Mexico Gears-Up to Celebrate Mayan Apocalypse In 2012
December 21, 2011

Mexico Gears-Up to Celebrate Mayan Apocalypse In 2012

Mexico´s tourism industry is seeking to capitalize on the rest of the world´s anachronistic interest in apocalyptic doomsday prophecies.

According to the famous Mayan calendar, the world will come to end exactly one year from today, and Mexicans in the southeastern part of the country are a planning massive end-of-the-world festivities to entertain the influx of tourists they´re expecting.

The year-long celebration will take place all across the regions of Chiapas, Yucatan, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Campeche--the former stomping grounds of one of Central America´s most mysterious ancient cultures.

Tourist agencies are already predicting that the region will host some 52 million tourists next year, more than double the average number of annual visitors for the entire country.

But large agencies trying to market the massive festival have attempted to put a sunnier spin on the admittedly grim nature of the Mayan prophecies. “Come celebrate the end of the world with us” is a difficult pitch for even the savviest salesman.

Instead, tourist bureaus have been selling the festival as a time of ℠hope and renewal´--drawing upon the works of a number of contrarian archeologists who argue that the 2012 date on the cryptic 1,300-year-old stone calendar merely marks the end of a time cycle, not the world, in the ancient timepiece.

“The world will not end. It is an era,” explained tourism spokeswoman Yeanet Zaldo for the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo. “For us, it is a message of hope.”

Inhabitants of the regions kicked off the year-long festivities on Wednesday, with the city of Tapachula in Chiapas taking the lead by displaying an 8-foot digital countdown clock in the town´s largest park. At the famous archaeological site of Izapa not far away, descendants of Mayan priests lit incense and offered prayers.

“People who still live in Mayan villages will host rites and burn incense for us to go back in time and try to understand the Mayan wisdom,” Zaldo explained.

The state of Yucatan also recently made public its plans to construct a Maya Museum of Merida, which it hopes to have open by next summer.

Reaching its zenith in the years between 300 and 900 A.D., Mayan civilization, though primitive in many other respects, has made a name for itself in recent years with the uncanny sophistication of its astronomic knowledge. In the modern world this has earned the Mayans a reputation as mysterious soothsayers much like the fame enjoyed by Nostradamus.

“The Maya are viewed by many westerners as exotic folks that were supposed to have had some special, secret knowledge,” explained Mayan expert Sven Gronemeyer of La Trobe University in Australia to the Associated Press (AP).

“What happens is that our expectations and fears get projected on the Maya calendar.”

The Mayan´s so-called ℠Long Count´ calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., dividing history into segments called Baktuns which are approximately  394-years long. As was the case with many cultures around the world, the number thirteen bore particular significance for the Maya and they believed that the 13th Baktun would draw to a close on December 21, 2012.

The particular superstition which marks this date as the end of the world can be traced back to a stone table that was excavated at an archeological site in Tortuguero in the 1960s. According to the mysterious artifact, the god of the Maya would return at the end of the 13th Baktun.

Gronemeyer believes that the apocalyptic Mayan prophecies are not much different from the infamous ℠Y2K´ debacle at the turn of the millenia, when people around the world went into a panic that computer systems across the globe would crash.

“Human beings seem to be attracted by apocalyptic ideas and always assume the worst,” Gronemeyer todl AP's Adriana Gomez Licon.

For many experts in the field, the superstitious pop-culture hype about the end of the world distracts from real progress made in recent years by archeologists in understanding Mayan civilization.

“This new historical and archaeological knowledge is so much more interesting and mind-blowing than the fantastical claims about Maya prophecies one sees on TV, books or on the Internet,” wrote David Stuart, a Mayan specialist Mayan at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We´re dealing with thousands of newly deciphered texts and trying to weave together a coherent picture of Maya history and culture, which to me is as exciting as it gets.”

Still, people need to prepare, says Jonnie Channell, owner of Maya Sites Travel Services in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But not for the end of the world.

Channell says that travel accommodations are selling-out quickly, so find a hotel to stay in Mexico to enjoy the festivities is getting more difficult by the day. If you want to visit Mayan region in  2012, she says, you definitely need to plan, noting that her agency is selling package-deal bookings like hot cakes.

“We put together these tours, and we´ve got lots of signups, and people are excited about it,” she said.

But if anybody thinks they℠re going to experience anything more than a great time and a serious hangover, she added, “then they better stay home.”