Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Latitude 14.83807°N Longitude 89.14109°W

Friday, October 18, 2002

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After a very comfortable week in pleasant Antigua Guatemala, the time had come to move on. At the ungodly hour of 3:30am we arose to catch the bus to the town of Copán Ruinas in neighbouring Honduras. The trip took about six hours and we crossed the border at El Florido, a tiny frontier outpost thirty kilometers away from Copán Ruinas.

We had done our homework regarding the appropriate departure and entry taxes to cross from Guatemala to Honduras, but we got scammed at the border never the less. We only got scammed $2 so we didn't get too heated about it, and actually, it was good value for the entertainment watching these smooth government officials in action. Others on the bus didn't fare as well - some were stung as much as $20!

What made the event particularly amusing was the existence of huge signs posted in each office, informing hapless travelers of the "official" schedule of fees payable for crossing the border ($1 each in our case). In bold letters at the bottom of each sign was the message "Help abolish corruption in the Honduras Government!", and, "Report any acts of misconduct to the listed telephone number!", and, "Get a reciept for all moneys paid!". We were now at the front of the line and thrust our passports expectantly at Official #1 (of unknown role or function). He shuffled some papers, stamped our passports and asked for $2, which we obediently paid. He then made a motion of filling out a receipt and pointed to Official #2 at a nearby booth. We dutifully proceded to Official #2 (also of unknown role or function), who started to elaborately type up a receipt (with no less than four carbon copies) on an ancient typewriter. With a flourish he pulled out the receipt, stamped all the copies, gave one to us and asked for $2. We Immediately looked at each other and asked him "What's this $2 for?!". He shot something back, but lacking sufficient Spanish fluency, we couldn't understand his mumbled reply. "We already paid the other guy $2" we said, but of course, this was of no consequence to Official #2, who just shrugged his shoulders as if denying the very existence of Official #1. So we shelled out another $2 and we moved on. It suddenly dawned on me that it was Official #1 who was planning the nice dinner out tonight, so I circled back to watch him a little closer as he processed the remaining passengers on our bus. Each passenger was asked for a seemingly random dollar amount, ranging from nothing up to $20 (by the way, USD$20 is a very decent sum of money in Honduras). I watched the official's hand as he collected money and smoothly deposited it into a small box hidden under his desk, then motioned the passengers on to Official #2. The process was orchestrated like a ballet, and, despite the signs, most passengers didn't even suspect foul play until they were back on the bus and over the border. It must be very nice to work for the Government in this part of the world.

We would quickly learn that getting scammed at Central and Southern American border crossings was in fact the norm rather than the exception, and todays "fee" would rank as one of the least expensive!

We arrived at Copán Ruinas around lunchtime and trudged around the tiny town looking for lodging for the night. The town was rural and pretty underdeveloped, and the accomodations were very basic. We found the Iguana Azul on the outskirts of town to have the nicest rooms so we dumped our gear there, lathered up with mosquito repellent (lots of malaria and dengue fever here...), then set off to hike to the nearby ruins of Copán, the main attraction.

The Copán ruins were good. Visiting in the afternoon, we found the site to be quiet and virtually deserted, which we find always adds an extra dimension to exploring ruins set deep in jungles. Copán is renown not so much for its structures as it is for its stone carvings and stelaes, which are considered the best preserved out of all the ancient Mayan archeological sites. We spent three hours there, staying until closing time.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

Mayan stone carving at CopánMayan hieroglyphs carved in stone stela at CopánMayan stelae in the Great Plaza at Copán

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