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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 7: Sun May 26, 2002

I explore the ruins of Copan

Well, as I had hoped in my last e-mail, I have FINALLY made it to Guatemala, but it was certainly a bigger challenge than I anticipated....

This last week Amanda dropped by Copan to visit. Yeah, I know, people don't "drop by" to Honduras, but it's Amanda. She's a flight attendant. She "drops by" anywhere in the world. And she found some bizarre connection that Copan has to Nancy Drew, which is an obsession for her, so she HAD to "drop by" and follow in the footsteps of her beloved Nancy Drew while I was around to be her guide. (She obviously mistook my ability to speak and understand Spanish!)

The famous ballcourt of the Copan Ruinas

So we headed off for what Copan is most famous for, the ruins. They are amazing, but nothing I can say can do it justice. Copan is considered the best example of Mayan ruins in the world, even more impressive than Tikal. Although, from my understanding, Tikal is generally more impressive to the casual tourist,it's Copan that archeologists dream of.

One of the main attractions include the ball court, where nobody is exactly sure what the rules of the game are, but it's believed people would bounce a heavy ball around through some hoops using their hips. I guess it's a cross between basketball and soccer, if you can imagine that. For those that can't, there's a nice museum in downtown Copan that shows a video of how the game might have been played.

Another view of the ballcourt

Another attraction that archeologists salivate over is the hieroglyphic staircase, the longest one discovered in Latin America. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to read most of the hieroglyphics because the work was shoddy and the whole thing collapsed before it was discovered by archeologists. They put the steps back, but in a random order. The staircase IS impressive looking, climbing up a steep hill for 63 steps. It isn't especially photogenic today since it's been covered by an enormous tarp to protect it from the elements.

Details like these are prized by archeologist

It was also interesting to learn that many of the carvings were actually brightly covered with gaudy colors (red mostly) instead of their stone texture we see today. The colors have faded and eroded away after time, but entire structures were buried with each consecutive ruler and new structures erected on top of it, and the buried structures still retain much of the original color. I've got to say, the carvings really were an eyesore in their hey-days!

While my pictures may not be developed anytime soon, Amanda took some too and her pictures of the area will probably be available long before mine are, so I'll point them out on the web if she tells me where they are.

Naturally, I hid a few letterboxes afterwards on a trail next to the park. For those who I haven't explained letterboxing to, you can read all about it at Atlas Quest. Amanda hid one near some other ruins called Los Sapos (The Toads). They're called that because the bolders were carved into huge toads. Pretty clever, huh? =)

The statues, such as this one, are reproductions of the originals. The originals are stored indoors and safely away from the elements.

Speaking of toads, they are everywhere. Especially when it rains. EVERYWHERE. Big honking things that would make women faint and men jump on chairs. They haven't seemed to have mastered the art of crossing roads, either, because large toads seemed to be the primary form of road kill in the area.

I took the past week off from school. Which isn't to say I stopped learning Spanish. I still got to practice it with locals on some occasions, and even studied a couple of Spanish books I had. Even worked on some crossword puzzles in Spanish. But I took the week off primarily because I figured I'd be leaving for Guatemala before the end of the week, and generally classes last the entire week.

So I moved out of my homestay and into the Hotel California. It was cheap (less than $10/night!), but also to see how it compared to the Eagles song. Could we really check out but never leave? Well, we finally left, but it was definitely more difficult than I anticipated....

This was our view from the second floor of the Carnitas Lia Lola, a favorite hangout of Amanda and myself

Being in a hotel, it also meant I actually had to go OUT to eat. Almost every day we'd try a new restaurant, but then we discovered the Carnitas Lia Lola, a cute little bar/restaurant we fell in love with. It was an open air restaurant, and the second floor had an incredible view of the valley looking down towards the ruins. Once we discovered that place, we'd visit there at least once a day if for no other reason than to kill time.

By Wednesday evening, Amanda and I realized that SOMETHING was happening. We weren't sure what, but large stages were being erected in the main square and little stands selling beer and other drinks were being erected in the streets for no apparent reason. There wasn't any holidays approaching, so far as we knew, and it seemed very strange.

