Monday, January 30, 2012

A weekend of walking in Copan: Politics, water and Maya ruins

It was a good weekend for walking in Copan, hot but not roasting, and we did.
On Saturday morning, we hooked up with three people from the Spanish school, and a friend of one of them who is recovering from a less-than-great experience in La Ceiba. She had hoped to learn Spanish and volunteer. Neither went well, but the last part of her trip is.
We all paid $25 for a guided hike with Gerardo, who owns a hippish bar-restaurant called ViaVia. Live music some nights, movies others. We’re going to George Clooney’s latest tomorrow night.
Gerardo is a slightly crazed, skinny Belgian guy, maybe late-30s, who has been in Copan for eight years, researching an unwritten novel exploring the philosophy of low-budget backpack travel and running the restaurant. We piled into the back of a pickup, with his three dogs, and headed about 10 kilometres out of town where we started walking.
But not far. Gerardo’s guiding style involved impressive rants combining information, opinion and expletives on no end of topics, which could only be effectively delivered when he was stationary. We hiked up to a buried Mayan ruin, with an intricately carved stella on top, apparently a boundary marker for the kingdom of Copan, and heard about the history of the Maya, and five centuries of exploitation. “Basically, since Columbus showed up these people have been fucked over,” was Geraldo’s summary. We covered the local subsistence agriculture - beans and corn, basically, with maybe a few chickens to provide eggs - and why, despite the desperate poverty, it made sense for the Chorti, the local indigenous population, to stick with what they knew.
We hiked up hills, and along a valley with a beautiful stream and a series of waterfalls while Gerardo recounted, colourfully, the failure of a series of three well-meaning attempts to deliver water to a Chorti village on the top of the hill, which mostly delivered cars and cash to people who found a way to profit from projects that never worked. The ultimate stop on that leg of the tour was a grand-looking water tank, adorned with the Rotary logo and a sign saying that the Rotarians of Gastonia, N.C., had contributed $45,000 to complete the project in 2006-7. Except while there were pipe leading from the tank, there was no pump to move the water. The contractor took the money for a pump, but never installed it. The picture is from the Rotarians' website - it's amazing how much the jungle has grown around the tank in five years.)
It was all a bit gloomy, but helped paint a picture of the challenges of doing good in a complicated world. (And, for balance, check out the view of the Gastionian Rotarians on their projects in the area. Maybe by the end of a year or two I’ll know where reality lies.)
The walk was beautiful, and some of the fields amazing. The villagers plant corn and beans together, and some fields were on rocky slopes that would be too steep to be an expert run in any ski hill. The idea of harvesting by hand, in crushing heat, was amazing.
We met villagers along, the way, always friendly, and Jody drew big laughs from girls washing clothes in the stream when she showed them their pictures on her camera.
Today, we set out to walk to the ruins, exploring the stores in a new part of town on the way. We got lost - not unusual - and ended up crossing a bridge and walking along a dirt lane on the far side of the river.
People were streaming into town, mostly on foot. Apparently Sunday is the day to dress up and visit Copan to buy supplies and have a day off. The walk along the river was lovely, with lush fields on the other side of the lane, some with cattle, others with rows of crops under five-foot high hoops covered with light cloth. After about two kilometres, the road started climbing, and after a steepish hike we came to Hacienda San Lucas, a 100-year-old hacienda converted into a lush resort, with about 10 cabins and a dining room that is supposed to be great. The grounds were beautiful - there was a wooden-floored room, with curtained walls, that was for meditation and yoga and looked out to the river and the ruins. A stay is $140 a night - an enormous sum here.
We walked a trail through the woods and past a banana plantation to Los Sapos, another Mayan site, with a carving of a toad in the rocks and other figures.
A nice walk back, fried chicken from a takeout place, eaten in the square, with the scraps going to an incredibly skinny terrier, and home to study Spanish.


Anonymous said...

We miss your columns in the local rag but love hearing about this grand adventure you have embarked on, take care amigo!

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I, of course, love Geraldo's summary of post-Columbus Mayan society. My kind of guide.

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