Just over the Honduran border from Guatemala is the town of Copan Ruinas, named for the nearby ruins — one of the most impressive and intricate remaining testaments to the splendor of the Mayan civilization.
It is in this town that I find myself watching an American stick his shaved head between a go-go dancer’s thighs on a Friday night in front of thousands of people.
I meet the man, whose name is Jason, and who is an altogether decent dude, earlier in the day when my shuttle picks me up in Guatemala City at 5am. In my first stroke of transportation luck, the shuttle has 3 bench seats and only 3 passengers (a surplus of transit karma that would have to be repaid soon enough), so we are all able to get a few hours of sleep until the shuttle pulls over at a miserable, mosquito-ridden truck stop about an hour outside the Honduran border. Jason introduces himself to me there — 5am was too early for pleasantries, and it’s always nice to have somebody to commiserate with about being stung to death by bugs. We’ll end up traveling together to Copan and El Salvador.
Jason is from Minnesota by way of Seattle and is traveling around Central America with what I mistake for scuba gear but is actually an inflatable stand-up paddleboard. He’s pretty much always in an upbeat mood, and also looks a little like John Malkovich.
We check into a hostel and head out to see the town. Copan reminds of a lot of Antigua but it’s much, much smaller – the official population is a tenth of Antigua’s. It’s Friday when we arrive, and you get the sense that although the official population of the town is something like 5,000, a lot of people must be coming in from the surrounding villages for the weekend. Merchants are selling secondhand ropa americana, street food is prevalent, and there’s definitely something going down in the town square that night, as several stages are being set up.
In the meantime Jason and I arrange our shuttle to El Salvador for Sunday. It looks like it’ll be the two of us and a German girl named Julia, whom I actually had first met back in San Pedro at the Spanish school. You’d be surprised how many people you run into again a couple countries away, thanks to the Lonely Planet hivemind.
Living in Chicago it’s often easy to forget that happy hours exist (they’re illegal in the state of Illinois) so it’s always fun traveling around less uptight nations. Hostel bars in particular like to do 2 for 1 or 3 for 1 deals, and we take advantage of this mostly in the form of some kind of Fresca-based cocktail. This is followed by a visit to a microbrewery run by a German expat, after which we make the short walk over to the plaza. On the main stage in the plaza, in a sort of small amphitheater, there’s a group of guitar players playing traditional music for a reserved audience. But the side stage has the real action, a high-energy outfit of eight guys in a lot of denim and one knockout dancer in not a lot of anything.
The crowd is really into it, and she starts bringing people up out of the crowd to dance with her. The first guy up takes full advantage of his situation and grinds on the dancer as though all our lives depended on it. Next up is Jason. To his credit and the dancer’s utter confusion, he does something completely unexpected and suddenly the dancer is grinding on him. Her bewilderment is momentary. I’m not really sure how it happens, but suddenly Jason’s head is in between her thighs. Commentary is insufficient, pictures explain everything:
It seems like everybody in the area is in town that night and having a good time. I am also having a good time on account of the happy hour and brewery visit, so I’m feeling brave enough to ask the soldiers if they’re cool with having their photo taken. As it turns out, they were, but smiling was out of the question.
Most of the town’s residents weren’t so serious, however.
The next day it’s time to check out the ruins themselves, although we start out a little later than anticipated. Right at the entrance of the ruins there’s a few really cool macaws. Birds were a big deal to the Maya, and although the Maya may be long gone, there are a lot of fascinating birds still occupying the Copan site. The macaws are the most obvious, but there’s also something I call a yellow-tailed R2-D2 bird, based on its whistle-like call. It is apparently called a Montezuma Oropendola by so-called “scientists.”
Aside from the bird life there’s the orderly structures of the Mayan ruins themselves. We wander around for a couple hours before heading back to town.
Back at the hostel our transportation luck reverts to the mean. The Sunday shuttle to El Salvador is cancelled, and there won’t be another one until Tuesday. To stay on schedule, I’ll have to take the chicken bus to the ocean. I know it’s going to be unpleasant; I don’t know it’ll be the worst day of the trip thus far, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
There’s no hope of topping Friday night’s concert on Saturday, but Copan is going to try. A massive tent is set up in the town square. No live music this time, just a DJ. I have never been to a dance party more like a junior high dance. This was more like a junior high dance THAN a junior high dance. Hundreds of people gathered around the tent but virtually no one willing to actually go into it. I try to get a few girls to dance but there’s absolutely no moving anybody into the perimeter of the tent for the first few hours. Eventually, a few couples finally get out there.