Chichen Itza (Mexico): Thousands of people were expected to flock to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico before daybreak Friday - some to hail the start of a new Mayan era, others to bid farewell to the world.
Even though officials here said no special celebrations were planned to mark the turn of the Mayan calendar on December 21, which happens to coincide with the Winter Solstice, up to 20,000 revelers were awaited at the pyramids anyway.
Around the world, the superstitious have spent the week fretting over an apocalyptic interpretation of the ancient civilization’s calendar, taking refuge in mountains or bunkers, with some stockpiling guns and survival kits.
Chichen Itza was once one of the largest Maya cities, and its famous ruins are a popular attraction in Meso-America, and officials were expecting a crush of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site on the Yucatan peninsula.
“We’re expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors,” a spokesman for Mexico’s National Institute for Anthropology and History, tasked with the safekeeping of the nation’s cultural heritage, told reporters.
In Guatemala, President Otto Perez was to kick off a long night of Mayan dance and rituals late yesterday in Tikal National Park in the north of the country lasting until dawn.
Tikal, near the Belize border, is the largest archaeological site and urban centre of the Maya civilization.
The December 21 mystery stems from a carved stone found in Tortuguero, a Mayan site in Mexico. The relief contains a cryptic allusion to something really big happening today.
However, most experts interpret the calendar to mean December 21, 2012 is simply the end of a 5,200—year era for the Maya and the start of another.
This reading says that today marks the end of 13 cycles with which they measured time — each lasting 400 years.
If that’s right, everybody can relax and enjoy the ceremonies as folklore.
Governments and tourism officials have thus scrambled to cash in on the doomsday frenzy and lure visitors to Mayan sites from Mexico to Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
In Brazil, there was an unusual number of visitors to the town of Alta Paraiso attracted by — or perhaps fleeing — the impending cosmic occurrence.
The town, well inland of the coast and in Brazil’s central highlands, is seen as one of the safest places in the country to ride out doomsday — if disaster should, in fact, strike.