A Protest Around La Unión Hold Up My Trip
As I have written before, the biggest transportation problem on my trip was getting from Copán, Honduras to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. In the end, I was right. There had at one time been shuttle buses that made the trip, but either they had been canceled or occurred only during certain times. In the end, I cut a deal with a Honduran travel agency called Baseline Tours out of the Café ViaVia to hire a car and driver to:
- Drive me to Rio Dulce
- Allow for a one- or two-hour stopover at the Maya ruins of Quiriguá on the way
I wound up paying 1,700 Guatemalan quetzales (about $217) for a car and driver to take me there. I could have taken public transportation for much cheaper, but it would have thrown a monkey wrench into my schedule. I would have had to take a collectívo to the Guatemalan border at El Florido, a Litegua bus to Chiquimula, and an (unspecified) second class bus to Quirigua, where I would have had to spend the night. And then, I would have had to face the chore of a bus from Quiriguá to Morales, and from Morales to Rio Dulce. So I spent the money and adhered to my schedule.
Except there was one little unforeseen difficulty. Midway between El Florido and Chiquimula, the highway was closed in both directions because the residents of La Unión were protesting en masse some government dictate or malfeasance. For an hour and a half, I sat in the car reading my Kindle when—quite suddenly—the local police (shown above) started letting traffic through.
It is not unusual to find whole towns in Latin America shutting down access to and from their towns while they make their point to the government. Bolivia is particularly notorious for this type of action.
In the end, I got to Quiriguá and Rio Dulce with time to spare. It was not an accident that I left early, around 8 AM, to allow for this sort of hindrance.
Altar L with God/Kings of Copán
When I first began traveling in Maya lands, the Maya did not appear to have a history. Now that so many of their glyphs have been translated, we see that—particularly in the Classic Period between AD 600 and and some point in the 9th century AD, most of the major archeological sites not only had a history, but a rich one as well.
The first event recorded at Copán in Honduras was in 321 BC on Altar I. There was a founder of a dynasty called K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ who ruled between 416 and 437 AD. Then there were two unnamed rulers before K’altuun Hix dedicated a carved step inside the Papagaya Structure around 480 AD. There were two more unnamed rulers before Balam Nehn (524-532 AD) and Wil Ohl K’inich (532-551 AD). After an unnamed Ruler 9, we have a filled-chronology that takes us all the way to 822 AD:
- Moon Jaguar (553-578)
- K’ak’ Chan Yopaat (578-628)
- Smoke Imix (628-695)
- Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil, better known as 18 Rabbit (695-738)
- K’ak’ Joplaj Chan K’awiil, better known as Smoke Monkey (738-749)
- K’ak Yipyaj Chan K’awiil better known as Smoke Shell (749-763)
- Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, better known as Yax Pac (763-820)
- Ukit Took’ (began reign in 822 AD)
It was Ukit Took’, the last known ruler of Copán, who dedicated Altar L, shown above, identifying his predecessors. There are no known dates at Copán after 822 AD.
What happened in 822? The kingship failed for various reasons, as it did around then through most of the adjacent area, for environmental reasons (probably drought), overpopulation, and a change in the form of governance.
As alien as the dynastic names above may seem, the chronology is surer than that of many European dynasties of the period. The calendar was sacred to the Maya, so they were sure to note the exact date that events occurred—and that didn’t even happen in most European countries of the Dark Ages.
Honduran Invader Armed to the Teeth
Even as thousands of Hondurans are making a bid to upset the American government, I am planning to invade Honduras. On Friday, I went to the Bretton Woods Foreign Currency Exchange in Brentwood and bought $140 worth of Honduran lempiras. (That’s not a food: It’s what their currency is called.) I checked to see f they had any Guatemalan quetzales, but they were dead out. I’ll just hope to get those at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.
My Honduran destination is only a few miles shy of the Guatemalan border: The Maya ruins at Copán. It will be the first Maya archeological site for my upcoming trip. The others are Quirigua and Tikal, both in the Petén region of Guatemala.
Five Lempira Note
The Five Lempira note illustrated above has a portrait of Francisco Morazán, the only figure in Honduran history I have ever heard of before. He figures in John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán as the generalissimo of the Central American Republic, which existed briefly before splitting up into its component parts.
I hope the Hondurans manage to find some place in the world of the Norte after they succeed in overthrowing the Trumpf Dictatorship.
Aaaauuugh! I Lost My Passport!
As my Guatemala vacation approaches, I find that I have misplaced my passport. I applied for a new one to be rushed to me, but now it appears that our Ogre President is considering shutting down the government because no one likes him or his moronic policies. At this point, I am not sure that the U.S. State Department is scheduled to close its doors; and there is a chance that I will get my replacement passport before the Friday witching hour of midnight.
If that Marmalade-Headed Horror screws up my vacation, I will do my best to wreak revenge on everything he holds dear, like selling Ivanka to a notorious white-slaver or feeding Don Jr to one of his African hunting trophies.
