Monday, March 21, 2011

Copan minus the Ruins

Oh man, where to start.  Probably best at the beginning...

The light of an orange full moon led our way out of the city.  Just before the sun peaked over the horizon, there was just enough light that the Ceiba tree, an icon of Honduras, was in silhouette.  In this half-light it looked more like a sunrise on the African Savannah with vast planes scattered with majestic trees boasting broad, mushroom shaped branch structures.  We had our first unscheduled stop at a police checkpoint where we were all asked to get out of the car and present identification.  Ricardo and Abuelito complied, but when the gringos were trying desperately to dig up our passports, the cops said forget it since they could tell we were clearly not from Olancho.  More about the police force later...

A couple hours later, when we had gained significant altitude, the weather cooled off and I stuck my head out of the window, tongue out, like a dog just enjoying the ride.  With the temperature change, so changed the biology of the region.  The scenery was almost Appalachian, what with all the medium sized peaks and forests made primarily of pine.  In fact, most of the country it seems is covered in pine; it's no wonder it is the national tree of Honduras.  The cool and dry climate at altitude helps maintain an auburn hint of color in some of the trees as if they are forever stuck in limbo between late summer and early fall.  The hours stacked up quickly having finished the bulk of a novel and after a couple bathroom and food breaks.  After almost 12 hours of driving, we reached our final destination in Copan tired, but well tempered.

Ricardo's sole purpose for the journey was to attend a country wide Lions Club meeting.  Lions Club was started in 1917 by Melvin Jones in Chicago.  Melvin had an idea, "What if these men who are successful for their drive, intelligence, and ambition were to put their talents to work improving their communities?  You can't get very far until you start doing something for someone else."  We were invited to the ceremony, dinner, and dance.  Rob and I borrowed a couple 1950's suites from Abuelito and accepted the invitation.  The meeting was in a very nice hotel ballroom and was quite formal.  It was interesting hearing the fraternal processions in Spanish knowing that it was an America from Chicago that wrote them.

I must have been in the mood to observe that night.  Sometimes as an American you are forced to realize that the world does not in fact revolve around your country.  At the Lions Club party, two national anthems were played due to the dual country convention of Panama and Honduras.  For some reason I expected or hoped to hear my anthem as well--maybe for comfort and a piece of home.  Of course it never came.  I was inspired, though, by the pride and gusto with which the Hondurans in the room sang their national anthem.  It was inspiring to see a group so dedicated to community service, so intensely proud of being the best of the best in their community.  I observed carefully the procession of activities, with special emphasis on the national anthems and prayer.  I feel that you can tell a lot about a country based on pride and prayer.  The prayer was long and I wasn't in the mood to close my eyes.  I began spanning the room.  I found it easy to perceive those that are devoutly faithful and those going through the motions.  The faithful were almost glowing in their expressions while a good portion were just going through the motions.  I admired most of their spirituality.

Before we entered, we noticed that the army was guarding the building. There were most likely some very important people at the Lions Club meeting.  A pretty juicy target for enemies.  I felt much safer knowing that the army was watching the building rather than the police.  The police all carry Russian made guns and are on the payroll of the drug cartels.  When one of their children turns 15, it is common for the drug lords to pay for the policeman's daughter's party.  More bribes are given than are traffic tickets.  The people have much more confidence in the army, but for obvious reasons they wouldn't want the army to gain too much power.  I would venture to guess that most developmental scholars would say that it is the fault of corruption in the high echelons of the government that they cannot provide adequate police forces and other public services.  This is definitely a problem, but first  I think the country needs to develop its economy through its various untapped resources.  The Hondurans have a strong work force potential but a lack of business innovation because of a lack of an adequate educational standard and infrastructure.  In order for the public sector and constituents to have confidence in the police force, there must first be confidence in the private sector.  Maybe  a strong private sector will create enough tax revenue to supply the public sector with adequate resources to staff a police force with individuals committed to ending corruption.  Educating Hondurans in sustainable business practices or partnering with Hondurans on the small community levels may create jobs to stimulate the economy, and thus providing more tax revenue for public works.  As a foreigner, I think there are ways that we can invest in local, relatively small projects that keep money in the community as well as provide healthy dividends for investors.  Like an association of foreign land owners that specialize in the development of small farms in rural Honduras.  A portion of the money will always be reinvested into expanding the business and creating more jobs.  

Although the ride was beautiful, it felt like we were in the car for the majority of the time.  Twelve hours there and twelve hours back for a weekend trip doesn't allow much daytime to explore.  I decided since I had already seen the ruins at Copan, I would do something different.  As soon as we arrived in Copan, the rest of the group was getting prepared to go to the ruins and I set off on my own to find something to do.  I stopped at a little bar that houses a tourist kiosk to ask about a day trip.  They recommended Macaw Mountain, which is a bird sanctuary nearby.  I took a small taxi to the park with a couple other Americans that I had met who were on their way as well.  The birds sanctuary houses about 20 different types of indigenous birds that they rescue or breed to keep the population of the endangered species alive.  I saw parrots, toucans, owls, and hawks among a variety of others.  I got the opportunity to hold the parrots and macaws for a while in an interaction area which made me feel like a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder.  An American bird watcher was inspired by the many indigenous species in Honduras and asked the government for help to buy land to build a sanctuary.  The government was happy to help with the land and the organization subsists on the coffee grown throughout the land as well as on donations.  It is a beautiful sanctuary, but the problem is that away from the sanctuary the birds are still being hunted and even killed for sport.  In order for the population to really grow, the birds must be reintroduced to their environment so that they may breed outside of captivity.  Conservation, as well as economic development, begins with the sentiment of the people.

The rest of the time spent in Copan was pretty relaxed.  On my last journey to Copan I wrote about how the town was quaint and beautiful with little more to do that sip the local coffee and visit the ruins.  I took advantage of the time to rest in the cooler weather as well as eat an American style meal and take a hot shower.  I have only taken one hot shower since January 25th.  It is amazing what a cheeseburger and a hot shower can do for your soul.  On the drive back I was content sitting in the car clean and with a full belly.  I bought a cheap book at a book exchange in Copan written by Deepak Chopra, the spiritual guru.  I read as much as I could on the way back and munched on my favorite Ciruela fruit.  I eat so much ciruela that my kids now call me Mister Ciruela!

Quote of the Day:   "Life is love and love is life.  What keeps the body together but love?  What is desire but love of the self?...And what is knowledge but love of truth?  The means and forms may be wrong, but the motive behind is always love--love of the me and the mine.  The me and the mine may be small, or may explode and embrace the Universe, but love remains."        

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