Hammerheads Here We Come – Cocos Island, Costa Rica

By the time you read this we will be hundreds of miles off the coast of Costa Rica on board a liveaboard dive boat called the MV Argo (operated by Undersea Hunter) in the Pacific Ocean near Cocos Island National Park where, with any luck, we will soon find ourselves in the water surrounded by hammerhead sharks.

Cocos Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world and one of the most remote national parks in the world. The island is mostly rainforest-covered (the only rainforest in the Pacific) and boasts more than 300 waterfalls, some plunging directly into the ocean. Nice.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Cocos Island, an uninhabited island and national park 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. © copyright by Undersea Hunter Group

Waterfall at Cocos Island

There are more than 300 waterfalls on Cocos Island, some of them plunging directly into the Pacific.  © copyright by Undersea Hunter Group

 

Cocos Island is also said to be the site of vast  buried treasure, perhaps as much as a billion dollars worth. Pirates used Cocos as a sort of bank before the Costa Rican government took it over in the late 1800s. A few people have actually managed to get permission to search the island for the treasure—one man spent 19 years and millions of dollars but couldn’t find a penny.

Jurassic Park is said to have been based on a landscape inspired by Cocos Island. Treasure Island may have also been based on Cocos Island. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Cocos Island three times and Jacques Cousteau called Cocos “the most beautiful island in the world” then he carved some graffiti into a rock on the shore and left.

MV Argo - Undersea Hunter

Our home for 10 days, the MV Argo liveaboard dive boat. © copyright by Undersea Hunter

 

That’s all well and good but what we’re interested in are what dive geeks call pelagics–large rays and sharks. The waters around Cocos Island have the densest concentration of large marine predators including silky sharks, galapagos sharks, reef sharks and more hammerheads than anywhere else in the world. Enormous manta rays and whale sharks are also seen here.

School of Hammerhead sharks

We hope to be in the midst of a school of hammerheads like this during dives around Cocos Island in Costa Rica.  © copyright by Avi Klapfer

 

As if that’s not enough adrenaline, we may also get a submarine ride in the Undersea Hunter DeepSee submersible which takes two people at a time down to depths of 300, 700 or even 1,000 feet. It’s darker down there and the marine life gets weirder and weirder the deeper you go.

DeepSee  - Undersea Hunter

In search of even deeper creatures in the DeepSee submersible.  © copyright by Undersea Hunter

So, fins crossed!

We’ll tell you what we think of this UNESCO World Heritage Site after our 10 day diving adventure to Cocos Island on the Argo is completed on April 14. Until then, we will be out of communication and out at sea.

In the meantime here’s a video about Cocos Island from the UNESCO YouTube channel…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71GOSdgWqUQ]

 

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Photo of the Day: Semana Santa – Antigua, Guatemala

We spent last Easter in Antigua, Guatemala (along with about 200,000 other people) and enjoyed one of the largest and most extravagant Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations in The Americas. It’s a true spectacle for travelers and locals and Eric took hundreds of photos during Semana Santa. However, this photo of the day, captures the essence of Semana Santa as 80 costumed men delicately maneuver a 5,000 pound float over a meticulously created carpet on its way out of incense-filled San Felipe Church.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday the cobble stone streets and historic churches of Antigua are taken over by dozens of processions take place during all hours of the day and night featuring enormous wooden floats carried by up to 100 people at a time. Toss in vibrant street carpets hand-crafted out of dyed sawdust and flower petals (which are then destroyed under the passing feet of float bearers), special holiday foods and lots and lots of incense and you’ve got yourself one heck of an Easter celebration.

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The Beverly Hills of Copán – Las Sepulturas and El Puente Archaeological Sites, Honduras

The Copán archaeological site is one of the top tourist attractions in Honduras and for good reason. Sadly, only a fraction of the visitors to Copán visit a little gem of a site located right next door (you can easily walk to it from the Copán site and your Copán ticket gets you in). It’s called Las Sepulturas and archeologists believe it was the Beverly Hills of Copán.

We’ve visited more than 60 Mayan sites and wandered around the residential areas at many of them. However, we never understood or appreciated the intricacies of day-to-day Mayan life until we visited Las Sepulturas with Mr. Perez who has worked with archaeologists at the site for years and works as a guide in his free time (+ 502 9699 5647, Spanish only).

Guide - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

Mr. Perez, our guide at Las Sepulturas archaeological site in Honduras, pointed out all the quirks and customs that existed in this residential area of the Mayan city of Copán.

 

The world’s first do-not-disturb signs

Mr. Perez told us that having mistresses was de rigeur for the upper class of Copán, but how can you keep your other wives and mistresses from walking in on you having sex? One of the nobles who lived at Las Sepulturas was famed leader 18 Rabbit who was believed to have had at least 15 concubines.

To avoid awkward situations, the Mayans invented what must be the world’s first do-not-disturb signs which they hung in front of their houses to make it clear that they were busy.

Houses of elite - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

Las Sepulturas was home to the upper class of the Mayan city of Copán and their houses were built and decorated accordingly. 

relief decoration - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

Fancy relief work like this stone carving was found in the homes of Las Sepulturas where the upper class of the Mayan city of Copán lived. 

