Not much food on this post, but if you enjoy Mayan Ruins read on......
After visiting the Museum of Sculpture we headed off to the ruins. Though the Archaeological Park is not very large, it is believed that at its peak Copan was the cultural center of the Mayan civilization. As you enter the ruins that first place you usually start at is called the Great Plaza:
We arrived during the end of the dry season, but it's easy to imagine the green fields.....
One of the more interesting things about the great plaza are the intricately carved Stela placed among the plaza. We were told that these Stele represent various rulers and gods.
Do you notice the red pigment?
The red pigment is a mixture of mercury sulfate and other items, and it is believed that all the Stele were once covered with this pigment.
Another Stela grabbed our attention. If you look closely at the carving of the face, it looks almost Asian, doesn't it? As does the head-dress.
Our guide told us, that she believes that the original Mayans and Incas came from Asia, across the Bering Straight and into the Americas.
Another popular area in the park is the Mayan Ball Court and the hieroglyphic stairway.
The ball court is the second largest in Central America.
Yes, folks have been playing ball in Meso-America for over 3000 years. Of course there were some serious ramifications, not for losing, but for winning the game. We were told that the Captain of the winning team would present himself to the losing Captain, who would behead him. It was thought to be the highest honor.....
Right past the ball court is the hieroglyphic stairway.
The stairway consists of 63 steps and 2,500 glyphs forming the longest known text of the Mayan civilization, is quite impressive. Unfortunately, it is also part of a tragic storyline.
At the time is was built, 753 A.D., the city was losing prestige, and the stairway was not built as soundly as other structures. Eventually the stairway collapsed, and only a few rows were found in original position. At some point in time, I've read both the early 1900's and in the 1940's, the stairs were reassembled. Unfortunately, the stairs were reassembled in a random order!!!!
At this location, I found a sign which illustrated how Mayan structures were built, one on top of the other. Each new ruler, built over the structures of the former ruler.
This would be interesting a bit later on....
Due South is the East and West Courts, also featuring wonderful stonework.
Also in this area are two tunnels under the East Court. The price at $15 each for two short tunnels is a bit on the steep side, but since we probably won't be coming back, it was worth a try.
In the first tunnel, is the actual Rosalila Temple, which can also be seen in part 1. This sign shows how the temple sits under the structures above.
You enter the tunnels and travel in dimly lit tunnels... by slight stretch of the imagination, one can imagine oneself as an actual explorer walking into the unknown.
Coming right up to something like this can be downright dramatic.
Our visit to the ruins at Copan was the highlite of the trip.
Even though Tikal was indeed grand, it was the detailed and intricate stonework, and what seemed to us to be a intimate setting that made the Copan Ruinas Archaeological Site stand out in my mind.
And lest you think a visit during the hot and dry season means lots of brown and grey colors, you'll see brilliant flashes of color, from these....
There are flocks of wild Macaws adding color..... boy did they add color....
The Copan Ruinas Archaeological Site is just 1 Kilometer from Copan Ruinas town which makes it a nice little walk, even when it was hot and humid.
We were happy to return to our room in time for a short break and nap. Oh, the joys of air-conditioning.
During the day folks are coming and going from the Mercado.
The combination of tourists and cowboy hat donning locals made for an interesting sight. Fruit vendors also line the streets in front of the Mercado, and the Missus purchased some marañon (cashew fruit) from one of them. The Missus wanted only just one, but was given a whole bolsa (bag) of mangoes and marañon.....
During the afternoon the vendors switch....and there's no labor laws to keep the children from working....
During the early evening the vendors change again.....and one of the Missus's favorites is available.
But of all of the vendors, the Missus's favorite was the "Mango Man"......
On one morning we saw a line standing out side the back of a huge truck on a side street.
The truck was full of mangoes, and the Missus bought a few, which She really enjoyed. Later that day, we saw the truck on another street. During the evening, the truck was at another location, and I swear as we were walking back to our room, I could hear snoring coming from the back of the truck. I'm guessing, much like the Durian Lady in Chiang Mai, these guys fill the truck with mangoes and head to town, selling mangoes from the back of the truck. When the mangoes were gone, they drove back to whence they came..... such is the life of the "Mango Man".
There was of course one reason for our visit to Copan Ruinas. It was to visit the Mayan ruins of Copan. There was just so much, that I'll do it as a "two-parter ". Because of the length, I'll do it in two parts, but I'll start this post with Comedor Ikchel, a little Comedor we noticed on a side street away from Parque Central.
When we arrived, the rustic looking comedor was empty.
The reason we chose this comedor was the menu, which was small, and interesting in spite of the over-abundance of Espaguetis (spaghetti) and Hamburguesa type dishes.
