Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Visit to the Mayan Temples

The name of the city where I’m staying is Copán Ruínas, and there’s a good reason for that. Yesterday I visited the Mayan ruins for which this city is famous. Tourists come from all over the world to see them. I have a ton of pictures of my own (the one above is from el internet - though I really did see those birds!), but I brought the wrong cord to Copán with me and I can’t get them onto my computer. You’ll just have to try to imagine and I promise to get the pictures up here as soon as I get back to Amigos!

Apparently the tall pyramid ruins in nearby Guatemala (as in a 20-minute drive) are also very famous, and our tour guide made the distinction this way: The ruins in Guatemala are the New York of the Mayans, with buildings impressive as sky scrapers; but the ruins at Copán are the Paris, the capital of art and culture (sorry to all you New Yorkers who read this).

The story of how we had a guide at all is worth telling. The woman who sold us our tickets around 2:30 said the museum, which had come highly recommended, closed at 4 and the ruins at 4:30, so we ought to see the museum first and then go to the ruins. We followed her advice and at about 3:20 headed over to the make-shift building near the road to hire a guide, but when we got there, we learned that the last guide had left for the day because, in reality, the ruins close at 4.

We were understandably pretty frustrated. All of a sudden this small boy, probably about 10 or 11 years old, materialized near us. He spoke vey rapid Honduran Spanish and said something about helping us find a guide. We politely turned him down and began to walk off in the direction of the ruins to see what we could before they closed.
No sooner had we hit the main path to the ruins than the boy was by our side, rapidly and Honduranly telling us that he would take us to the guide that had just left at 3 with a group of only two people; he knew where to find him; the guide’s name was Juan Carlos; the guide spoke very good English. We were only getting about every other word, but we certainly weren’t getting rid of this guy.

So we followed him into the ruins site, and it was amazing. Like you see in books, a broad green field with stony pyramids and misshapen sculptures sprouting up everywhere. Nervously we followed as he led us up the side of one of the pyramids, but as soon as we got to the top, sure enough, there was Juan Carlos with his group of two. We joined the group and had our tour after all, and our friend came along, too.

We asked Juan Carlos (his name is in here because he wanted the publicity – if you’re ever in Copán, you know who to look up for your tour) if the boy worked for him, and he said no, he was a friend. The boy has seven brothers and sisters and a single mother, Juan Carlos told us, so he sometimes let the boy help out and gave him food. The boy said he could give the tours himself, he had heard it all so many times; but the whole time, he followed us, listening attentively.

So, the ruins. We learned a ton of interesting facts about the Mayans. For example, the king would drink crocodile’s blood and chocolate, for fertility. He could have as many as 18 wives; the most important among them was the one with the most money; the second most important was the one he loved (the rest were for entertainment, because, you know, the Mayans didn’t have TV back then, Juan Carlos explained). Some kings lived long into their 80s (and bear in mind, this is like 500 BC!), but the poor lived to an average of 35 years old, worn out from hard work (building those temples and monuments was a grueling task) and poor food. We learned a couple new phrases, too, on the tour: Sin maíz, no hay país, and, La esperanza no llena, pero mantiene. I’ll let you figure those out yourselves. Maybe the answers will be in the next post. :)

When I’m able to post the pictures, I’ll give you all more details about the ruins themselves, and you’ll get to see how beautiful these mountains are. What stood out to me was the brutality of this ancient culture – anyone who has seen the sacrificial altar with its small canal for human blood will tell you so – but, at the same time, how incredibly advanced it was, and how this brutality and this great intellectual achievement could exist side by side.

Meanwhile, things are still going well with my host family and every day I learn a little more about them and their lives. Life here might seem very new and different and sometimes strange to me right now, but the more I get to know them the old cliché holds true, and there’s really nothing new under the sun. They may eat and work and do dishes in ways that are completely foreign to me (and a different kind of poverty is part of that), but life is really not so different when it comes to the things that really make it; things like relationships and family, tragedy and joy.

Well, I promised a shorter post and I haven’t delivered. These are also super close together. I expect my posts to gradually grow further and further apart, especially once I start work at the hogar, but enjoy it while you can, Mom!

Hasta pronto.

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