El Camino a la Superacion

El Camino a la Superacion is an indigenous Mayan artisan cooperative in Copan Ruinas. Started by Deborah Matherne, a Louisana-native, as a way to help the local community pool its resources and succeed together, it has now taken a firm step into the future.

Many of the member communities are not connected to the electricity grid. They live off of car batteries for basic electrical infrastructure such as lighting and charging cell phones. Currently, recharging their battery necessitates an arduous, two-hour trek up and down mountains to Copan. It can take a day and it’s exhausting work.

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Paramedics For Children Helps Copan

Rodger Harrison has that look about him: you can see it in his eyes when he talks about his organization, founded 14 years ago in the historic village of Copán Ruinas, Honduras. Paramedics For Children (PFC) includes a medical clinic, ambulance services, and mountain village school supply programs. When asked why he started PFC, Mr. Harrison replies, “That has always been a very hard question to answer. I have found it a lot easier for me to explain to people what I do, rather then try to explain why I do what I do.” So the question remains, what motivates a person to do a 180 degree turn in their life and travel to a strange country to start an international children’s charity?

Again I asked, and Mr. Harrison responded, “To me, it was a calling of the heart. I can only say that working with PFC brings me great happiness and a purpose to my life. My business career started in the commercial real estate business, and a medical recruiting company. Life was good to me, and I made a lot of money, but something was missing. When I retired in 1990, I realized that it was time to give back a little for all I have gotten out of life, so I went back to college and got a paramedic license. Then followed six of the most incredible years of my life working in a job that I loved and enjoyed, until I was involved in a work-related injury and found myself sitting on the sidelines again wondering what I could do to re-acquire the excitement of running on an ambulance with all the adventure that goes with it.”

He added, “Fighting boredom, and not wanting to get back into the corporate rat race, I took a vacation to Honduras. I liked the country, so in 1997 I decided to spend a month or two in Copán Ruinas, to study Spanish. I met a lot of great people there who taught me some of the many customs and introduced me to the indigenous Chortí Maya who live and work in the Copán Valley. Soon, I found myself taking school supplies to children in the mountain villages. Before I knew it, I was hooked.”

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Mexico Mayans Had Contact with Copan

Experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the University of Arizona (UA) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) found the 6-step staircase which reveals El Palmar had contacts with Calakmul, in Campeche, and Copan, Honduras, almost 1300 years ago.

Project leaders announced that the stairway conserves 90 blocks with more than 130 hieroglyphs that refer to events registered in the Classic Maya period (250-900 CE), Artdaily reported.

Javier Lopez Camacho and Kenichiro Tsukamoto also said that despite other stairways that are generally linked to monumental buildings at the central area of ancient sites, the one found at El Palmar is related to the periphery of the site and small structures.

According to the two archeologists, the first 4 steps were in good shape, while the 5th and 6th were in parts and needed to be restored.

Epigraphist Octavio Esparza Olguin, who studied the hieroglyphs, believes the texts narrates a visit paid by foreign people, maybe dignitaries, to El Palmar, and the steps were carved on September 13th, 726 CE.

The inscriptions also contain Information about the lords of the site, as well as visits by lords of Copan and Calakmul, the cities which kept contact with El Palmar before being defeated, respectively, by Tikal and Quirigua (Guatemala) between 736 and 738 CE.

El Palmar excavations also yielded a burial with an offering which dates back to the time when the stairway was constructed in 8th century CE.

The skeletal remains were found along with two vessels and other bones. Preliminary analyses conducted by physical anthropologist Jessica Cerezo-Roman suggests that the remains belong to a high-rank male.

Copan Ruins Hotel Woes

With a new stable government and tourism on the rebound, hotel development in the Central American country of Honduras is picking up where it left off in 2008.

Before the economic downturn, it seemed Honduras was on its way to becoming the next Costa Rica, with major hotel projects developing across multiple regions. That changed in 2009, when president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown, which, when paired with the effects of the world economic collapse, caused much of the hotel development in the country to come to a screeching halt. But now many of those early projects are coming into fruition.

“In the subsequent 12 months after the onset of the political crisis July 2009 to June 2010, our B&B, La Casa de Cafe in Copan Ruinas, saw a reduction of 38% in gross income,” owner Howard Rosenzweig said. “However, given the severity of the circumstances and the intense barrage of negative—and much exaggerated—world media coverage of the event, we were expecting much worse. Now, 20 months after the ouster of Zelaya, tourism has continued to steadily rebound, although tourism entrance numbers to the ruins and gross income at our hotel is still not what it was in the pre-crisis period.

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Touring the Copan Ruins

Things haven’t changed much in Copan Ruinas. Old men play checkers in the plaza and barefoot kids kick soccer balls in the dusty square. But the village, now the gateway to the restored Mayan city of Copan, thrives on its ancient neighbor, the National Monument whose massive pyramids and plazas rank among Central Americas preeminent cultural sites.

Like most vanished and deliciously ghoulish civilizations, the Mayan world fascinated our two grandsons, Will and Dillon. What better, then, but to show them the real thing?

Copan Ruinas baked in the heat on the afternoon that our tour bus from Tegucigalpa, the capital, pulled into town. Like most of the 80,000 tourists who visit Copan annually, we planned two days touring the site, and another exploring the town, sampling Honduran food and shopping for crafts – including a gift box (for our dog-sitter) of the first-rate Honduran cigars produced by Cuban families who’ve fled Castro’s Cuba.

It was late when we arrived, with just enough time to check into the Hotel Marina Copan, cool off in the swimming pool and grab a meal. But we were up early the next morning, ready to meet our guide at the park entrance.

As we walked through town, store owners stood in their doorways, yawning. Grade-schoolers in blue and white uniforms paraded down the sidewalk. Across the street, a security guard in cowboy boots and a Panama hat lounged against a store-front bank, a sawed-off shotgun slung over his shoulder. Dillon’s eyes went wide and the guard gave him a broad smile.

Ideal companion

As promised, our guide, Inmar Diaz, young and clean-cut, was standing by the gate feeding fruit to two adult macaws, big birds with brilliant blue, green and red feathers. Handing some fruit to the kids, he showed them how to feed the parrots without getting nipped.

“These birds were sacred to the Mayans,” he said, as we shook hands. “You’ll see them today, represented in ancient iconography.”

Diaz was a traveler’s ideal companion, an enthusiast who knows his subject. A chance encounter with a visiting American led to a home stay with an American family and a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. After graduation, speaking perfect English, he came home to a job in tourism.

“Copan isn’t the largest Mayan city,” he told the kids, “but it’s known for the finest sculpture and carving. Archaeologists from the United States and Honduras discover new things almost every month.”

In 800 A.D., Copan was the center of an empire, its temples the skyscrapers of their day, its broad plazas and elaborate carvings designed to exalt the rulers and impress the humble.

“It’s a spooky place,” said Pete Anderson, an American we met in the hotel restaurant. “Spooky but fantastic,” he added. “According to our guide, strange rites and human sacrifices were a common practice. But the temples are an engineering marvel. Each of those tens of thousands of stone blocks is perfectly shaped to fit together.”

It took a full day and plenty of energy just to walk around Copan’s two-square-mile site, built between 426 and 800 A.D. Your best bet is to follow a map, for sale at most tourist shops – and in most guidebooks.

Continue Miami Herald Travel Story here.