I’ve always loved the rain, especially when some kind of schadenfreude is involved. And lo, as I happily trudged through the Mayan ruins at Copan amidst a belting storm and looked across to a Park Ranger being paid to make sure I didn’t try to wrestle a two-tonne stone tablet into my knapsack, I enjoyed myself very much.
I’d come to Western Honduras from El Salvador via local ‘chicken-buses’, tiny hi-ace type mini-vans weaving through the countryside crammed with people – mine at its peak packed in 22 adults and 4 children. They are, to put it rather mildly, extremely cosy. My route took me through San Pedro Sula, 2016 Murder Capital of the World it says here, like they won it in a pageant. I confess I saw nothing to necessitate clapping on my rubber underpants, and yet was saddened to hear that friends recently living in Copan on a coffee farm had their lives threatened and subsequently left pretty quickly. Incidentally, soon my travels take me to Mexico, Kidnap Capital of the World – 2013, if you were wondering. Continually I read on forums the same wonderful lines: “It’s perfectly safe! I’ve driven it lots of times, they’re very friendly . . . don’t drive at night” I love that addendum, like it’s the most perfectly normal thing in the world. “The air is perfectly safe, just don’t breathe it in!” said no one. Yet this part of the world has a historical whiff of danger about it, so back to school I go.
The Mayan, Aztec and Incan civilisations have been interesting to see, although often what differentiates them escapes me. The spelling helps, admittedly. The Aztecs came to the fore about the time when Asia was battling the Mongols and Europe was burning Joan of Arc, whereupon the Mayans existed for almost three millennia until the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. I say existed, the Mayans, as far as I can tell, still exist – they were simply assimilated into society, there are still plenty of Mayans about (or Indians as I heard one refer to herself). The Mayans were philosophers, architects, traders, scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and builders of cities. They also developed the solar calendar and advanced written languages, with over twenty different dialects that are still spoken today. The Aztecs on the other hand loved a human sacrifice, most notably of their conquered enemies they would take to task with the war-like invention of the atlatl. Yet they weren’t just butchers (bakers and candlestick makers), they were craftsman, sculptors and aqueduct builders too, which does get lost a bit amongst the blood thirsty bastardsness - the Aztec Priests would cut their prisoners of war from stomach to the throat and rip out their still beating hearts. They only survived about 100 years until Spain’s Cortes invaded, which to me sounds like a welcome invasion considering the alternative.
Whilst the Mayans and Aztecs inhabited Central America and Mexico respectively, the Incas covered vast swatches of western South America about in about 1200, collectively an area several times larger than both the Mayans and Aztecs territory put together. Human sacrifice seems to have been pivotal to the Incas too to quieten the odd blaring volcano, but the Incas also had quite ridiculous traditions of skull-drilling and skull-shaping too to produce cone-heads used to differentiate those of noble stature. Could have just worn a hat. They could build though, with their walls still standing today in many cities. They were expert irrigators and assimilated tribes rather than wiping them out entirely - the skull-shaping originally came from another tribe, the Tiwannaku). Yet the Incans were especially advanced: there was a government, nobility and social classes; human rights; no slave system; raised taxes; had metallurgy and sanitation; constructed temples out of granite which must have taken bloody ages; and yet achieved all that without the wheel or pack animals (llamas and alpacas don’t heave ploughs or 30 tonne stones). Everything was pure man-power.
Whilst the Spanish invasion saw off much of the civilisations, the Incan one is particularly interesting, primarily because Macchu Picchu was never found by the Spanish during their conquest, and yet was completely abandoned mid-build. There are granite blocks still being carved. And yet I have to say, it is quite refreshing coming to a continent and the British not being the bad guys. This is nice. In fact, in some countries like Chile we’re the venerated heroes helping countries claim their independence from the oppressors. Go Britain, it’s not often I get to say that! Apropos of my British roots . . . two tonne stone tablet, going cheap, would look nice in a museum or rockery. Offers?
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here