult because a male and female are alike in coloration and size and only though DNA can a pair be matched. There were owls, ducks, toucans, parakeets, and other native birds.

On the way to the bird sanctuary was a public zip line. I asked Patricio if he was up for some fun. We stopped and made arrangements. Once we were harnessed up with a pair of heavy gloves, we took off in a truck high up on a small mountain. There were 16 long lines going though the passes and down to the valley and over the trees. It was great fun, quiet, peaceful and magnificent scenery. At the end we caught a ride into town with the zip line crew as it was the end of their work day.

We went to a cocoa museum as this is the heart of where it is grown. Chocolate was the drink of Mayan nobles and royalty.  Their chocolate (ate at the end of the word means hot) was made with honey, chili, chocolate, and water. Ekchua was the Mayan god of chocolate.

I had chocolate, good coffee, and good food while traveling. I enjoyed typical dishes of beleada made with fried beans, chicken or beef, fried egg, avocado, cheese, and sour cream inside a folded tortilla. Casado was another typical dish made with fried beans rice and fried bananas with a fresh salad.

Early one morning, Patricio and I hiked on a trail through a rain forest part of a national park. Patricio brought his binoculars and we saw a number of birds. Three red-crested macaws, the national bird of Honduras, heard us coming and warned the forest animals with a loud continuous cry. Other birds were moving about including the blue crowned mommot, the national bird of El Salvador, woodpeckers, black birds, and small songbirds. Butterflies and frogs are colorful attractions when hiking. Monkeys are noisy and sound an alarm before you usually see them. Where ever we walked came across Mayan ruins protruding from the vegetation. The weather was hot and quite dry and there was no one around to disturb the natural setting but nature itself.

After our walk in the rainforest we met up with an archeologist near Les Sepulture, a cemetery for nobility and craftsmen. The site is closed to the public but he offered to show us what was happening there if we took no pictures. Part of the area will be a new museum to be completed in the next five years. It is a major project to find and match pieces for entire buildings, sculptures, benches and carvings. We spent a long time there, even though we had a long drive planned for that day.

After only a few more miles, we made a stop at Welches coffee plantation. The owner, a barrister, made me a cappuccino frio. After a walk in the tropical rain forest, it was a grand treat. I went with the young owner, of many generations, here into the sorting rooms of a big building for processing the coffee beans. Coffee has such humble beginnings: hand picked up in the mountains, carried down in heavy sacks on the back of workers and dried on cement parking lots. The beans are picked red when just right, 15 days later more are picked from the same trees, and this goes on from September through March. Trees produce up to 15 years and then are destroyed and new trees are planted. It takes 15 beans for a cup of coffee. The traditional coffee is dried over three days: each day the beans are laid out of doors on the cement, bagged up each night, and brought in, and the process is repeated for three days. Then the beans are pealed and roasted in big roasting machines. Honey roasted beans are not washed of the little juice or peeled. Much of Welches coffee beans are sold to Starbucks.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We drove many miles for a short hike to Pulhapanzak, the largest waterfall in Honduras. There were locals here enjoying a natural swimming pool of the stream above the falls and people were enjoying a picnic on the grass beside the falls. It was very hot in this tropical area and walking up the steep path was a bit of an effort. In the town of Taculpan we passed a large fish processing plant. Tilapia is raised on fish farms near the falls.

View at Yojo Largo, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View at Yojo Largo, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We drove around part of Yojo Largo, the largest lake in Honduras.  Here we decided not to go to a place for native fried fish as we had several stops to make and our long visits at special places and many miles on the road made a late arrival at our sleeping destination.

We drove on dirt roads, country highways, and toll roads. We made a special stop at Comayagua, in the 1500s a Spanish colonial capital, now restored for tourism. For several days Patricio had told me he could hardly wait to take me here to show me the oldest functioning clock in the Western Hemisphere. It was getting dark when we arrived at the central plaza and sat on the steps of a grand old church and listened to the chimes go off at the hour and half hour. It was worth driving the last few hours to this historic site. We walked around several of the old streets. The area was beautifully restored, clean, and safe. The mayor had done a good job with this small city.

(posted Sept 13, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copan Maya Ruins, Honduras

Copan is a great Maya archaeological site in western Honduras. Today, the setting is just a small village, now in a jungle valley of hills and nearby mountains, quite different than it was in 1,400 BC, when it was a capital city of many thousand people. The Copan Maya site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with only 25 % unearthed of the 47,000 structures of this ancient capital. It is an experience to walk through this setting, with its tall trees, spider monkeys, and macaws, and to imagine what life was like in this ancient empire.

It is best known for the excavated hieroglyphic temple staircase, a well preserved ball court, and beautiful stelae (free-standing statues or monuments carved in the image of a ruler, with information about his life). In 1895, a group from Harvard and the Peabody Museum began excavating the site. Since then, it has been taken over by other funded groups. Also on the site is the Copan sculpture Museum and inside is an exact replica of the original temple that existed on this spot. It is elaborately decorated with carved macaws, animals, and symbols, and painted in bright oca red with gold and green. Many of the artifacts, including beautifully carved stone benches, are in rooms of the museum.