We placed our order, and I requested some "Encurtido", except this itme the lady running the place had no clue as to what I was saying. Finally, with some hand signals, and the word cebollas (onions), and some laughter, she figured out what these bozo customers were requesting, and a nice refreshing bowl of pickled onions, peppers, and carrots made its way to the table.
As we had learned from our meal at Las Tejitas, many of the dishes are made from scratch to order. And from this experience, it is the same with Almuerzos (lunch). We sat back, and watched the Honduran soap opera on the tube, while we waited for our meal. About forty-five minutes later, our meals arrived.
The Missus had trumped me, and ordered what I had been looking at, the Pollo a la Cerveza, chicken braised in beer. And it was a fine looking piece of dark meat chicken.
The chicken was full of flavor derived from the oregano, onions, cilantro, celery, and peppers used in cooking. It was without a doubt a "rice" dish. As is typical with these type of lunches, the multi starch trio of rice, fries, and tortillas were present and accounted for.
I had ordered the Pollo a la Plancha, which is usually a grilled chicken, but in this base a sauteed piece of white meat chicken.
It was pretty dry, and the sauce tasted much like bottled American BBQ sauce. Strangely, the Missus liked this....or more likely knew I enjoyed the other dish more, and gave me what She ordered.
Along with a large bottle of water the damage came out to about $10/US. That's it for the food on this post.
Copan Ruinas Archaelogical Park Part 1 - The Museum of Sculpture:
Having gotten our feet wet with a visit to the Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya, and having done some research the Missus and I knew that having a guide would be a necessity. Great Mayan scholar and Archaeologist Sylvanus Morley once called the Ruins at Copan the "Athens of the New World". While dwarfed in size by grand Mayan sites, such as Tikal, the ruins at Copan manages to squeeze in some of the most intricate and fascinating Mayan sculptures.
After paying our admission, and hiring an English speaking guide, a former school teacher with ten years of experience as a guide, who turned out to be very knowledgable. We were on our way.
It was decided that we should first visit the Museum of Sculpture, just across the parking lot, and we were so glad we did. To enter the Museum, you enter through the mouth of a serpent into a dark tunnel, which represents Xibalba the "underworld". You walk out of the tunnel, and the first thing that grabs you is the reproduction of the Rosalila Temple at the center of the museum, it is quite a site to behold. And to think, this temple was built, only to be buried by the next ruler, who would build on top of former temples.
From here, it's mostly photos, of the displays, along with signs that provide information about the various pieces.
This wonderfully intricate sculpture was one of my favorites. The amount of detail was amazing, and I can only imagine how surprised and overjoyed the Archaelogists were at finding this treasure.
This sculpture is called "The Scribe" and I was told it represents the God which protects the Mayan scribes and artists who were held in high esteem in Mayan civilization.
You can see the paintbrush in the Scribe's right hand....
The Missus's favorite sculpture in the museum was the "Old Man". It is believed that this was a representation of Pauahtun, the Elders who "held up the skies".
The Missus spent a good amount of time in front of this sculpture. I guess it "spoke to Her" in some way.....
In fact, after our morning touring the ruins, we returned to the Sculpture Museum, so the Missus could look at this scultpure one more time.....
I'll cover the ruins in our next Honduras post. For those who hung on until the end, thanks so much!
After lunch at Churrasqueria Mom's on the day of arrival in Copan Ruinas, the Missus decided that She just HAD to see Los Sapos ("The Toads"),an ancient site of rock carvings where women gave birth. Toads were a fertility symbol, and there are supposedly carvings of toads. I say supposedly, because after walking 8 kilometers in the hot mid-day sun, with the locals staring at the crazy tourists who were actually walking the hot, dusty trail of their own free will, uphill to Hacienda San Lucas,and paying admission, when we walked the trail to Los Sapos, the packs of dogs lying around the ruins spooked the Missus. Here's the photo of Los Sapos, you can see a few of the dogs in the right hand side of the photo:
Which meant we turned around and headed back the way we came. Boy did I need a nap in the air conditioned comfort for our room. After a short nap, and about ten liters of water, I awoke feeling much better. Before dinner we headed off to the Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya, located at the West end of Parque Central.
The museum is small, but in our opinion well worth visiting, as it laid a nice foundation for us before our visit to the Ruins.
There are a few very interesting pieces in the museum, of special interest are some of the original altars from the Ruins.
Of particular interest are the beautifully carved " eccentric flints". We were told that the flints were used for ceremonial bloodletting. I readily admit there's a hidden fourteen year old inside of me whose undivided attention can be bought with the simple mention of blood letting and human sacrifice.......
If I recall, admission is $2/US.
