We woke up after a restless few hours sleep, pulled on our already laid out clothes and dragged our backpacks to the front gate. It was just before 2am and our shuttle had already arrived to take us all the way to Copán in Honduras. With bleary eyes we boarded the minibus and after picking up two more travellers we began our journey. The shuttle crossed from Nicaragua into Honduras and rather than drive north towards the capital city we took a road headed straight toward El Salvador. We crossed into El Salvador and stopped at a petrol station for breakfast as we'd already been driving for hours and the sun had risen. A petrol station breakfast sounds like it would naturally be a horrible thing but actually it was quite delicious, the set up reminded me of breakfast at Woolworths as a child, little trays and dishes behind glass to choose from. Putting our Spanish to the test we pointed out the items we wanted; 'heuvo por favour', 'arroz con frijoles', 'plantain y queso'. We drove on further, eventually reaching a beach town where we had to change vans and were able to take a break by going for a walk. It was hot and the town was full of cafes and tourists, mostly American. We walked to the beach which we found to be a popular surfing destination and we had just enough time for a fruity milkshake with a view over the river before we had to return to the office to be led by our new driver to the new shuttle bus. The two guys that we had been travelling with had said goodbye, El Salvador was the end destination for them. We had a new group of people to travel all the way to Copán with.
On we went to the El Salvador/Guatemala border, by this point we'd travelled the entire length of El Salvador. Our original plan before we really realised how the Central American geography and road network worked was to travel in Honduras and then pop into El Salvador for a couple of nights before travelling onto Guatemala. Because of our actual route we decided not to return to El Salvador again as it would be too expensive to drive all the way back and would cost us too much time. With hindsight we probably could have jumped off in El Salvador for a night or two and then carried on to Copán but we hadn't really thought of that when booking. Knowing that we weren't coming back I made an effort to really look outside at the towns we passed through and the landscape which did look beautiful, perhaps we will return one day in the future for a proper look.
We arrived in Guatemala, drove north and re-entered Honduras just as the sun was starting to set. We'd been awake since before 2am and had travelled via four countries in one day, a new record. We'd incurred exit and entry fees along the way, the fact that we had to pay just to travel through did niggle a bit at the time. After a quick pose in front of the Honduras sign we drove on to Copán arriving after nightfall. Our shuttle ticket included a night in a dorm room which we were shown to. Craig was feeling annoyed because the room quality was pretty poor but as we had just two nights in Copán and we were so exhausted from travel we didn't argue. We popped out for a bite to eat and found a restaurant serving local food, at first glance the menu looked very meat heavy and we thought we may struggle with the local cuisine. We found a 'fast food' section on the menu with prices that were incredibly cheap. Baleadas caught our eye due to the ingredients listed, we hadn't heard of them before but it turned out that they were a toasted flour tortilla filled with a choice of things including cheese, beans, egg and avocado. We ordered a couple each with a side of fries and were pleasantly surprised. The setting in a courtyard with a barbecue blazing and local families tucking in made for a lovely experience.
We awoke and went for breakfast which was meant to be included in our shuttle ticket. The hostel owner was oblivious to this and wasn't really willing to oblige. Luckily I had taken a photograph of the shuttle advertisement hanging on the wall of our hostel in León which blatantly said dorm bed and breakfast included. He sent us up the road to a sister establishment which was much nicer and we were served free pancakes at a rustic wooden table. Something we've learned in all our travels is that if you think you're entitled to something for free then definitely insist on it as it saves valuable pennies. Also, do as I do and take reference photos of everything for proof if needed. In the daylight we were able to see the town properly and it was rather lovely. With Honduras having such a tumultuous history and a pretty terrifying reputation I wasn't sure what to expect but Copán Ruinas to give it its complete name was quaint and pretty. The main square was surrounded by preserved buildings and restaurants and the streets were clean and full of friendly locals sat on benches chatting.
With just a day to explore the ruins of Copán that we came all this way to see we hot footed it along the winding road to the Mayan site. We passed a few small ruined statues on the route and eventually turned off to the ticket office. We walked down a long tree lined path behind an armed guard who was patrolling the area and found an area with perches for wild scarlet macaws that are being reintroduced into the area. Every now and again out of the corner of my eye I'd spot a bright red flash of feathers, never before have I seen such a colourful bird in the wild. We passed intricately carved stone bricks and sculptures before reaching an open area with stepped pyramids which were free to climb. What sets Copán apart from other Mayan sites in Central America is the detailed decoration on the temples and the preserved carvings. Copán pyramids and temples aren't the biggest or the most impressive by size but they are the most artistic. A huge staircase with ornately carved statues had been covered with a large piece of tarpaulin suspended above to keep the rain at bay to avoid any further erosion. The steps were not able to be climbed which was understandable given the quality that needed preservation. As we walked around groups of school children started to pop up which obviously meant that the site was no longer completely peaceful. There was so much to see that we spent a good few hours wandering, we found skulls carved from stone, rock that had colourful pigment smeared on and fallen leaf covered areas with not a soul in sight.
After climbing steps and walking along stone walls we found a trail leading through the forest. There we saw some hidden away sights and also lots of little lizards dashing around, the trail was deserted. With our day exploring at an end we returned to the town and went back to the cheap local eatery for more baleadas, this time I had fresh avocado with mine. With another travel day arranged for tomorrow our time in Honduras was already up. All the worry had been for nothing as we found Copán to be a safe and welcoming town and the wonderful Mayan ruins had been well worth the long and tiring journey.
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