Thursday morning, about 4:00 in the morning to be precise, we were woken by a huge BOOM! Followed by several others for the next half hour. Whatever was going on, it looked like the party was just beginning....

Thursday we continued to witness the continued erection of structures, large speakers, and the hookup of electricity. There was a major party being planned, and we were clueless about why.

This was Amanda's last day in town, so later that afternoon she went to pack all her bags and couldn't find her cell phone. I figured she had probably misplaced it, but I checked everything valuable I had and discovered I was missing about $150 in cash and some of my traveler's checks. Yep, we'd been robbed.

We told the folks running the hotel about the problem, and they just kept saying, "But this never happens! Are you sure you didn't just misplace it?" (In very broken English. I explained the situation in very broken Spanish, so I guess we were even.) I usually do not misplace $150 in cash. And of my travelers checks, there were in a big pile. The top ten or so checks were still there. And the bottom ten or so were still there. It was the ones in the middle that were missing. I *know* I didn't misplace the middle of that pile.

I figured there wasn't much that could be done about the cash or cell phone, but the traveler's checks I bought just for such an emergency! So I went about making my first phone call to the United States since arriving in Central America. =) They took the usual information one would expect—where and when the theft occurred, which checks were missing, etc. And some unusual information I didn't really expect: My weight, height, eye and hair color, phone numbers, addresses, references, and more. Then they said to call back again the next day as they "processed" the claim, or whatever it is they do.

Afterwards, we headed off to our favorite restaurant to drink our sorrows away. Me in a lot of strawberry flavored Tropical and Amanda in, well, I don't remember what she drank. It varied. Maybe large quantities of alcohol. After it got dark, the music from downtown really started blaring and it looked like the party officially begun—whatever it was for. I tried asking the waitress about it, and she said it was a celebration of the anniversary of the radio. The RADIO?! That can't be right. Nobody celebrates the anniversary of the RADIO! Well, then again, we are in Latin America. They celebrate for any excuse here! But the RADIO? Was that the best they could come up with? And what anniversary? Of the first radio station? Of it's invention? We left more perplexed than before.

While walking back to our hotel, we checked out the party and noticed a big screen showing cowboys annoying bulls by riding on them and such, then it started to make sure sense. Not radio, RODEO! Still, there wasn't any rodeo in town, so we were still pretty perplexed about why they'd be celebrating the anniversary of the rodeo....

These are more modern ruins of an old, abandoned prison

The rest of the night was difficult to sleep due to all the music and flares that would shoot into the sky that would explode with a huge BANG! Briefly, the power went out at about 11:00 at night, and we had a moment of relative silence. But ten minutes later it came on again, and silence was never heard again.

The next morning, I saw Amanda off then set about getting myself a bus ticket to Antigua, Guatemala. There are signs ALL OVER Copan about a daily bus from Copan to Antigua for $25. Air conditioned. Direct. Just what I wanted. So I drop by the local travel agency to get myself a ticket, and they said there was no bus that day. "But, the sign says it's a DAILY bus. There HAS to be a bus today!" I pointed out in more broken Spanish. "Well, what about tomorrow?" No, there won't be a bus tomorrow either. So then I ask, what normally would sound like a very stupid question in anyplace but Central America, "How often does this daily bus run?!" I didn't really understand the answer.

Dejected, I wandered off to the Spanish school where I knew they'd be sympathetic and helpful. I told them my problem, and they said, "But there's a bus that leaves for Antigua everyday at 2:30pm!" (Keep in mind, they only speak Spanish, so this is a very slow conversation.) And I told them, "Well not today!" So they went and called the travel agency to find out what was going on, and they came back saying, "Yep, you're stuck here."