Of course all of the bloodletting and altars got me pretty hungry. One thing good about the town of Copan Ruinas is that it is small and easy to get from place to placer. We started walking around looking for something to eat. Places like Comedor Mary are pretty well known in the guidebooks, but we were uninspired by the menu of Hamburguesa and pupusas, and places like Jim's Pizza just would not do. Finally, on the same street as the very popular Carnitas Nia Lola, we saw this doorway.
Among the usual suspects were some interesting dishes that we hadn't seen on any of the other menus in Copan Ruinas. None of the dishes exceeded 100 Lempiras (at the time of our visit it was 18.5 Lempiras to a dollar US).
We walked down the green hallway.....
And stepped into the dining room we surprising a family..... two young woman, a boyfriend, and the girl's mother, watching a soap opera on television. Take my word for it, I can recognize a soap opera in any language instantly. Other than that the dining room was totally empty......
Smiles all around, we were led to our table. And though the bargain basement Christmas garland, and the carved wooden lobsters and crabs (Copan Ruinas is nowhere near the ocean) gave me a slight pause, we both felt that we had made a good choice. We ended up placing our order, to the glee of the older woman, who marched into the kitchen. Suddenly, we could hear the clang of pots and pans, chopping, and a noise of a blender, as if an army of cooks were at work! It was an amazing din! All for us, two customers.....
Being used to how things went by now, we knew that this would take a while, and not in a bad way. To the contrary, we were somewhat comforted that there was a decision, at least in our case, to do it right. If the dish would take an hour to prepare correctly, by God they'd take an hour! All the better to have a beer....
And maybe take the time out to read the label on the various sauces provided.
Luckily, I recalled one of the few words I had learned... "encurtido". And this time, the young lady could understand my mumblings. And soon a huge container of pickled veggies made its way to our table.
Man was this good! This was the best encurtido we had on this trip. The veggies were crisp, with a nice balance of salty, sweet, and sour. Secondly, there was a good variety of peppers, onions, carrots, and even pacaya in the encurtido.
Eventually, our dishes made their way to the table. I had ordered the Carne Mechada.
Along with the routine green salad and the three headed carb attack (papas fritas, tortillas, and rice), the beef was a pretty hefty sized slice of what appeared to be flank steak sauteed in a tangy tomato and oregano based sauce. The beef was on the chewy side, but not unpleasantly so, and this was not short on flavor.
The Missus ordered what turned out to be possibly the best dish of our trip; Pollo en Semilla de Ayote:
It was the sauce that made this a really good dish, a complex combination of nutty, tangy, and herbaceous flavors. It was a simply fricasseed chicken thigh wrapped in a wonderful sauce. I believe that this was what all the commotion in the kitchen was about.
The Missus also wanted to order the Pacaya Capeada, since Pacaya was in season. Pacaya is the male inflorescense of the Chamaedorea tepejilote a species of palm.
Egg battered, and smothered in a tomato based sauce, we've had a similar dish before. This was very much like that dishr. The only difference was that the Pacaya was less bitter, and much more tender. I'm thinking that the version I had in San Diego was made with bottled pacaya.
With homey service, and food well worth the wait, and whether it was the privacy, or whatever, this was the meal we remember the most most on our trip. And there was one more thing we'll remember. You have to understand that in many places in Honduras, the plumbing system is not up to Western standards. That would mean that you don't flush the toilet paper, you discard it in the trash can next to the commode. Unfortunately, the water closet, and it was, a closet that had no ventilation....I don't think I need to say anything more. Plus the, toilet didn't work, so you had to grab a bucket from the sink outside the closet and use gravity. After returning to our table, the Missus said She needed to go to the commode. I tried to convince Her otherwise, but failed. The Missus walked up to the restroom, opened the door, and recoiled as if someone smacked Her. I warned Her........
Water closet notwithstanding, that Pollo en Semilla de Ayote was a heck of dish!
For those who read this to the end, I thank you for hanging in there!
There would be no birds singing "ooo-wee" on this Antigua morning, as we woke at 4am for our 5am shuttle to the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras. Seven hours later we arrived. Dropped off on a side street, and walking to the inevitable Parque Central, we were both overcome with the heat (though not nearly as hot as Cambodia), and charmed by this little town of seven thousand. Yes, tourism is big business here, and hotels line the streets in every direction from Parque Central.
But it's the locals that add color. At Parque Central, you see tourists milling with the local "cowboys" making for an entertaining, and somewhat surreal experience.
Our first mission upon arriving was finding a place to sleep, which was accomplished quickly. The second was getting some Lempiras, Honduran currency. We entered one of the banks across the street from Parque Central....and to our surprise, we found that they didn't change Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) for Lempiras! In fact, only one location in Copan "legally" made these exchanges. But luckily, as we've found in our travels, everyone will most willingly exchange dollars. One bonus was that the bank always seemed to have its A/C turned to "freeze". In the future, when it was getting a bit too hot, we'd often head off to the bank to exchange cash, and cool off. While I was in line, the Missus walked on over to the three guards, each of them armed with shotguns, and started a conversation of sorts. By now She had the rule of decent eats down....all the police officers and security guards know where to grab decent eats. By the time I stuffed the wad of Lempiras in my pocket, the exchange rate was somewhere about 18.5 Lempiras to a dollar, the Missus had gotten a name and directions to our lunch spot.
