Mural 39 in Copan Ruinas, Hondruas

On my first trip to Honduras, I had a very limited time schedule.  In fact, I was in the country less than twenty-four hours.  I knew I wanted to return to the very charming village of Copán Ruinas, but I really wasn´t sure if that would actually happen.  You know how best laid plans tend to go, but this time the Mayan gods must have smiled upon me.

My brother-in-law didn´t like the kind of transportation his family used to cross Belize with me.  Well, he would have been appalled by my travels in Guatemala as I moved towards Honduras on my own.  I had to chuckle as each mode of transportation progressively got worse.  I'm not sure if his family would have ever forgiven me either!

The first bus took me most of the way to Chiquimula in the south of Guatemala.  Last year, I was dropped off in the market place.  This time I was dropped off along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.  I really don´t like to be dropped off buses in the middle of nowhere.  The bus assistant assured me, in Spanish, that the bus stop I needed was on the other side of the intersection.   I had to trust the guy and my limited Spanish.

Fortunately, there were people at what I thought might be a bus stop.  I was in the right place and one man made sure I got on the proper van.  And, it was only a few minute wait.  Still, I’m just not sure that the words “right” and “proper” can be used correctly in this situation.  I was just relieved that connections could be made in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the vicinity of Chiquimula.

There was not really room for one more person on this particular van, but a boy gave up his seat for me.  He stood by the open van door, but he fortunately wasn´t on the bus much longer.  No, he didn’t fall out.  The bus stopped a lot to let people on and off.  My seat, on the hump next to the driver, faced the 25 Guatemalans squeezed into the back behind me.  I'm quite sure they all thought, "What the Honduras is this gringo doing in the bus?"  Well, I was on my way to the Honduran border, and it wasn't in a hand basket.

But, it felt like it.

The van had several cracks in the windshield.  The only place for my luggage was right at the entrance so everyone entering or leaving had to crawl over it.  I'm not sure if the passenger door actually shut.  I never saw it happen. However, the driver and his assistant were helpful.  I was dropped at the border in El Florido (not to be confused with a rapper or a state with an equal abundance of retired people and pink flamingo lawn ornaments) with no need for police assistance.  And, I went through passport control with my luggage.  To fully understand that situation, you'll have to continue on to the adventure section.

I'm kind of a creature of habit when I travel.  I like to eat at the same restaurants all the time and sleep in the same hotels.  It just makes everything so much easier for me.  The small hotel where I stayed last time in Copán Ruinas was a little off the main tourist path.  There were no rowdy tourists to be found at Casa Lastenia.  But, I promise you, way too early in the morning, there were lots of roosters and other critters.  I only found the hotel last time because Humberto hung around the bus stop in search of potential hotel guests.  There was no Humberto to help me this time, but his wife Gilma stood at the unmarked hotel entrance to greet me.  I'm not completely sure I would have found the place without her.

Gilma spoke no English.  And, under such circumstances, I'm always amazed how well I can communicate in Spanish with people who are willing to patiently endure my limited skills.  We had no problems talking.  As soon as I told her I wanted to paint a mural, she knew the location.  The orphanage, Casitas Copán, was just a few blocks away.  Everything is a few blocks away in Copán Ruinas.

Humberto took me to the orphanage where I met David and Emily.  They both spoke English.  As soon as I could explain myself, they said yes to a mural before they even saw my art.  A little while later, I shared a short video that explained the story of my clip art and the murals.  Emily recognized my work immediately.  Prior to the orphanage, she was a teacher and used my art in her classroom.  She couldn’t believe I came to paint a mural at the orphanage.  I couldn’t believe that after 39 murals, I finally painted at a place where somebody knew my art.  As usual, Emily didn’t know my name.  My reputation remained intact as the most non-famous, world-famous artist on the planet.

The design for the mural was the five letters of Copán.  In the letter C, I wanted a Mayan figure but it had to be specific about this place.  On the Internet, it’s easy to mix Incas, Aztecs and Mayas.  But, I found an image of K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', who just happened to be the founder and first ruler of Copán.  I thought that was authentic enough.