They said there was some sort of strike about two hours into Guatemala and a crowd of people was blocking all roads. But it would probably clear up within four days. FOUR DAYS?!!! But they were optimistic, maybe it would clear up by the next day. Who could know? I asked what the strike was about, and they giggled that it could have been anything or everything. It was a sad state of affairs out there, and they could have been protesting wages, education, corruption, taxes, or anything. I joked that there were worse things in life than being stranded in a beautiful city sitting in bars drinking all day. If only it was so easy....

Doomed to Copan for an unknown period of time, I checked myself into a new hotel: Los Gemelos. It was also pretty cheap (cost me 80 limperas per night, or about $5/night). But these doors were strong and sturdy!

Then I set out to continue working on the missing traveler's checks problem.... I called American Express again, and they asked me more questions. Then the guy asked if I filed a police report, which I hadn't (would it REALLY do any good?), and he said I needed to do that and fax a copy of the police report to them. He also reminded me it was Memorial Day next Monday (this was Friday at about 4:00 in the afternoon), and they wouldn't be open again to handle claims until Tuesday. Ack! It's Memorial Day?! There's a holiday and Latin America isn't celebrating it? It's a strange world....

Amanda pretends she's in jail

So I wandered over to the police station to file a report. Nobody there spoke a lick of English, so I was forced to continue practicing my Spanish at a time when I'd rather not. The guy who seemed to be in charge got up from watching television and picked up a large book where he wrote down the date and started questioning me about the details of the theft. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand a word he was saying. It was supposedly Spanish, but I could not understand one, single word that came out of his mouth.

A kind lady who was nearby started translating for us. This isn't your normal Spanish/English translation. She didn't know any English either, but I could understand HER Spanish. Kind of. A little. This was a Spanish/Spanish translation. The conversation went something like this, I believe (in English for your benefit), and I have to only imagine what the cop actually said:

Cop: Welcome to our wonderfully, beautiful city! Now please explain in your own words what items were stolen?
Lady: He wants to know what was stolen.
Me: Money, traveler's checks, and a cell phone.
(The cop was able to understand me, so the lady didn't have to translate back to him.)

Cop: Do you have any form of identification on your possession?
Lady: He wants your passport.
Me: Oh! Why didn't he say so?! [I pull out passport and hand it over]

This continued for about an hour or so. Just as we were wrapping up, another cop arrived that actually did speak some English. He became my best friend. He asked a couple of other questions to clarify a couple of things the other cop still wasn't able to extract from me (in English!), then was told to meet up with him again at 6:00 because he wanted to go down to Hotel California and get their side of the story. No problem! I asked for a photocopy of the police report so I'd be able to fax it to American Express, a request that at first puzzled them. Why did I want it? What was I going to do with it?

Keep in mind, police stations in Honduras aren't up to the typical standards one would expect from a station in the United States. They had no copy machines. Even the "form" for the police report was a simple piece of paper where they wrote everything out by hand, draw a line at the bottom, and tell me I had to sign there. The telephone, I discovered, had no buttons on it. The police could only RECEIVE phone calls! They had no way of actually MAKING a phone call except by going to a pay phone outside! Amazing, I know....

Amanda drinks a bag of coke. After that doesn't drown her sorrows, she moves on to alcohol.

So I gave the cop one limpera and he sent another guy out with the police report to make a copy of it from somewhere. About ten minutes later, with copy in hand, I started making my way back to my hotel.

Before I made it, I was accosted by one of the girls from the Spanish school saying that there was a guy the director knew who was planning to drive to Antigua that morning, and I might be able to go with him. GREAT! So I went down to the school to see about getting myself to Antigua. I left my hotel and room number so the guy could contact me, then headed back to my hotel.

By 6:00, I was supposed to meet the cop to go down to Hotel California with him. Actually, I was initially told to meet him AT Hotel California, so I waited outside the door for a half hour or so (nobody ever arrives on time in Honduras) before I gave up and walked to the police station. He was sitting on a bench in shorts looking like he just finished playing a game of soccer. I suspect that's exactly what happened, in fact. He said he needed to shower and change into his police uniform and asked if I could wait, and I said sure, why not?

