Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Copan

The Mayan civilisation, unlike other indigenous civilisations from the Americas, wasn't wiped out by the Spanish particularly. They killed a load, sure, but by the time they arrived the real big players in the region had been gone for centuries, and all that was left of once-mighty cities and states were a few villages and lots and lots of jungle.

What caused such a rapid decline isn't sure, and as usual in these circumstances scientists opt for a 'mix of causes' answer. Here in Copan, the accepted theory appears to be that they got too big for the resources in the local area, over-strained the environment, couldn't make enough food for themselves and thus became somewhat fragile. Then in came combination of causes (disease, war, etc) and out went the Mayans.

Left behind was the heart of their city. Between around 500 and 800AD Copan was a big player in the region, in charge of lots of other Mayan sites. The valley had thousands of people living in it. In the middle of all this, the elite rulers (and they were few and powerful, as per in these cases) built temples, ceremonial ball courts and monuments to their glory and that of their ancestors and the gods. And lots of altars on which human sacrifices occurred. Today we went to see the moldering remains of these vast stone constructions.

Actually, they're in fairly good nick. The jungle around is sprawling and massive, and contains real life wild scarlet Macaws, as well as Capybara, both of which species were today observed by me. It's been cleared back from the ruins, though, and so the large ziggurat-style step pyramids are clearly visible. They make an impressive sight against a backdrop of green. Not as impressive as, say, Angkor Wat (and in my eyes, it is a competition), but nonetheless quality. Plus it's been ages since I saw anything like this. Actually, the last thing probably was Angkor...

Such a dearth of ruin-sighting won't be repeated now, however. Tomorrow we're off to Tikal in Guatemala to see another Mayan site. Such things will be a repeated presence in the last five weeks of this trip.

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