Days 179-182 Tuesday-Friday October 16-19, 2007
Esquipulas and Copan Honduras
Chiquimula turned out to be a comfortable place to spend a couple of days. Not only was there a supermarket close to our hotel, (which meant Diet Pepsi!) but the hotel room itself had an air conditioner and didn’t cost a fortune. After resting for a day in Chiquimula we decided to visit the infamous Black Christ in the town of Esquipulas about an hour away. The church in Esquipulas is home to the largest Catholic pilgrimage in Central America. According to some research, all of the small towns in the region send at least one representative during the year to pay respect to this holy figure.
Unfortunately there isn’t much else to see in Esquipulas other than the church, so the plan was to see the Black Christ and eat lunch before heading back to Chiquimula in the afternoon. The bus ride was simple enough and before long we were pulling into a valley dominated by a beautiful elaborately built church. Surely this must be Esquipulas, we thought. Indeed it was and the church proved to be even more beautiful than in the descriptions we had read. It is obvious that they are putting much of the money they receive in donations back into maintaining and expanding the structure. Just before entering the church, we saw a group of worshipers lighting candles and praying. Once inside, we had to go through a series of rooms in what felt like an amusement park line in order to get to the Black Christ.
As the line made its way through the different rooms, we were able to take our time in seeing some of the various religious art pieces on display, including my favorite, a framed piece where Christ’s face is made completely out of jewelry. Before long, we were closing in on the statue itself and the locals in line around us began getting anxious. In seeing this, I also began to feel this way as I started to understand how special this moment was for them. Soon after, the feeling of anxiousness gave way to happiness as I realized once again just how blessed we really our in our lives. I can only imagine how many people in Central America (and the world) dream about visiting this holy place but are to poor or otherwise don’t have the opportunity to realize their dream. Even though I don’t follow the Catholic faith, I felt truly honored to be in this statue’s presence because of the spiritual energy surrounding it.
The final few meters were slow going as we approached the circular walkway around the statue. At this point the energy generated by the collective faith of the others in the church was overwhelming. I have rarely come across a spiritual energy as strong as this in my life. Over the past couple of months I have learned first hand just how heavily the Guatemalans rely on their faith to get them through the down times. To put it simply, life can be hard here and their faith empowers them to continue on despite all of the hardships that are thrust upon them. As I was trying to process and understand all of this, our turn finally came up and we took a minute or so in front of the Black Christ before exiting. On the way out of the building, we had to walk backwards as not to turn our back on the figure.
The experience in Esquipulas was so powerful that it transcended religion for me. It doesn’t matter that my beliefs aren’t the same as theirs as I was given a gift in being able to experience their faith and spiritual energy in a truly holy place. After exiting, we made our way to the gift shop where a plethora of Black Christ merchandise was available for sale. We decided to buy a couple of statues for family and friends who practice the catholic faith, knowing how powerful an experience this was for us and how much it would mean to them. After leaving the gift shop, we had the father bless our purchases before grabbing lunch and heading back to Chiquimula.
The next day, we woke up and started our three bus journey to Copan Ruinas Town in Honduras. As its name implies, the town is located near the Copan Mayan ruins. The border crossing into Honduras was fairly simple and we were once again able to avoid being extorted by the Guatemalan officials by politely challenging them on their so called exit fee. (No official fee actually exists!) While they didn’t seem to like this very much, we were let through without much resistance, since we told them it was their bosses in the capital that had told us not to pay.
Copan Ruinas Town is very clean and laid back. The central park area is elegant and the atmosphere very pleasant. We arrived in the early afternoon and decided to hang around in lieu of visiting the ruins during the mid day heat. For the rest of the day, we ate some street food and also visited a Mayan museum off the main plaza where artifacts from the local ruins are on display.
It was in this museum that it became evident that the Honduran government really takes advantage of tourists. Upon inquiring about entry, we found out that a ticket for locals including entry to the ruins and all museums costs around $4, while a tourist pays separate entrance fees for each place, which in the end total about $40USD. The other tip off was that all tourist fees are charge in USD as opposed to Lempiras. Jasmine, being that she is from the area, was able to get a $4 ticket but I had to pay separate entrance for the ruins and the one museum that we decided to visit. After seeing the entry fees to the other two museums, the idea of visiting them quickly went out the window.
The next morning we woke up early and caught a tuc tuc to the ruins after an early breakfast. While these ruins contain a couple of interesting buildings, the well preserved carvings and hieroglyphs set Copan apart from other Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Mexico. At the entrance, we found a troop of lively macaws waiting to greet us. During the day they squawk back and forth and each other while occasionally harassing a tourist or two. While the illusion that these are wild birds just hanging around the entrance is nice, in reality the six birds are locked away in cages on site every night.
After walking inside a few hundred meters from the entrance, we came to a plaza with a couple of small pyramids and several different carvings on display. Most impressive here, was that almost all of the carvings are nearly completely intact. From the 1st plaza, we walked over to another one with a large pyramid whose stairs are comprised of stones, each with a carving on it. The ascension of the staircase is thought to tell a story, but over the years some of the pieces have been rearranged and scientists have yet to decipher it. This pyramid and its stairs are one of a kind in the Mayan world and certainly much different than anything else we have seen in Guatemala and Mexico.
Also unique in Copan are the archaeological tunnels that are open for touring. (For another fee of course!) Since most Mayan buildings are solid, archeologists dig tunnels under the bottom in order to see what is inside. Often times the Mayans would build a new temple over an older one and these tunnels have allowed scientists to discover even more about this civilization. While there are tunnels at the other sites we have seen, none of them allow visitors inside. We did consider going in them ourselves, but the extra fee was prohibitive and we just didnâ€™t want to spend the extra money. Maybe next time.
From the second plaza, we looped around to some smaller buildings and carvings that sit in the jungle. In total, we spent around two hours at the ruins before heading back to town. Copan was a worthwhile trip as the carvings were much more elaborate than what we were able to see elsewhere. In the afternoon, we booked our shuttle to Antigua which left bright and early the next morning. The plan in Antigua was to put our two big bags in storage and rest for a couple of days before heading north to Coban, the coffee capital of Guatemala. Our time in Central America is winding down fast!
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The Coomer Family