Over Copan Out
Mexico & Honduras
The Aztec and Maya empires were the greatest in pre-Columbian American history, stretching for hundreds of miles. Their art and culture has lasted thousands of years, but were all those temples and pyramids really necessary?
At the great risk of seeming extremely ignorant and uncultured, I will be elaborating on how I’ve become fed up with ancient ruins in Central America and, now that I’ve seen Copán, I shall be ending my exploration of these two great empires. Okay, it hasn’t been that extensive of an exploration; just a few day-trips to a few of the main sites, but I’ve still grown weary of climbing over-steep steps and staring at stones. I won’t be doing it again for a while.
My first experience was the pyramids of Teotihuacan, just outside of Mexico City, and I can quite honestly say that I was impressed. Simply the size was incredible. The climb up to the top of the Moon Temple was sufficiently difficult for me to have some sympathy with the original builders and climbers who, judging by the size of their descendents, their diet and breeding habits, were certain to have had much shorter legs, and a much harder time than I (even though I’m a bit out of shape) to reach the summit.
The breeze at the top was heaven-sent. We sat and relaxed and took in the view of the surrounding countryside, the other pyramids around us, and the significance of the temples themselves. In fact the only thing that ruined the day was, strangely enough, a group of American school kids on a field-trip, who (completely against their national stereotype, of course) were loud and obnoxious, and completely oblivious to the fact that other people might want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the area. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon though.
Next were the not-quite-so majestic, but equally as impressive temples and carvings at Monte Alban, on the hilltops outside Oaxaca, whose positioning was astounding, considering that all the materials would have been carried up these steep slopes by hand, or at least by donkey. Again a peaceful, relaxing (uninterrupted) day, imagining what these places would have looked like when they were first built and fully populated with Aztecs going about their ordinary business.
We then go up a notch in the temperature stakes when talking about Palenque and Tikal, the lost cities in the middle of the rainforests. These places had an added air of magic about them, due to the darkness and obscuring qualities of the forest, with Tikal being especially mystical; the haunting sounds of the howler monkeys in the distance, and the constant chirruping of insects and squawking of birds in the trees. You can really believe that the ancient Mayans would have thought that tree-spirits and forest-gods and the like existed, because the sights and sounds mix, and combine to really overwhelm the senses in this place.
My last trip was my recent visit to Copán Ruinas in western Honduras, and although being smaller and quicker to visit than the last two sites, the impressions it left on me were just as deep; this time due to the quality of preservation of the pieces, rather than the atmosphere around it. The monkey faces and dancing jaguars that stare out at you from the cold stone are awesome now, and the colours they would have had originally would have given the impression of living animals, I’m sure…well, at least cartoon ones.
I had come here, especially, on a type of family quest. My sister had written about the significance of the ball-court at this site, and the Meso-American ball game for her final dissertation without ever being able to come here, so with my pictures taken and souvenirs bought, it seemed like the completion of a task, and time to concentrate on other things.
Why do I want to stop after giving all these great reviews? It isn’t, obviously, because I haven’t enjoyed my visits; watching the sunset from the top of Temple IV will probably rank as one of my fondest memories of this trip when I get back home, but like anything – enough is enough.
Possibly I’m not the best person to fully appreciate what I’ve been seeing. This will only make my sister more jealous than she already is, but, knowing what she does, she would have made more of these places than I have, and consequently would probably not have written an article such as this.
I don’t care – this is my trip, and I can waste as much of it as I want – she can be grateful for the souvenirs. Ha!
“Overkill” is probably the most appropriate word, I think, and hasn’t just occurred with stone-watching either. I got fed up with hiking and bike-riding after a week in the Copper Canyon, I got tired of studying Spanish after two weeks in Antigua, and was put off mountain-climbing (forever maybe!) after just one go up Santa Maria near Xela. So you see, it’s not just because I’m a philistine when it comes to ancient history. It’s all a question of having a well-rounded trip.
From now on, I’ll be concentrating on more active things, such as diving in Útila and surfing the beaches of the Pacific coast of the rest of Central America. Let’s see how long I manage to stick at those things!