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.

Prehistoric Bears Found in Underwater Cave in Mexico

Why The Modern Maya Don’t Think The World Is Ending

If you want to meet Maya people, go to the Yucatan. More specifically, go to the city of Merida. Merida’s population is nearly at a million and 60% of all inhabitants are of Maya ethnicity. Roughly a third of the population of Merida speak Mayan – the Yucatec Maya language. Fighting for space for my body on the crowded sidewalks and space for my car on the congested streets, my time in Merida was spent in close physical proximity to the modern Maya, as comes with the territory when visiting the downtown area of a capital city in Mexico over a weekend.

Although Merida was created atop a Spanish-overtaken and demolished Maya community, the Maya culture today is preserved in Merida through museums, music, dance, art, fashion, markets, cuisine and language, as well as in other areas of modern Merida life. When the conquistadors set out to rule the land now known as Merida, the Maya were forced to learn Spanish and their books were burned. The stones from Maya buildings were used to build Merida – the walls of the cathedral downtown are made from these stones. Old Spanish city gates that were once a part of a massive wall still stand in Merida. The wall was initially erected to protect the city’s center from revolting Maya. The last major revolt was the Caste War of Yucatan (1847-1901). Today, an outwardly integrated city greets travelers and it is flush with Maya souvenirs and Maya experiences to take home.

%Gallery-173726%The words of Rigoberta Menchu were in my mind when I conversed with the local Maya about the popular Doomsday Prophecies:

“We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.”

Before entering into these conversations, I already knew what I later found supporting evidence for in my discussions: modern Maya don’t think the world is ending on December 21. Careful not to speak in a way that would carry offensive implications of mystic misunderstandings, I asked the Maya I met about their own take on December 21 and all the hype. I asked the Maya on the street and in the market, I asked the Maya at restaurants and hotels. The answer was the same for everyone, there was no exception to this.

“We are entering into a new cycle,” they’d tell me. “This is just a new beginning,” they’d say without doubt.

I’m not alone in my findings. In a MINNPOST article, Phyllis Messenger, the president of the Maya Society of Minnestoa, is quoted as saying, “I have not yet run across any indigenous person who believes this is the end of the world.” The article’s author, Catherine Watson, goes on to make a good point when she reiterates the words of archaeologists with, “The Mayans probably didn’t fear the end of one baktun and the start of the next, archaeologists say. More likely, they celebrated it, much as we go all-out for really significant New Year’s Eves, like the ones when a century turns.”

Modern Maya aren’t worried because ancient Maya weren’t worried. The 13th baktun, a 400-year unit, is coming to a close and a new one is beginning. But because it is not a 14th baktun that is beginning but rather the first again (this method of tracking time is cyclical), the ancient Maya inscribed the date in zeroes. The lesson to take home from modern Maya: zeroes in this context represent resetting the clock, not unplugging it.

Make sure to check out the rest of my series, “Life At The End Of The World: Destination Yucatan,” which explores the Yucatan region, Maya culture and more.

New York City: Getting Back To Where You Once Belonged

The city of New York City exists strongly. Within New York, the smallest sounds are amplified as they break through the barriers of thin drywall. The coastal weather can be bitter, biting and unforgiving and still, the easiest way to get around New York is by foot and, in effect, immersed in the unchangeable climate. Even the most basic interactions occur more frequently in New York and tailing behind them are the trivial and yet infuriating conflicts that complicate daily life. The minutiae of life is a swift dagger, taking whole days hostage at the hand of an unfriendly DMV employee – I once broke down sobbing at the DMV on 34th street in Manhattan after an employee had repeatedly accused me of forging a signature for my vehicle registration all afternoon. She pointed out an apparent discrepancy in the loop of the letter ‘D’ and called me a liar, and then eventually said something mean about my mother. I didn’t move away from New York because of her, of course. I moved away because of all of it. I was tired of fighting for my own oxygen; I was tired of fighting battles I felt never should have been started to begin with – even if the battle was as trite as My Long Skirt vs. The Torrential Downpour.

The idea that other people in other cities, albeit smaller cities, were enjoying more fulfilling lives had been haunting me. A fantasy had been unraveling in my head for years of the yard and hammock and dog I could have in another city and I couldn’t shake it. Other people were paying less in rent. Other people had sunshine most days of the year while my core was being whittled away by “The Best City In The World.” Learning about H.A.A.M. in Austin, Texas, a healthcare program that provides medical services to area musicians, was the last straw for me. On top of all other New York stresses, I was playing the freelancer-without-healthcare lottery. I packed up my 1996 Honda Accord and drove south for four days, finally landing in Austin, Texas.

%Gallery-169276%I promptly moved into a charming three-bedroom house with an expansive, private back yard. I signed up for H.A.A.M. and began going to the doctor, dentist, chiropractor and therapist. I made a lot of friends and got married. I became the proud mother of two dogs and I took them hiking and swimming regularly. I overdosed on Vitamin D during the day and saw a lot of live music at night. I paid less for just about everything and saved my money. But despite having tackled and conquered so many goals that I felt would guide me toward truer happiness, I’d been battling an internal war since the moment I arrived.

Optimism blanketed my experience in Austin at first. I was living the life I had told myself I wanted and, even if I had to lie through my grinding teeth, I was determined to enjoy it. Despite my greatest efforts, something was missing. I could say that the “something” was this or that, that it was the electricity, anonymity, intensity, creativity or autonomy, but these are all subjective qualifiers, containing as much falsehood as truth. What I was really missing while living in Austin was much more basic and primal than any intellectual or abstract rendering of what a city like New York does or doesn’t offer. What I missed most was what I’d left behind – the chaos, the conversation, the cold chill of winter and the relationships forged under such conditions. What I was missing was my home.

Although I didn’t grow up in New York, it was the only home I had ever known. I was naive and young when I first arrived at age 18 and the city had powerfully shaped me. I hated it and loved it, like most New Yorkers, but I identified with its insanity and pulse – I felt as though the city and I were moving at the same pace, quickly and manically approaching each day. With each new street corner that staged a lifelong memory, my psyche had become more entangled with New York, and thus, less separable than I’d ever realized before living someplace else. But this seemed incongruous to me with my insatiable longing for new scenery, with my work as a travel writer. If I couldn’t easily pull down a new backdrop with a new landscape and a new context and carry on without missing a beat, then what business did I have feigning an adventurous spirit? But now that I’m living in New York again, with a yard and hammock and dogs no less, I recall the words of a friend’s father when he learned that I wanted to leave the city a year before I actually did.

“Everyone needs a home. You leave, you travel, you learn, but home is the place you come back to.”

At the time, I dismissed his words because home is supposed to be where the heart is and I believed my heart was everywhere. What I didn’t account for were the tiers of the heart; the difference between the comforting core and the fleeting nature of curiosity. The stakes and circumstances are different for everyone, but one thing is certain: nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the warm inner swell of, for better or for worse, getting back to where you once belonged.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Photo Of The Day: NYC Skyline

I don’t usually take Photos Of The Day as an opportunity to display my own work, but today’s photo of the NYC skyline is different. While riding to Brooklyn over the weekend, I looked out the passenger side window of my car and saw the evening sun casting shining beams of light between Manhattan’s buildings, silhouetting the skyline. I managed to capture what I saw and feel compelled to share the photo with you today. And so here it is, New York City at sunset.

Have a photo you’d like to submit for Photo Of The Day? Drop it into the Gadling Flickr Pool and we’ll take a look!

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