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Published: June 23rd 2010
(Day 806 on the road)
I am really crossing some borders at the moment. The first time I was in Guatemala two weeks ago
, I was in the country for a mere three days to check out Tikal before heading to Belize.
After returning from Belize, I was in Guatemala for just a tat longer this time, five days that is, before crossing the border to neighbouring Honduras (where I will stay only two days as well).
The reason for all this border crossing is that Central America is really quite small, about the size of France actually. This makes it often impractical to focus on one country and then the next, so frequent border crossings are often needed in order to see all the sights. Roads are pretty bad at times, so travel still takes a fair amount of time, but distances are nevertheless quite nice, necessitating only short rides between the sights Tino and I want to see in this part of the world.
Our only reason to come to Honduras this first time (we will be back later for much longer) was to check out the Maya ruins of Copan
, which lie just east across the border from Guatemala. Crossing the border was
fairly smooth in both directions, with only a small bribe demanded by the slick Honduras immigration officer.
Supposedly, the four countries belonging to a regional agreement fostering economic, political and cultural integration called Central American 4 (CA4)
(El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) means that there are no border formalities and no fees to be paid from crossing from one member country to the other. Of course, this being Central America after all, this doesn't work at all. Corrupt border officials refuse to honour the agreement; the resulting "fees" to be paid speak for themselves (though we did manage to fend off the Guatemala bribe by simply refusing to pay and just repeating "CA4, CA4" over and over again).
Copan Ruinas, the main town near the actual ruins, was a pleasant affair, and we managed to find a nice hotel with free wifi close to the town centre. Having my own small laptop (I bought this in Brunei
in June 2009) is really a blessing, I can't imagine how I ever travelled without one previously (noisy and virus-infested Internet cafes are simply hell on earth).
Making use of free wireless Internet is also very economical. The laptop had cost me about
300 Euros, and with Internet costs ranging from 0,50 to three Euros (let's say an average of one Euro), after 300 hours on the Internet the laptop has paid off (not including the huge convenience it offers, i.e. being able to process pictures offline at my own leisure). 300 hours might seem a lot, but with an average of one hour per day online (often nothing, often much more) this really isn't too much. Plus with slow connections in developing countries uploading pictures for instance often takes forever, so with free wifi I simply let the PC running overnight and all is done in the morning. Perfect!
The ruins at Copan were great in my opinion. Not that they could live up to places like Tikal or Chichen Itza on the jaw-dropping-scale (both Tikal and Chichen Itza are much greater in all aspects), but three things made Copan special for me: For one there was the absence of tourists; after 1500h we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Second, the reliefs on the numerous steles here were in perfect condition after all these hundreds of years - on some there was even some colour left used to paint
the sculptures. And third, archaeologists have over the years dug long tunnels into some of the pyramids here revealing the ancient structures that once stood underneath. The Mayas were famous for building temples and pyramids atop each other, so underneath a pyramid from 700 AD might well be one from 100 BC.
And this was certainly the case here! The official entrance fee to visit the tunnels were a steep US$15 per person (on top of the US$15 entrance fee to the site itself). But a little negotiation with the corrupt guards brought the price to just US$ 3 per person. I guess this is what happens when you charge tourists US$ 30 but this doesn't reflect in the pay of your employees.
Anyway, the narrow passages below the massive pyramid were just fascinating. You could see the walls of the original pyramids, and at points there were macaw carvings and even a carved staircase dating from 542 BC. Wow, I am not sure if I have ever seen something this old - and it was in perfect shape too. After over 2500 years!
The next morning we were set to have an early start to get
back to Guatemala, but our hotel offered us a nice-sounding horseback-riding tour in the morning. I had been thinking about doing this since San Cristobal in Mexico (where I missed it), and was very happy. I haven't been on a horse for probably 15 years or so, but it was much easier than anticipated (though my poor bum still hurts as I write this blog a few days later). The scenery was just stunning; we were riding up a hill so that the lush Copan valley was visible below, with the ruins and a large river running through it. After a while both Tino and I were confident enough to gallop, and our poor guide (who was on foot) was soon out of sight. Ups.
And a few hours later it was time to cross back into Guatemala. Honduras - I haven't seen much of you yet, but I promise to be back later.
Next stop: Guatemala City (Guatemala).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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