He took his shower about a half hour later, and come out wrapped in nothing but a towel to go to the changing room where he got into his uniform. Unfortunately for me, another group of people came in with some sort of problem and they spent another hour hashing out whatever the problem was. I started watching the television, bored to tears.

At last, at about 8:30, he was ready to go to the hotel. EIGHT THIRTY! *rolling eyes*

So we jumped into his police truck. He wasn't exactly sure where the hotel was (about five blocks away), so I directed him to the place. On the way, he saw a friend in a store and stopped for another ten minutes to talk to him. Then we continued to the scene of the crime.

I didn't really have a whole lot to say. I already told my story of the event, and frankly, at this point, I didn't want do deal with the problem anymore. I just wanted to go to Antigua and forget the whole incident. But the girl there kept insisting, "I don't know how this could have happened! Something like this has never happened in seven years! None of the other five vacant rooms had been robbed. Blah, blah, blah...." Then, seeing that Amanda wasn't there, suggested that maybe Amanda stole it! Why didn't Amanda stay in Copan until everything was "resolved"? Well, unlike me, she actually has a JOB to worry about!

Actually, from her point of view, our relationship probably did sound a bit suspicious. The first night Amanda was in town, I still had a homestay to stay in, and I stayed there. Amanda had the hotel room to herself. They had SEEN me the first day, because I helped Amanda check into the hotel, but I didn't stay there. It wasn't until the second day that I showed up with all my stuff, and they noticed that. And now, it was SHE that was gone, and yet I was still there. I suspect the girls at the hotel thought Amanda was some cheap floozy I met on the street the day before, and she stole all my possessions and ran. But I said, no, no, I've known her for ages. In fact, it was HER cell phone that was missing and it was HER that first discovered we were robbed!

After the cop and I left the hotel, he asked me to return to the police station at around 9:00 the next morning, because he wanted to talk to a lawyer to see if there was anything else in particular he should do about the case and the "investigation". I told him okay, no problem.

Amanda stands outside of the Hotel California—and the scene of a dastardly crime!

I went back to my hotel and fell promptly asleep. I never did meet up with my possible ride to Antigua since I spent most of the evening/night in the police station.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early and the first thing I did was check to see if any buses were running to Antigua. YES! The daily bus is running today! I bought myself a one way ticket to Antigua that leaves at 2:30pm sharp. I was going to leave this town, at last!

I stopped at the police station at 9:00, but the cop wasn't there yet. I figured this was a distinct possibility, and I brought a book to read while I waited. By 10:00, I was getting hungry and didn't want to wait anymore, so I wondered off to my favorite restaurant to order some French toast and orange juice. There wasn't any orange juice, so I settled for the usual: strawberry flavored Tropical. I checked e-mail. Dilly dallied. Then returned to the police station at around noon.

The cop was there, although in the shower. After getting dressed, he was back to business. The lawyer told him that I needed to sign a form if I wanted him to continue the investigation, and I told him that I really didn't care about the investigation one way or another. I never really expected to get anything back. I just filed the police report because American Express told me to. (Damn them, damn them to the hell they put me in!) The cop wanted to continue investigating, although I wasn't really sure what else he could do, so he filled out a form of his own creation, let me read it, and I signed it.

Then he started asking me questions like, "Would I have any trouble with my English in the United States?" He told me he'd been learning English for five months now. He had a brother in Miami working as a barber. He asked if jobs were easy to come by in the United States, and how well they paid. On and on. Finally, he gave me the phone number of his brother in Miami, so I could have a friend in the United States from Honduras. (Just tell him your my friend!) And gave me his phone number in Honduras. (Call if you have any troubles! Or even just to say hi!) He wanted my phone number, but seeing as I didn't actually HAVE a phone number, I gave him my e-mail address instead.

Then, I left the police station, picked up my bags from the hotel I was in, and went to catch my bus for Guatemala. At long last, I was leaving Honduras.

Since this is already SUCH an enormously long e-mail, I'll leave the adventure over the border and the sights and sounds of Antigua until my next installment.


— Ryan

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