Maya Ruins in Copan, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Maya Ruins in Copan, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The Copan ruins are on the banks of the Copan River. The valley was divided into two zones, one rural and the other urban. The urban zone was very populated and the ceremonial center was connected by two raised causeways. There was the royal residential compound and another for noble families. The remains exist because they were made of stone and grand in stature. In the metropolis were masons, carpenters, weavers, jewelers, and tradesmen. There was plumbing and potable water in the acropolis and royal dwellings. There were mosaic and detailed carvings representing their world of sacred mountains and paths to the supernatural realms to communicate with ancestors and to influence forces of nature. There were funerary temples and temples where astronomers studied the moon, Venus, sun, and earth.

The ball court was part of the central plaza, well decorated with macaws, which were designed for the playing ball to go through to score. The game was called poktok and was partly a ritual that reenacted the Maya myth creation revolving around the maize crop and fertilitia. Poktok was played with two teams on a playing field. The players used a hard rubber ball, but they could not touch it with their hands; each side had to get the ball into rings on the stone macaw heads sculpted into a sloped wall on each side of the court. There were three of these goals on each side of the two walls for scoring. The ball player who caused the loss of the game would be offered as a sacrifice to the gods.

The macaw, with its bright plumage, was a messenger to the sun and a link to the vital maize crop and agricultural cycle. This ball court had four renovations over time, and each time, new macaw markers were carved and inserted into the wall. The old, broken markers were found in an ancient construction site.

The temples were grand, and the hieroglyphic staircase tells of warfare with carved shields, lances, ropes, and sacrificial implements. It took years to unscramble just the pieces of this one temple staircase and now it is all reproduced inside the Copan Sculpture Museum. Patricio (my travel guide), a local Copan guide, and I went though several tunnels built several thousand years ago. These connected temples and central royal buildings.

After walking all day along the paths of the ancient ruins, Patricio and I spent time walking around the small village of Copan. There were stelae in different places in the village, even amongst the stores, since the stelae must be preserved and not moved. The food is native dishes and fresh. The coffee is from the nearby mountains and the cacao is from the trees in the village.

(posted August 29, 2017)

Horse crossing the street, seen during my 2017 travels in Central America. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Central America 2017: Guatemala and Honduras

At the domestic airport in Guatemala City I met Patricio, my new guide. It was late at night and Edwardo, the owner of the Honduras Travel Company, had been with me to Tikal and back until Patricio could take over for the rest of my trip. I had good vibes about Patricio from the beginning, and the next morning Patricio was there on time, prepared with a cheerful greeting. I knew I would recognize his van; it felt large for only two of us.

Off we went on a long day of driving through mountain passes down to fertile valleys and long delays with miles of road construction. This main interstate was being widened, and in this mountainous region, it was a massive job. In the fertile valleys were large fields of cantaloupe or watermelon or pineapple or squash.

We followed the Rio Dulee and went to the Quirigua Maya ruins, a small but important site. Two inscriptions were found here, accurate to dates of ninety million and four million years ago. Astronomy and mathematics were top priorities at the time of the great civilization. The last monument was erected here on June 26, 810 A.D. Quite interesting—Quirigua and four other major Mayan cities erected their last monument on that day.

In Quirigua’s heyday, the city grew cacao and avocado. The valley was surrounded by fields, until the civilization died out and the forests over ran the fields, walls, and plazas for a thousand years. Much of the ceremonial areas are covered with silt from the Motagua River. The largest stela in the Maya world is here and mounds indicate where great buildings once stood. Upstream, the Rio Motagua links Quirigua to the ancient capital, Copan.

We stopped at a roadside café and had baleada, a homemade tortilla filled with fried beans, ground meat, fried egg, avocado, cheese, and sour cream. Delicious! It was made up in front of us with all local ingredients. When we came to any long stops due to road construction and there were long delays, there were locals who walked between the long line of cars offering to sell sugar cane water, coconut meat, slices of mango, crystallized sugared pineapple, and other items.

An antique musical instrument outside my resort room in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

An antique musical instrument outside my resort room in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We had no trouble at the rural border crossing from Guatemala to Honduras, and we arrived in the town of Copan before dark. I checked in to a lovely resort owned by the Welches, owners of a local coffee plantation. Patricio met me and we walked through the streets of Copan before having a traditional Honduran dinner. I looked forward to hiking days and a walking day in the ruins of Copan.

I also was looking for a post office. When we reached Copan I still had a couple of post cards to mail from Guatemala. In Antiqua, I tried to mail them. The response from the local guide was, “No, we no longer have a post office here.” A couple of days later I asked at the hotel in Chichicastenango and my guide there said, “There is no longer a post office here. “ In Guatemala City, the hotel clerk said not here. No one seemed to know anything about it—only their location was closed—try another town.

On the way to Copan, Patricio said he knew where there was a post office in a small city and we would stop. After leaving the main highway, we were on narrow, busy streets, with locals buying and selling on the streets. Some streets were closed off with venders selling in the streets.

Patricio found where the post office had been, but now was a store. In Copan, Honduras, while walking the streets, we spotted a tiny post office, but it was closed that evening. The next day was Sunday, but before leaving on Monday morning, we walked to the tiniest little closet-sized post office and went in to mail my post cards.

The post office attendant was combing his hair, not expecting anyone. He told us the government of Guatemala closed down their postal service a few months ago, like the El Salvador government had shut down their National Banks and mint now using US currency. Each day was a learning day in these countries.

(posted August 1, 2017)