If you were to ask me where my favorite place in the world is to visit, I would reflect for only a couple of seconds and say Copán Ruinas -- a little town of about 8,000 people tucked away in the mountains of northwestern Honduras. I first traveled there (actually, I'm there now as I'm writing) in 2003 to see about staging a conference for the thousands of volunteer groups that work in Honduras.
I sensed Copán was a special place almost from the moment I arrived on the bus and started walking down one of the cobblestone streets leading to its central park. There was just something "other worldly" about it. I felt everything slow down... my thoughts, my breathing, the pace of my walk. It was the closest thing I'd experienced to what theologian Marcus Borg refers to as "thin places," where the space between the material and spiritual worlds is most narrow.
Perhaps it has something to do with the ancient Maya ruins down the street. Or maybe it's why the Maya decided to settle and build their majestic city here in the first place... some 1,600 years ago. Seeing all those scarlet macaws flying in the skies certainly adds to the aura.
Eric Weiner wrote a nice travel piece for The New York Times in 2012 titled "Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer." Weiner cited religious scholar Mircea Eliade, who wrote, "Some parts of space are qualitatively different from others." That, to me, kind of sums up Copán nicely. Which explains why I had one of those aha moments when my friend Flavia Cueva (of Hacienda San Lucas fame) described how she has always seen this area as a "healing place."
Did I mention that Copán Ruinas is in Honduras? Yeah, I know. How is it possible that such a place could be within a country with such a reputation -- the poverty, the coup, the homicide rates, the drugs, and now all those unaccompanied child migrants.
It just is.
All I know is that when I walk the streets of this town and talk to the people here, it doesn't feel or sound anything remotely like the perception the world has of Honduras. Yesterday, I asked a worker at the Marina Copán hotel when was the last time there was a murder in town. He thought about it for awhile. He said there was one right after Christmas. Two guys had been drinking and they had a fight over a personal disagreement.
There are no gangs around here, and the town has largely been spared from the drug trafficking problem (and all the related unpleasantries) that have hurt other parts of Honduras.
Copán does have its share of problems -- but mostly having to do with land issues between the local Chortí indians and business interests. There is lots of poverty, particularly in many of the tiny villages and hamlets in the surrounding mountains. What this area has in common with the rest of Honduras is the extreme poverty and general social injustices that plague a typical developing nation in Latin America.
All that other stuff... not so much.