Thursday, April 18, 2013

5 - Incidents of Travel: Mayan Ruins

Part 5: Accomodations at Copan, 1839 and Now

Terramaya Hotel
Accomodations at Copan have changed dramatically since John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood visited the ruins in 1839.  Here is an excerpt describing one of the many nice Hotels in the area now, the Terramaya, “Absolutely charming, small boutique hotel. Rooms are spacious and updated/modern while retaining that hacienda charm. Breakfast served on the terrace every morning was delicious with fresh fruit, granola, and a hot plate that varies every morning from scrambled eggs to pancakes to huevos rancheros. The hour long massage in the garden was well worth the $40. … the upstairs rooms facing the back had a nice balcony with a hamock.”

In 1839, however, the ruins were privately owned and part of a large ranch.  Compare Stephen’s account of his accomodations, “… Don Gregario arrived.  He was about fifty, had large black whiskers, and a beard of several day’s growth.  It was easy to see that he was a domestic tyrant.  The glance which he threw at us before dismounting seemed to say to us, “Who are you?" I told him that we had come into that neighbourhood to visit the ruins of Copan, and his manner said, ‘What’s that to me?’ but he answered that they were on the other side of the river.  I asked him whether we could procure a guide, and again he said that the only man who knew anything about them lived on the other side of the river. 
As yet we did not make sufficient allowance for the distracted state of the country;…  but relying on the reputation of the country for hospitality, I was rather slow in coming to the disagreeable conclusion that we were not welcome.  I ordered the muleteer to saddle the mules; but the rascal refused to saddle his beasts again that day.

“Don Gregario was the great man of Copan; the richest man, and the petty tyrant; and it would be most unfortunate to have a rupture with him, or even to let it be known at the village that we were not well received at his house.  Mr. Catherwood took a seat on the piazza.  The don sat on a chair, with our detestable muleteer by his side, and a half-concealed smile of derision on his face, talking of “idols,” and looking at me.  By this time eight or ten men, sons, servants, and laborers had come in from their day’s work.  The women turned away their heads; and the men, taking their cue from the don, looked so insulting, that I told Mr. Catherwood we would tumble our luggage into the road, and curse him for an inhospitable churl; but Mr. Catherwood warned me against it, urging that, if we had an open quarrel with him, after all our trouble we would be prevented seeing the ruins.

“After supper all prepared for sleep.  The don’s house had two sides, an inside and an out.  The don and his family occupied the former, and we the latter; but we had not even this to ourselves.  All along the wall were frames made of sticks about an inch thick, tied together with bark strings, over which the workmen spread an untanned oxhide for a bed.  There were three hammocks besides ours, and I had so little room for mine that my body described an inverted parabola, with my heels as high as my head.

“In the morning Don Gregario was in the same humour.  We made our toilet under the shed with as much respect as possible to the presence of the female members of the family, who were constantly passing.  We had made up our minds to hold on and see the ruins; and fortunately, early in the morning, one of the crusty don’s sons brought over from the village Jose, the guide of whom we stood in need.”

The guide led Stephens and Catherwood to the ruins.  Clearly, Stephens was not disappointed.  Here is his account of his first glimpse of a Mayan ruin, “We came to the bank of a river, and saw directly opposite a stone wall, perhaps a hundred feet high, with a furze growing out of the top, running north and south along the river, in some places fallen, but in other entire.  It had more the character of a structure than any we had ever seen ascribed to the aborigines of America, and formed part of the wall of Copan, an ancient city on whose history books throw but little light.”

Have you seen a Mayan ruin?  Share your impressions.
Link to Part 4

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