Business Fuels Doomsday Prophecies In Mexico

Every other billboard seemed to mention 2012 as I drove along that famously flat stretch of road from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. I was on my way to spend a couple of days relaxing at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, but the easiest way to reach Riviera Maya is via Carretera Federal 307 and 307 is ornamented with billboards, as anyone would expect. Riviera Maya is a popular vacation destination, and popularity and advertising are two peas in the Business Success pod. It wasn’t the billboards themselves that caught my attention, though. What flashed before me memorably every few minutes was a billboard referencing 2012, or the apocalypse, or Doomsday prophecies, or the Maya calendar – and this consistency is what I noticed. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the ads approach and then disappear; marketers, when they’re good, are usually really good.

%Gallery-173831%The billboards along 307 were just bigger, bolder versions of what I’d already been seeing all over Cancun and Merida in the days prior. In Cancun, an employee at the car rental company tried to convince me to go to a tourist trap complete with Maya this and End Of The World that. He was moonlighting as a promotions guy for the place while I signed the forms for my rental car. In Merida, it seemed as though most businesses and individuals who had thought of a way to capitalize off of the December 21 hype had acted on those thoughts. The enterprising women and men behind these ventures, many of them holding shops at the weekly Merida market, sold Doomsday books and guides, Maya calendars, Maya calendars made out of chocolate, apocalypse T-shirts and key-chains. I ate at a restaurant in Merida called 2012 Mayan Spaces and Something Else. The food was very good, as were the drinks, especially for being one of the few vegetarian options in Merida. Nonetheless, the restaurant carried this name and thus, so did the menu. The back wall of the outdoor patio displayed Maya-based art. The hotel I stayed at in Merida offered an impressive selection of Maya-themed tours to guests and “2012” was scribbled in large numerals on their office chalkboard. The crowds at Chichen Itza were insufferable; the long lines buzzed with End Times speculations.

Of course no one else was talking about the world ending on December 21. The only people who seemed to engage in any of these theories in the Yucatan were the people who were in a position to profit from the surprisingly widespread belief. The first man I spoke to in Merida, a man of Maya descent, was quick to discuss the modern Maya and history of the Maya in Merida with me, but he didn’t comment on the 2012 prophecies until 15 minutes into our conversation and he only spoke of the prophecies as a response to my questioning. When I mentioned the lore, his eyes glazed over as if he were remembering something he’d only taken note of in the most distant, peripheral sense. Like asking a non-Christian for their thoughts on the rapture mentioned in the Book of Revelation, locals were aware that others had attached themselves to this prophecy, but they were not believers.

When Pastor John Hinkle made his D-Day declaration for June 9, 1994, my parents nervously anticipated the date. I cuddled with my elementary school friend that night, waiting for fiery claws to rip the skies wide open, and of course it never happened. But it isn’t the truth behind the prediction that matters. What matters is how much publicity the prediction can collect leading up to the date. Hinkle’s ratings for his TBN show were probably skyrocketing from the hoopla before June 9 that year. All of this is to say, the “end of the world” appears to be relevant to the people of the Yucatan in only one way for certain: business.

It’s a good thing December 21 falls on a Friday. All of the opportunistic entrepreneurs out there can take their hype-checks to the bank and have them deposited before Christmas morning.

Read more from my series, “Life At The End Of The World: Destination Yucatan,” here.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]

Photo Of The Day: Cenote Suytun

I visited the Yucatan recently and stopped into Cenote Suytun when I was passing through Valladolid, Mexico. Photographer Ben Britz was with me and, without my knowing, he snapped this photo of me in the cenote. The natural reverb in the cavern was majestic. The sound of trickling water was the only sound reflecting that reverb. The water was aglow with a crisp blue-green color and we were the only people inside the cenote the entire time. It was a beautiful experience and I felt compelled to share the photo. If you’d like one of your photos to be considered for Photo Of The Day, just drop your photos into our Gadling Flickr Pool.

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Photo Gallery: Hurricane Sandy Damage In Brooklyn

Since Hurricane Sandy first hit the East Coast, photos of the devastating damage have headlined media outlets. Entire communities were lost to this storm, blocks were burned, Lower Manhattan was flooded and lives were lost. Red Hook, Brooklyn, was flooded with 5+ feet, destroying neighborhood homes and businesses. Photographer Ben Britz and I ventured out the day after the storm and collected these photos from Red Hook, Sunset Park and Greenwood Heights in Brooklyn. While the damage we saw didn’t hold a flame to the worst of it, this gallery aims to provide a glimpse into what life in some areas of Brooklyn looked like the day after the storm.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

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Photo Of The Day: Autumn Leaves In West Virginia

Autumn leaves are especially beautiful when contrasted against a crisp, blue sky, but there’s something equally stunning when you see the brightly colored leaves of fall paired with a dark, brooding, stormy sky. Photographer Ben Britz explores the aesthetics of the latter in this photo, which he shot in an unassuming shopping mall parking lot in Morgantown, West Virginia, last month. As both evening and a strong storm were rolling in, this tree’s leaves glowed with a little help from the monstrous parking lot lights. Do you have photos of this year’s fall foliage that you’d like to submit for Photo Of The Day? If so, go ahead and upload them to the Gadling Flickr Pool and we’ll take a look.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]

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Photo Of The Day: Austin Graffiti

This photo of Austin’s East Side captures several things I love about Austin all at once. This photo captures the train rushing by, reflecting the graffiti in its windows. The vibrant graffiti to the left is the kind of graffiti dispersed all over East Austin, but this East 5th building is a graffiti staple. The glow of sunset is saturating everything within the photograph, the same way it does every early evening. Moonlight Towers are historical Austin landmarks and there’s one standing on the horizon of this photo. And finally, just one of the many motivated artists on the East Side is standing in the middle of it all, Laquinton Wagner. This photo was taken by Ben Britz. If you have a photo you’d like to submit as Photo of the Day, submit it to the Gadling Flickr Pool.Tour Austin, Texas