The world is coming to an end. Again. On December the 21st, 2012, long count of the Mayan calendar, which allegedly started back around 3200 BC, for reasons that no one actually knows. So lots of people think that when the long count ends, the whole world will go blooy. I’m going down to Copan in Honduras, which is the easternmost edge of the “Mundo Maya.” There’s going to be parties everywhere, so why not?
The end of the world is something that is predicted and re-predicted about two or three times a year. Sometimes, these predictions are right on. The Jehovah’s Witnesses said it would happen in August of 1914, and some Jewish mystic said it would on Rosh Hashanah 5700 (September 1939), and lo and behold; there were two world wars. So who knows?
All the brouhaha has to do with the fact that the Maya are famously mysterious. This is because they liked to throw away their cities every now and then, and melt back into the forest. They lost all but two of their books to Spanish censors back in the 1550s, and so their alphabet (actually a syllabary like the Japanese) was long forgotten and illegible. That was until the 1990s, but before then, they were considered a mysterious and peaceful bunch of astronomers who had a perfect civilization before they vanished entirely, and left their land to a bunch of savages who took the name, and oh yeah, they had this really funky calendar which ends in 2012.
They still say that on some History Channel specials.
But in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the “glyphs” were deciphered and everything changed, the Maya were learned to be ruled by a warlike bunch who liked to fight with each other until the commoners got fed up and left for the jungles, leaving their glimmering cities to collapse.
It is these cities, which were never really lost, that have become the center of the tourist industry of Western Central America, from Chiapas to the west to Somewhere in El Salvador to the east. The most famous of these is Chechen Izta near the north coast of the Yucatan peninsula, Iconic as is possible to be, it’s located in a theme park of sorts, just the place for an “end of the world “ celebration.
Most of the major public Mayan cities are gearing up for a tourist bonanza, New Agers from everywhere are going to do their thing to celebrate what they think are the ancient rites of the pre-decipherment mythology. With any luck, there’s going to be lots of semi-legal intoxicants to enhance the experience.
It’s kind of late to do anything about getting there, but in case you can, most of the festivities are near the beach. Cancun, for example is a genuine Mayan temple in the Hotel Zone (it was the only thing there before the city was planned.), The dozen theme parks along the “Riviera Maya” are all having big events, and Belize is having a major push to double it’s usual tourism revenue.
The Mystery of the Maya is vanishing, Archeologist have managed to discover most of the reasons why the so-called “Classic” civilization collapsed (El Niño, and a long drought) and even so, the ruins are impressive pretty much anywhere. The best are Chechen Itza, which is easy go get to and Palenque, which is not, Both in Mexico, Tikal and Copan, which are in Central America and are to some extent even better, but are quite difficult to get to. There are lots of minor sites which can be fascinating.
Remember if you want to find out more, stay away from anything New Agey. The New Age movement has rejected most of the knowledge acquired by archeologists in the past few decades and tries to cling to stuff which was proffered by Eric Thompson, who was bamboozled by Mayan friends of his who proffered a totally fraudulent picture of the civilization and tried to enforce his view on the academic world for much of the 20th century.
Those who think the castles and pyramids were built under the supervision of Space Aliens are still around and are going to be down in the Riviera Maya in force. It’s going to be fun to watch them make fools of themselves up close.
The REAL thing is always more interesting than the fantasy. Hopefully the end of the world will make this idea more popular.