Monday, February 13, 2012

Visiting the ruins, and Mayan street hockey with real flames

I have come to Honduras and seen the future of hockey - or street hockey, at least.
An innovation borrowed from the Maya could add life to the game, and bring its long awaited breakthrough in the southern U.S.
We spent Saturday catching up on the Mayan presence in Copan Ruinas. It’s spectacular. The town’s name comes from the remains of the Mayan city and settlement about a kilometre outside town, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The principal site has pyramids, sprawling plazas, the residences of the elite and surreal carvings in much better shape than more northern sites. That’s because, according to Saul, our guide (and part-time rock musician), the rock here is less prone to damage than the limestone used in Guatemala and Mexico. Whatever the reason, the carvings - stellae and sculptures and features on the buildings - are fascinating in themselves, and have that powerful effect of taking you back to the reality that people were living here in these buildings, and producing this art, in a complex (and doomed) society 1,100 years ago. It provides, for me, anyway, a useful perspective of the significance of our own brief lives. (For a similar sensation, make the drive out to Carmanah and stand among those giant trees as the rain filters softly through their branches.)
The excavations continue (our new landlord is an archaeologist at the site), and some 5,000 ruins have been identified in the Copan valley.
The buildings aren’t as huge as some of the pyramids at Teohuitican and Chichen Itza, though still amazing, and the site has a spectacular setting, with the Copan River running a few hundred metres away and green hills rising all around, a mix of fields and semi-tropical forest.
We’ll be back to the ruins. We only saw a small portion, and I’m looking forward to visits in different seasons and times of day.
In the evening, there was a Mayan theatrical presentation in the square. It was supposed to start at 6, according to the poster I saw, but by 7 things were still being set up, meaning we had time to grab street food - grilled chicken for Jody, beef for me, served with refried beans, local cheese, a big pile of pickled vegetables and tortillas. Delicious, abundant and $4.50 each, with enough left to feed a couple of the skinnier dogs in the square (which is very skinny indeed).
The presentation started with drumming, a sounding conch shell and flute, as people in loin cloths and startling white face paint came into the square. There were ceremonies and a wordy - and for me largely incomprehensible - narration as the music went on.
Then six young guys in loin clothes and sandals, wielding branches shaped like hockey sticks, entered a rectangular space marked by an 18-inch-high fence of widely spaced branches. The crowd pressed around, as a priest, I assume, staged a small ceremony and then rolled a six-inch, flaming ball into the centre of the two teams. The object was to whack the ball into the other team’s end boards.
The moves were entirely like hockey, if hockey also involved avoiding burns, or setting your hanging loincloth on fire when the puck came your way. The ball was soaked in diesel or lamp oil, and lasted for five minutes before disintegrating, when it was replaced. Occasionally, it bounced out of the playing area and we leaped back, parents hauling small kids away from the flames. Sensible people would have choreographed the play. (Well, really, sensible people would probably question the idea of fiery hockey game in the midst of a crowd.) But these were teens with sticks, and they just wanted to win. It was better than most NHL games.
A few fireworks at the end of the show, and up the hill. I like this place.

Note: Peloto photo by Jody Paterson


Debbie said...

Do you think NHL bosses could stop letting their players maim each other, if they could introduce flaming pucks to the game instead?

One day soon you'll find you're understanding everything people are saying in Spanish. I have brief episodes of this (though I am a million miles from fluency). It feels like being under a spell, or perhaps breaking one.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Reading this makes me happier to be a Canadian than usual. If I were Honduran I might be known as Mr. Beer N. Burning Balls.