 

Bizarre burial rites

Las Sepulturas means The Tombs because the residents (and, perhaps, all Mayans) had some pretty quirky burial customs which dictated the position of the corpse (fetal, laying down, standing up, etc) and the cardinal point it was meant to face.

At Las Sepulturas human remains have been found in special tombs built under beds and buried in courtyards around the houses of Las Sepulturas. One woman believed to have been of very  high rank was found buried in a standing position underneath a central plaza.

Bed - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

This stone structure covered in layers of plaster was a bed. It would have been covered with a mattress made from fluffy fibers produced by the sacred ceiba tree and maybe even draped with a jaguar skin. Family members were buried under beds like this which gives the Las Sepulturas site its name.

 

Home improvement

Red dye - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

Crushed leaves give up a natural red dye which the Mayans used to color the plaster they applied throughout the homes in the Las Sepulturas archaeological site. 

Mayans were just as clever with their homes as they were with their temples, calendars, stelae, stairways and sculpture. Mr. Perez pointed out the smoothness and durability of original plaster work, some of which is still visible, explained how the Mayans used the cotton-like fluff produced by the sacred ceiba tree (also called a cotton tree) to make mattresses and pillows (which were sometimes covered with jaguar pelts) and demonstrated how the leaves of another tree were crushed to created a vibrant red dye that was used like paint. The homes in Las Sepulturas even had indoor bathrooms with intricate drainage systems.

relief decoration - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

More relief decoration inside the remains of a nobleman’s home in the Las Sepulturas archaeological site in Honduras.

Structures - Las Sepulturas, Copan, Honduras

The remains of structures at the Las Sepulturas archaeological site in Honduras where the upper class from the Mayan city of Copán lived. 

 

El Puente archaelogical site

El Puente Mayan site, Honduras

Only a handful of the 200+ structures at the El Puente archaeological site in Honduras have been excavated.

El Puente Mayan site, Honduras

Excavation work inside a pyramid at El Puente archaeological site in Honduras revealed an earlier temple inside.

You can’t walk there, but El Puente archaeological site is another stop that will enhance your understanding of Copán. About 40 miles (60 kilometers) from Copán, El Puente is the second largest Mayan site in Honduras (after Copán) with more than 200 structures, though less than 10 are excavated. Archaeologists tell us that El Puente was it’s own city but was eventually absorbed into Copán.

We parked at the entrance, toured the small museum then walked about half a mile (1 kilometer) down a pleasant dirt road between fields to reach the small excavated plaza of El Puente.

 

 

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Inside the Sculpture Museum of Copán – Copán Archaeological Site, Honduras

The Sculpture Museum of Copán at the Copán archaeological site in Honduras may lack the romantic ambiance and sense of history of the site itself. However, the museum is home to the best original sculpture and architecture the Mayans of Copán produced and it should be an integral part of your visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

You enter the museum through a dramatic tunnel meant to mimic the experience archaeologists had while exploring the site. Inside, originals (and a few replicas) of Copán’s very best finds, including a full-size replica of the vibrant Rosalila structure, are well-displayed and easy to check out.

Absolutely worth the US$7 entry fee to see nearly 60 exhibits with more than 3,000 pieces of sculpture plus six restored buildings and some of the most important stelae from the site.

Here are some highlights.

Reconstruction of the Rosalila Temple

This reconstruction of the Rosalila Temple is what greets visitors to the Sculpture Museum of Copán next to the archaeological site in Honduras. The replica was created based on findings archaeologists made after studying the time-worn original which remains buried within Temple 16 at the Copán site itself. 

Rosalila Temple - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

The back of the reconstructed Rosalila Temple in the center of the Sculpture Museum of Copán in Honduras.

Stucco relief on Rosalila Temple - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

A stucco relief on the reconstruction of the Rosalila Temple, the centerpiece of the Sculpture Museum of Copán which is located right next to the archaeological site itself.

Mayn rain god Chaac with waterbirds sculpture - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

High quality sculpure is one of the things the Mayan city of Copán was known for. These intricately carved depictions of the Mayan rain god Chaac (center) and various waterbirds are original and on display in the on-site Sculpture Museum of Copán.

Tlaloc sculpture - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

Part of Structure 16 is preserved inside the Sculpture Museum of Copán, including this sculpture of the Mayan god Tlaloc which formed part of an ancient stairway. 

Macaw Heads - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

The Mayans revered scarlet macaws and this excellent original sculpture of a macaw in flight can be seen in the Sculpture Museum of Copán in Honduras.

Macaw Heads - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

The Mayans revered scarlet macaws and these macaw heads carved out of stone by the original inhabitants of Copán are on display in the excellent on-site museum. 

Reconstruction of Temple 22 - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

A detailed reconstruction of Temple 22 in the excellent Sculpture Museum of Copán in Honduras.

The Bat was the symbol of the ancient city of Copan - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

The bat was the symbol of the ancient Mayan city of Copán. This original sculpture can be seen in the Sculpture Museum of Copán, adjacent to the archaeological site.

Sculpture heads - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

Human and animal heads carved from stone centuries go by the Mayans who lived in the city of Copán. These original works of art are on display in the Sculpture Museum of Copán.

Detail of relief from Noblemans house in the Sepulturas area - Sculpture Museum, Copan, Honduras

This detail, now on display in the Sculpture Museum of Copán, originally adorned a Mayan nobleman’s house.

 

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