A place called "Momo's". As we arrived, it turned out that Momo's was a Churrasqueria, basically a steakhouse.
The seating was "al fresco" on a covered porch like area. And the very nice...and patient young man who served us was a joy. We undoubtedly amused him........
The place was empty, and we sat near the rear of the porch area. It looked like the family lived in the huts at the back of the restaurant, and there were tropical birds in cages enjoying the shade.
The menu at Momo's is mostly comprised of Desayunos (breakfast items), Churrascos (grilled meats), Pinchos (Kabobs), and Parrilladas (combination plates).
After looking over the menu, I went with the Puyazo, a basic grilled beef. (145 Lps - $6.50):
Looking at the meat, I thought it was going to be rather tough, but I was pleasantly surprised. The meat was tender, with great flavor, undoubtedly grass fed. The meat had been seasoned with salt, oregano, and other herbs. The Missus had a taste and declared it delicious. My meal came with the usual sides, and tons of tortillas.
The Missus started with a Licuados(think smoothie). And when She requested a "mixto" of Sandia and Pina, they gladly made it.
Now the Missus wasn't too hungry, and decided to order something "small". Thinking that it would be somthing light, She went with the Honduran calorie bomb called a Baleadas. She ordered the Baleadas con Frijoles, Queso, y Crema, thinking that the non-meat version would be fairly small.
This was as wide as Her forearm. Baleadas are similar to quesadillas, and is a typical breakfast dish. This one was 15Lps - less than two bucks.
We found that huge breakfasts are the norm here. I saw a young man eating a humongous plate of food....the Desayunos con carne. Check out what was on the plate:
I'm glad that I had a pretty hefty lunch....the Missus had one of Her typical "death marches" in store for me after lunch!
Apparently, the Missus had enjoyed this meal. On our last night in Copan Ruinas, the Missus choseMomo's. So we found ourselves back, with the same nice young man serving us.
The Missus again started with Her Licuados....the young man had remembered us (who could forget), and asked Her, "mixto?" Which is what She got.....
The Missus decided on the Filete Mignon (150 Lps - $8.50):
It wasn't much to look at, and the Papas Fritas (french fries) were and after-thought, but it had decent flavor.
I went with the Churrasco Jalapeno (130 Lps - $6):
This large piece of skirt was smothered in a cheese-cream sauce. There was a whole roasted jalapeno pepper partially hidden in the sauce. Though I enjoyed the Puyazo better, this sure wasn't short on flavor. Of course, there were tortillas provided.
I had thought an order of Plantano Frito (Fried Plantains) would make a nice pseudo-dessert.
For the life of us, we could not figure out what the queso (cheese) and frijoles(beans) were for. I tried eating the sweet plantanos with the queso and frijoles and didn't find that a pleasant experience.
Overall, we enjoyed our meals at Momo's. It also gave us a clue as to how substantial meals are. It is not cheap by Honduran standards. We saw the young man one evening when headed back to our hotel, he gave us a shy smile and a wave. We were enjoying our time in Copan Ruinas......
We spent parts of our two days visiting some of the villages that surround Lago Atitlan such as Tzununa, San Pedro La Laguna, wonderful San Juan La Laguna, and the colorful Santiago Atitlan, where older men still wear the traditional "traje".
Our next stop was the island-like town of Flores, on Lake Peten Itza.
Flores is the usual stopping off point for magnificent Tikal and it's towering temples.
After two nights, and a full day we were off to Honduras, and laid-back Copan Ruinas.
We loved Copan Ruinas, and in spite of the grandness of Tikal, we enjoyed the ruins at Copan even more!
The amazing carvings and scupltures made hiring a guide necessary, and we were glad we did. Our guide had over ten years of experience at the ruins, so we were provided with tons of stories and information. There's a reason why famed Archeologist Sylvanus Morley called the Ruins at Copan the "Athens of the New World".
We found the folks to be kind, with hearts as big as all of Central America. We made friends with a generous and warm family in Antigua, and on our last day, they decided to have us experience a bit more of Guatemala, which included this breathtaking view of Lago Amatitlan, and their hometown, Amatitlan.
And yes, I do remember that this is a food blog.....
And just for a bit more drama.......we had to fly in and out of Mexico City......and the spectre of "Gripe Porcina".....
I also realize that I'm still not done with our last trip....so I hope to finish those posts off in the near future as well.