I will attempt to be patient while visions of revenge rule my thoughts.
The Guesthouse Óðinn in Reykjavík—At Midnight Around the Summer Solstice
The first time I visited Iceland, in 2001, I went in June. In 2013, I went again—this time in June so that I could see “The Land of the Midnight Sun” for myself. My first day back in Reykjavík, I deliberately stayed up late. I believe it turned out to be a 32-hour day, as the whole country is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It turned out to be a day and evening crowded with sights:
- I took a harbor tour to see the puffins
- Twice, I stopped in at Bæjarins Bestu for their famous pylsur (that’s hot dogs in Icelandic)
- I discovered pear-flavored skyr (like yogurt) at a market on Austurvöllur
- I had a delicious and leisurely fish dinner at the Fish Company on Vesturgata
- As a lover of Icelandic Sagas, I visited the Culture House on Hverfisgata to see the original manuscripts
- I toured the Settlement Exhibition, which is an archeological dig of one of the first settlements in the city dated around AD 871
- Finally, I took a ghost walking tour of Reykjavík, including the cemetery on Suðurgata
After the walking tour, I was good and tired, but I knew that I didn’t want to hit the sack until after midnight local time to minimize the jet lag. (That actually worked.) Secondly, I wanted to see when it started to get dark. I wasn’t about to stay up until 3 am local time, but I did snap a picture of my bed & breakfast right around midnight. Fortunately, the guesthouse had good blackout curtains, so I was able to drift off within minutes of hitting the pillow.
Guatemalan Army Elite Kaibil Troops
Usually translated as “Tigers,” the kaibiles are elite counterinsurgency troops of the Guatemalan army. According to Ronald Wright’s Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, the Mayan word actually implies a “double” or something of double the normal strength. Wright describes meeting a kaibil detachment as he enters Guatemala from Belize:
The pole across the road is lifted, and we are waved through, between a wooden watchtower and a sandbagged machine-gun nest. Not far beyond the tower there’s a billboard with a naive painting pf a Guatemalan soldier in camouflage fatigues. The soldier is shouting, “If I advance, follow me; if I delay, hurry me; if I retreat, kill me!” An inscription below him boasts: ¡AQUI SE FORJAN LOS MEJORES COMBATIENTES DE AMERICA!—HERE ARE FORGED THE BEST FIGHTERS IN AMERICA! I have just begun to wonder whether this is intended for Belizean visitors or rebellious citizens when I see the back of the sign, which direcs its message to those coming from the Guatemalan interior. It shows a gorilla head in the King Kong tradition, or maybe Planet of the Apes. Maniacal eyes burn ferociously, the gaping mouth is dripping with blood and armed with sharp fangs; and lest anyone fail to get the pun … the creature wears a Che Guevara cap. Above it is the single word ¡ATREVETE!—roughly, MAKE MY DAY.
Wright goes on to describe kaibil hazing rituals which include cannibalism and drinking human blood.
His book, which was originally written in 1989, is (fortunately) now a little dated. Most of the depredations on the Maya population by the Guatemalan army have ceased since a peace that was signed in 1996. Still, when I go to Guatemala in January, I plan to steer clear of the army. Many of the army posts Wright describes no longer exist. I hope.
The Airline I Will Be Taking on My Vacation
I have been talking long enough about my upcoming trip to Guatemala, but I finally took steps to reserve my flight to Guatemala City and back and reserve accommodations for the first part of my trip in the highlands. These include the Antigua and Santiago Atitlán. Within the next few days, I will also reserve single-night stays in Panajachel and Chichicastenango.
The second part of the trip—to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Copan, and Quirigua—will remain fluid because of lingering transportation concerns. Right now, the plans for the second half of the trip appear to be a bit complicated:
- Take a shuttle bus from Antigua or Guatemala City to Copan, just over the border into Honduras
- Take “chicken buses” from Copan to Rio Dulce in Guatemala via El Florido and Chiquimula
- Hire a car and driver to take to from Rio Dulce to Quirigua and back
- Take a first-class bus from Rio Dulce to Flores and then to El Remate
- Take a minibus from El Remate to Tikal
- Return via bus to Flores
- Fly back to Guatemala City, or take a 12-hour first class bus back if I haven’t burned up too many days by the above
My airline of choice for this trip is Colombian-based Avianca. If you are not familiar with the airline, it is the oldest commercial carrier in the Western Hemisphere—older than any of the U.S. carriers with their money-grubbing extra fees. The plane may have Taca or Lacsa livery, because Avianca purchased these two Central American airlines a few years back. The only airline in the world that is older is KLM in the Netherlands.
I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but I am prejudiced against U.S. carriers. The last time I flew to South America, I had to take American to São Paolo, Brazil. I ordered a cup of hot tea. They gave me coffee instead. I spit it out (being the coffee-hater that I am) and complained bitterly to the stewardess, who insisted it was tea. Until she tasted it. Oh! So sorry! (And so typical.) On Avianca, they know the difference between coffee and tea.