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  Copán Ruinas, Honduras
by Stacey Holeman, Summer 2005

Had two wonderful weeks exploring Copán Ruinas, Honduras while staying with a host family and studying Spanish at the Escuela de Español Ixbalanque. Here are a few of my thoughts:

The town itself is quaint and interesting (cobbled streets, tile roofsCopan Ruinas Market, bright stucco), LOTS of shops catering to tourists (150,000 people a year visit the ruins) but not spoiled by tourists. I avoided the gringo hang-outs, though I've heard some of them have excellent food. There's a new hostel (Manzana Verde - green apple - that looked interesting and I didn't see in any guide books).

The people were friendly and willing to help with my Spanish - overall seemed to like that I was giving it a try.

The surrounding area is extremely mountainous and worth exploring - Indian villages, hiking, birding, waterfalls, caves, hot springs.

The ruins are beautiful, only bummer is the excellent museum will continue to be closed for months for structural repairs. We LOVED Tikal for its setting and grandeur and we LOVED Copán for its setting, art, sculpture, giant stone faces, and trees. There's a nice nature trail you should take if you won't have a chance to get out hiking anywhere else. Go when they open at 8:00 am (best) or late in the day to avoid the crowds, don't miss the cementerío on the far side, one of our favorite spots.

In addition to the above I visited and enjoyed:
~~The butterfly farm (easy walk from town, displays, life cycle information plus a large, beautifully planted butterfly enclosure and two orchid houses)
~~Hacienda San Lucas (2-3 km from town - steep going up; I chose to take a mototaxi up and walked back through working farm land and along the Copán River; restored as a B & B, still a working farm, great views, hammocks, dogs, and hiking trails, including a fairly short hike to Los Sapos (the toads) which was, apparently, an ancient Mayan birthing site - loved that place.)
~~Macaw Mt. Bird Park (Parque de Aves - 3-4? km out of town a different way, gorgeous landscaped grounds along a river, wheel-chair accessible sidewalks and observation decks, hundreds of exotic birds that are native to Latin America including macaws, parrots, and toucans. This place is beautifully done and the birds are lovely, but doesn't seem very "Honduran".)
~~Agua Caliente (45-60 minutes out of town, depending on the road conditions, which can be very bad. The hike to the source of the water is through fabulous rainforest and the drive up through villages makes the trip worth it. The pools themselves were turquoise cement, bath water temperature, and a little scummy/buggy.)
~~El Boqueron cave (45 minute drive on some of the worst "roads" in the world plus a hot, mountainous hike through farmland [no joke - some of the farmed hillsides were 45-50 degree angles]. Cave itself was interesting with a variety of structures and textures, lots of water time, bats everywhere [including interesting colonies of juveniles] and the biggest spider I've ever seen - mouse-sized body and each leg 5-6 inches long.)
~~El Rubi Waterfall (30-45 minutes but in roughly the same direction as the cave, still thought to be dangerous unless you go with someone from up there or someone who knows the villagers, pretty hike, narrow suspension bridge, then up the river [which was high and fast when I was there] to the falls themselves.)
~~Birding with Jorge Barraza (this guy is AMAZING at spotting birds and interesting to talk to) was a guide at the ruins in the early 80's but couldn't read or write so actually attended primary through secondary school in his 20's, learned to speak English, and began studying the indigenous bird species. He also took us out to breakfast at a traditional "restaurant" in a house in an Indian village which was fascinating.

After studying hard for 3 terms at a local community college I arrived in Copán Ruinas with lots of vocabulary, an inadequate recollection of verb tenses, and not much usable Spanish. After two weeks of 1-on-1 tutoring (4-6 hours/day),
Carlos, the Stone Carvera homestay with only Spanish, and lots of effort on my part to practice around town (a special thank you to the Yaragua Tours guide named Talo who took me to the cave and the waterfall, Carlos the stone carver (pictured) in the Mercado Artesanal, the taxi drivers, and girls from La Pintada village who sell corn husk dolls in the square), I can say pretty much whatever I need to and have a good handle on the most useful 5 or so verb tenses, but still need people to talk SLOWLY to hold a lengthy conversation.

My teachers at Ixbalanque were excellent, my host family fascinating (3 generations coming and going, lots of laughter and singing and way too much food), and the school itself lovely.  I was glad I had a pocket Spanish/English dictionary and a few study guides with me.  I found it frustrating a time or two that my teachers didn't speak much English, but in retrospect, I probably learned more and had a better overall experience since the language immersion was complete.

Hedman Alas isn't the cheapest bus company, but very comfortable and safe; they pass out soft drinks and snacks and show American movies with Spanish subtitles (good practice for me as I couldn't really hear the English). The trip from San Pedro Sula takes 2.5-3 hours, take Dramamine or bromine ahead if you tend to get carsick as the last hour is really curvy.

Internet access is widely available, though the electricity was out off and on.

Local women wear skirts and, occasionally, long pants; I never saw a Honduran man in shorts. I felt more comfortable in skirts and pants other than shorts.

It rained - sometimes HARD - most evenings and into the night, sometimes starting in late afternoon, rarely during the day.

Hardly saw a mosquito but did get a few bites in jungley areas if I didn't have repellent on.

If you go to Copán Ruinas, stay for awhile - 1 or 2 days wouldn't cut it for me. Walk around between 7 and 8 in the morning as people leave for work, walk to school, scrub the sidewalks, and set up their shops. Somehow get up the road to Aqua Caliente village or at least to Sesemil to see how people live up there.

2007 Update:  Ixbalanque is now operating in a new, large beautiful buidling.  Also, the museum at the ruins has been reparied and is again open to the public.

Here's a link to my Honduras pictures if anyone is interested.

Stacey visited Copan Ruinas in June 2005 and sent along words of appreciation as well as this article and photos to encourage others on their Spanish studies.  Thanks Stacey.


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La Esperanza
Copan Ruinas
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May 2006
Oct 2007
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