While I have been here, I have been lucky enough to dive with the endangered whale shark. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, but despite their size they are placid and shy creatures. The one we saw didn't stay for long, it ate peacefully for a while, and then turned and disappeared into the dark blue depths below.
I am currently diving on Utila Island in Honduras, and today I just completed my open water diving certificate. I have two more fun dives tomorrow.
I have seen a lot of beautiful and interesting creatures on my dives, these include brightly coloured parrot fish, bright yellow and black angel fish, puffer fish, string rays, barracuda, green moray eels and tiny, translucent jelly fish.
Scuba diving in clear water feels a bit like a kind of flying where you can lift off with one breath and lower yourself with the other.
After the Sepulturas, I went to see the Museum of Mayan Archaeology which is in the middle of the tiny town of Copan ruinas. It housed a variety of treasures from the tombs within the ruins. It also included a model of a tomb devoted to a female shaman, the Mayan calendar, and even some skulls of high born Mayans. They also had carefully implanted pieces of Jade in their teeth!
There was a map of the Mayan world, and Copan is right on the far right side as you can see. So I've just entered the Mayan world!
Independence Day is a big day for central America, as it represents their independence from Spain - declared in 1821. You can literally hear it coming, because school children practise their drumming and marches in the weeks running up to the big day. It was quite the event, with the school kids drumming from early in the morning and flags everywhere. Some people even set off these kinds of bombs throughout the day, which can be a little disconcerting at first!
From Tegucigalpa I took another long bus to the small town of Copan ruinas. They are located right next to the amazing Mayan ruins here. The ruins are an amazing glimpse into an ancient civilisation, they are surrounded by a rain forest. There are symbols of many different types of animals, which each had a special meaning to Mayan people. Scarlet maccaws were considered sacred, and there are some domesticated ones that are fed at the entrance to the site, and fly around between the sculptures.
There are sculptures built in honor of the Mayan Kings, in particular one king, Rabbit 18 -my guide even showed me the symbol for his name in Mayan hieroglyphics.
The park is full of sculptures to the Kings, and in front of them are alterpieces, some of these are for burning incense, which would be burned in elaborate containers, others were for animal sacrifices, and others were for human sacrifices! Three human sacrifices, of the best athletes would be made each year. This was considered a great honour, where the athlete would go on to a great life in the next world.
The site also holds a huge ball court where players would play a game where they would hit a rubber ball with their hips and legs (but not their hands). The ball court, changing rooms, goals (the carved stone heads of scarlet macaws) and a large stadium for seating are all still there, over one and a half thousand years since they were built.
There is also a huge carved scarlet Mccaw overlooking the ball court. When it was used, it was partly painted red, as were many of the sculptures on the site. Traces of the red paint still remain.
The site also has other buildings, an observatory, the Kings quarters, where decisions were made, an area for festivals, the hieroglyphic stairway that details the history of the Kings of Copan. There are symbols everywhere that represent the Mayan view of the world, encompassing the different worlds of the living and dead. Animal symbols played a huge part of the tradition, and each had different meanings. My guide also noted that women had many powerful positions in the Mayan world, and had many roles including as astronomers, high shamans, physicians, mathematicians. I am sure this ancient society would have thought it strange and silly for Western society to turn us ladies away from work in these fields, even as recently as less than a hundred years ago! Ancient Mayan society wasn't an egalitarian paradise though, these amazing stone structures were largely built by slaves. Not only that, but the ones we can see actually are several cities deep. As each King died, part of this city would be covered over, and other buildings would have to be built by the poor slaves. This also means that currently archaeologists are digging tunnel after tunnel beneath the ruins and finding more and more!
As we walked around there were some great displays of what the site would have looked like in Mayan times. Almost all of the buildings would have looked red, the trees that now largely cover the site were cleared, and the ground was white. The royals sat drinking a delicious cup of hot cocoa and watching the game. Although Mayan society definitely had its dark sides, it is fascinating to have a glimpse into this ancient and sophisticated world nonetheless. I am so glad I went with my guide, Obed, as he was very knowledgeable and talking with him really brought the place to life.
Another cool trip was the night tour of the active volcano, Volcan Masaya. This was just incredible. It is one of the few places in the world where you can see molten lava. The volcano has been this active for a long time, the Mayans used to worship the volcano (and sometimes throw people into the lava). When the conquistadors arrived 500 years ago - they were afraid of the volcano, and, believing it to be an entry to hell, put up a large metal cross to keep it at bay (the cross is still there). The steam and light from the volcano creates an orange glow that you can see for miles. Its completely awe inspiring. A national geographic documentary on the mountain is coming out soon if you are interested. I'll sure be looking out for it!
After our trip up Mombacho, we went on a trip to see some of the 365 islands in Cocibolca, the lake right next to Granada. It turns out that some of the Islands are for sale, and some of them have a surprising number of amenities. The star attraction though, was the Island of spider monkeys, which we fed as we passed by in the boat. We also got a view of the mountain we had climbed in the morning, Mombacho.
Paul and I went for a guided hike up Mombacho volcano. It was a nice day, and it was a good hike up to the top. On the way we stopped at a coffee plantation which was fair trade, organic and even designed to provide wildlife corridors for animals that live on the volcano. The coffee plantation also provided tasty free samples for passers by. This definitely reminded me of the importance of always buying fair trade products.
The forest at the top was very dense, and so biodiverse that the bromeliads in the trees even host whole insect communities in their watery stores. Some species are completely endemic to the area - and only found on forest reserves on the volcano. We heard and saw howler monkeys, heard toucans and some other birds and also saw red eyed tree frogs. They were hard to spot, the first thing we found was their eggs, which drip off leaves into the water below. At night the red eyed tree frog exhibits its colourful underbelly and bright eyes. But during the day, it sensibly keeps these hidden, blending in with its scenery.
From the top of Mombacho, we got great views of the surrounding area, Cocibolca the largest lake in central america - it (unusually for a lake) has fresh water sharks! As well as this we saw a steam vent from the volcano (its dormant, but still has a little bit of activity rumbling away).
On our walk back down the volcano, we saw another group of howler monkeys, this time they were closer so we got a good view of them. They were curious about us too, and peered at us through the branches. Overall, it was a great day, and if you get a chance to visit Mombacho volcano, although there is a road, walking right to the top is the most enjoyable way to experience the mountain.