For the letter O, I knew I wanted to have the actual ruins of Copan included.  But, sometimes (always?) it is so much better to brainstorm with local connections. I could have put a random Mayan symbol that I liked, or my zodiac sign called Mol, but I was guided in a much better direction.  The symbol at the top of the letter is the Mayan symbol for the city of Copán.  It may not look like it, but it’s supposed to be some kind of bat.

The letter P was stuffed with kids in a variety of colors.  I had to include a soccer ball because it is so loved in Honduras.  I also included a little girl and her doll.  I wanted to include a corn husk doll called a muñeca de tusa, sold by kids from the outlying villages.  I watched a woman make one, and of course I had to buy it.  She made it in a half an hour and I assured her it would take me a year.  Yep, I was all ready to include the corn husk doll and then I heard that the locals feel sorry for every kid selling them.  It’s a sign of poverty and so the ever so clever idea was nixed.

The letter A had to have an accent mark.  I thought maybe since all letters were capitals that I could get away without it.  Nope.  Not possible.  There was a great discussion and I did as I was told.  So, I filled it with sunshine.  Flying across the sky in the blazing heat was possibly my most favorite bird name.  In English, it’s a macaw and there were several of them at the entrance to the ruins of Copán. They were tame and it was relatively easy to get a close up photo of the national bird of Honduras.  However, the English word isn’t my favorite bird name.  In Spanish, it’s the guacamaya.  That was too close to guacamole for me not to love.  The local birds were mostly red, so that was what I put on the mural.  Down deep in my heart, and closer to my stomach, I think I preferred my guacamayas green.

The last letter, N, finished up the mural with an educational touch.  I love maps, always have, and I was pleased to add one to this design.  Due to the shape I had to work with, instead of just Honduras, I included a big chunk of Central America.  And, if you check out the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, just under the orange “Usted está aguí!” (You are here!) arrow, you’ll see where I painted my first mural in the region.

Chaos.  That’s one of the two words I’d use to describe the day the littlest kids came to “help” paint.  I thought I was so clever.  I put up a table to block one of the entrances to the mural area.  The plan was to help keep the area a little calm.  It blocked adults.  The wee ones at the orphanage considered it all a part of a wonderful obstacle course.  They were delighted.  There was no calm.

There were probably 25 kids under the age of ten at Casitas Copán.  I promise you, it felt like 2.5 thousand.  Okay, to be honest, 2.5 million.  They were everywhere and so were little hands that really couldn’t help paint.  Hands went into my backpack, searching every pocket.  Hands got hold of my hat that I really didn’t want to wear all day, crushing it.  I wore my hat the rest of the day.  Hands got hold of the pencils sketch of the mural that was also the color guide for painting.  After ripping and wadding the design, it was trashed somewhere and took a long time to locate.  Hands continually tested the mural to see if the paint was dry.  It wasn’t.  Hands, when nobody was around, even took an ink pen to scribble across the art.  And finally, one set of hands liked to sneak up behind me and smack my ears.  It all kind of tested my philosophy that anyone who wants to paint should be given the opportunity.  Yes, it also tested my patience.

Just like little kids all over the world, when they want your attention, they slap, pat, or tap on arms, legs, or anywhere else they can reach.  Some of the children just repeated my name, Felipe, Felipe, Felipe over and over and over.  Finally, I told them that my name was “Felipe, mi amor” (Phillip, my love).  If they wanted to ask a question, they needed to say, “Felipe, mi amor” and then continue with the request.  It cut down on a lot of questions.  It didn’t do so much about the slapping, patting, and tapping.

What was the other word to describe the day?  Exhaustion!

Now, after my day with the little kids, I painted with adults.  Painting with children is like traveling in the developing world.  If everything is smooth and wonderful, there isn’t a lot to “write home about”.  I usually have a lot to write about when I work with kids or travel in the developing world.  My day with adults was stress free, easy, and so much work was accomplished.  There was no hint of chaos, exhaustion, or anything to write home about.