07/18/2014 01:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2014

'Blown Away' by Copán Ruinas, Honduras

I awoke early last Sunday morning and stepped out onto the porch of my room at Casa de Café -- a wonderful little bed & breakfast in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. I happened to run into a woman from the United States who had arrived in town late the previous evening. She introduced herself as Ruth, and I observed that she was immensely enjoying the breeze, the view of the mountains, and the symphony of tropical birds. It was one of those many perfect mornings here in Copán.

As we exchanged the typical things travelers say to each other on an initial meeting, I noticed that this was the first time Ruth had been to Copán Ruinas, or even heard of the town -- which sounded strange to me, given that she said she was an amateur archaeologist. She knew there were pretty spectacular Maya ruins in this area, but she wasn't aware there was a town nearby. She proceeded to tell me how "blown away" she was to discover it. At that point, I felt compelled to interview her. So here it is...

Me: It struck me as interesting that as, an amateur archaeologist, you just discovered Copán. But what really grabbed my attention was your use of the phrase "blown away" to describe your feelings, and particularly when you said, 'I didn't know this existed!' This is supposed to be a fairly well-publicized location, it's the last leg of La Ruta Maya (The Maya Route) in Central America, right?

Ruth Calvo: It is. I am someone who's always been interested in archaeology, so I go to the Smithsonian, and I go to all those exhibits there. I dragged some friends of mine in Chicago to the Chicago Art Institute and introduced them to Mesoamerica. They didn't even know that back behind the Asia exhibits in the basement you could even find Mesoamerican exhibits. But, no, I came across Copán just as a name. I'm sure as I was going through the exhibits at the Smithsonian this led me to start planning a trip to explore Maya sites.

I came on a cruise ship, and well, I got to see some wonderful things. I was introduced to Lamanai in Belize, I got to Tulum in Mexico... and I was just fascinated, but of course you know the drill, you're there for two hours. So it was kind of unsatisfactory. But I didn't think the friend I was with would fit well into the outer regions of border towns, just didn't have that kind of background.

When we were on our cruise, I started looking to see if there was any way I could get to Copán, and of course I couldn't... that's an absurd concept. But then I decided that, after seeing the exhibits in the Smithsonian and reading more on it, going on Wikipedia, seeing more the relevance of it, that I really wanted to get here. So I had a summer kind of free, I had originally been planning to come down here in the fall, but my summer freed up and I started looking into coming to Copán, which I ran across on the dig I went on to Belize. I ended up putting the two trips together...

... But to tell you the truth, I had no idea what kind of facilities, what kind of scenery, what kind of neighboring community there was to the Copán ruins themselves. I was just interested in the art objects, the artifacts. The hieroglyphic stairway, I had to see that! That sort of thing.

So when I arrived from the dig in Belize and started out from San Pedro Sula, I got farther and farther away from civilization, and of course my taxi driver spoke no English and I couldn't communicate. We got farther and farther out, and I kept thinking this is going to be a disaster. We were going over rutted roads, it was foggy, and the poor taxi driver was having trouble even staying on the road.

My sense of impending disaster was growing, and at some point, as we were getting closer to La Entrada, a very noisy, bright lights sort of town, I was thinking, 'Oh well, we should stop while we're not too far behind.' But the taxi driver kept persuading me and saying, 'No it's up there, a little further, through the mountains.' And of course we were bouncing over old backroads, and I was really losing all faith. 'What is going on!'

But we finally arrived at the little bridge, the little gate... and I want you to know my heart bounded. I couldn't believe the charm I was finding.

Me: Well you know, that's the word that is used the most to describe Copán Ruinas... charm. When I first came, I was just walking down the cobblestone streets after getting off the bus. All of a sudden, this little town opens up, and I thought... 'Oh, my gosh, I didn't know about this place.' And I'm Honduran.

Ruth Calvo: It's exquisite. I can't imagine any place more completely decorated with flowers and vines. Every little sidewalk café has pots full of beautiful flowers, and trees with vines hanging over the flowers... I just was enchanted. I'm still enchanted. It's been the most amazing stay. And of course I knew that where I was coming was just a delightful place, everyone with whom I worked on the dig had recommended this to me, because they had been here. I was ready for a lovely place... but the town itself.

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