The Copan Ruins sit about 15km into Honduras from the border with Guatemala. The tiny town that sits alongside was also a pleasant surprise- delicious local coffee, extremely cheap pupusas (the stuffed fluffy tortilla thing that I ate so often in Xela (even though it is Salvadorean)), beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and more cowboy hats being proudly worn than I would expect to find at a rodeo. The ruins themselves are an easy twenty minute walk from town, sitting in the middle of a fertile valley surrounded by green green green. Wandering through the entrance gate I was unsure what to expect- I hadn't yet visited any Mayan ruins and while I had heard many people raving about Tikal in Guatemala, Copan was mentioned much less frequently.
Well. To say I was overwhelmed with awe would just about cover it.
A dirt path through towering trees laden with scarlet macaws (really laden is the right word here, they were absolutely everywhere) gives no clue as to what awaits when the jungle opens up, and you arrive on a vast grassy meadow studded with pyramids, altars, a ball court, a staircase covered in 2200 hieroglyphs which form the longest known Mayan hieroglyphic text... and not a person in sight. Low season may have contributed to some of my transit woe, but golly did it do me right in leaving me the ruins to myself. Copan was occupied for more than 2000 years, and a powerful capital from the 5th to the 9th centuries AD. I was pretty lax on looking at my map, so just kept happening upon more and more beautiful structures, with the family residences pushing up into the jungle behind the main meadow and the jungle pushing back, with moss and vines colonizing crumbling stone. Hours passed as I meandered from one vantage point to the next, sitting atop pyramids and clambering up steep stairs. I had a pretty excellent time reading the translations of various rulers names, going from the Great Sun First-Quetzal Macaw through to Moon Jaguar and Smoke Squirrel (or K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', Tzi-B'alam and Ajaw K'ak' Yipyaj Chan K'awiil respectively) and spent quite some time snacking in the shadow of the Hieroglyphic Staircase wondering just how long it takes to carve 2200 hieroglyphs. As the sun started to dip lower in the sky I hesitantly made my way back to town (well not so hesitantly I knew pupusas were waiting).
That night I was the only guest bar one in my hostel, and in a lovely small-world coincidence that other guest was an Aussie girl I'd met when she was a client of Quetzaltrekkers some months before. Both exhausted from long journeys (with her coming the other way from Utila back to Guate) we lazed in hammocks as the sun set and caught up, then were gratefully in bed by 8pm.
Oh, Utila. A week of diving, eating, reading, sleeping, more sleeping, sunsets and sunrises, morning coffees and evening storms. I initially planned to take advantage of the free accommodation offered by my dive shop, but with a plague of mosquitoes, a dorm room that doesn't lock and the recent shenanigans of La Ceiba I broke down and moved to a hotel across the road- air con, private room with a deadbolt, a balcony for watching the sun set and the peace I needed to relax and rest. With a good night's sleep under my belt, I was ready to tackle island life, and begin with exploring the dive sites around the island. Everyone at the dive shop (I dove with Paradise Divers) was extremely lovely and welcoming, and I had a great time messing around with these folks for a week- mostly Spanish speakers which was a fun challenge, though interestingly the main language on the island is not Spanish at all. There have been centuries of Spanish and English fighting over the Bay Islands (of which Utila is one), which has led to a fascinating linguistic landscape. While the official language, and therefore the language taught in schools, is Spanish (we are still in Honduras after all), the locals speak a creole, or a crazy hybrid of English and Spanish which is fiendishly difficult to understand (despite me supposedly being able to speak both of these languages). Often locals seemed to have thick Scottish accents to my ear, and even when they switched out of creole to Spanish or English this accent persisted and by golly did I have a time trying to understand what they were talking about. One of the divemasters was from Argentina, and by comparison his rapid Argentine Spanish was clear as a bell.
The diving itself on Utila to my eyes is not much to write home about- but the lifestyle and people more than make up for it. As do baleadas, a local flatbread spread with beans and avocado, pickled onions and salsa and lime and pure deliciousness. That being said the reef is quite healthy, though there aren't so many soft corals, and we saw a few turtles and some ocean critters I've never seen before which was exciting. There is a great shipwreck you can explore, weaving through the cabins and following fish as they dart around the ship's wheel, and a dive site called Labyrinth which is full of swim-throughs and caves you can squeeze into which was great (if a tiny bit nerve-wracking). The water is the warmest I've ever been diving in, with no need for a wetsuit, and those trademark Caribbean colours were brilliant under a strong sun.
My very last night on the island an enormous storm rolled through, and sitting on my balcony because sleeping in that thunder was not a thing I really felt engulfed in the storm- what a farewell.
My return to Antigua, Guatemala, was far smoother than my journey to Utila, taking a shuttle with a lovely British guy and having enough space to lie down and nap most of the 13 hour drive. Tomorrow I'll fly to Mexico City, with only five weeks of travel left and so much to do in that time I feel I'll be home before I know it. The day is just beginning here, and shall be fittingly filled with indulgence, as last days should be- coffee and food and sitting in Parque Central watching the world go by.
Tales from Mexico to follow,