COMING FACE-TO-FACE WITH THE MAYA APOCOLYPSE

“Peering to my left, I spied an inconspicuous sacbe, which forked to the southeast, away from the buzzing bicycles and taxis of the main road. Deserted and completely bypassed by all other tourists, it looked more like utility road reserved for “authorized personnel.” I examined my map hoping to identify the mysterious path. Indeed represented, it extended for more than a kilometer through a sea of white, free of any markings, until it dead-ended into what was labeled the Macanxoc Group.

Looking at Amanda with my finger still on the map, I raised my eyebrows and she replied simply with a slight side-tilt of her head and a few enthusiastic nods. It was a bit of a commitment, and there were literally no other travelers on the straight road for as far as my eyes could see. But I had few worries and the tranquility of the jungle was actually quite inviting.

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Greeting us at the end of the long, straight road was a complex of small stone platforms that would hardly warrant an eye bat when compared to the spectacular ruins of the Yucat√°n. Was this to be a venture all for not? Among the trees and stone roughly half a dozen or so small thatched roofs were peppered about the barely-cleared ruins. An unexpected sight, we’d seen thatched-roof palapas such as these before, helping to protect rare glyph renovations in Copan and preservation efforts like El Trono in Ek Balam. But they were used only on the most important of projects. By comparison, these palapas were tiny and I wondered why something so prized was so far from the heart of the city. As the trails teamed with scores of tourists back at the iconic monuments of Coba, there was just one other couple meandering with us around the Macancox Group.

As I approached the first shelter, I could see that it was protecting a single stele. Like the uber-iconic monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Maya stelae are vessels from which to record historical information and futuristic prophecies, and are quite rare and poignant statements in a world with relatively few semi-permanent written words. Needless to say, they indicate things of great importance. The stelae here, at the Macanxoc Group, are quite different from others we’ve seen in such sites like Copan. Smaller and much more weathered, to the extent that virtually no clear shapes can be discerned, the impression they make is lackluster at best. Luckily, each stone has a marker with an illustrative recreation of the carvings along with descriptions. Of course, I’ll just have to take their word for it.

Unlike in Copan, pictorial art was not the only purpose of these prophetic markers. Etched with important dates and calendar cycles like a swollen journal, stele 1 contains the most prized information of the group. Along with a telling of the twisted Maya creation story, it references a number of calendar dates, one of which is the most famous date, after September 11, 2001, of this millennium, December 21, 2012.

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There, it was – one of the few recordings of the end of the first Great Cycle. Like a discovery straight from the pages of the next Indiana Jones script, I have to admit that standing alone, next to that tall cryptic stone, feeling thousands of miles from civilization, was pretty powerful. I found myself mesmerized, almost hypnotized like the apes by Kubrick’s great black monolith. Does it mean something that I find myself here exactly two years and three days from the very date? Have I become the newest convert to the cosmic crazies club? Should I simply succumb to the sways of popular culture and the academic teachings of Hollywood don a pair of black-and-white Nike Windrunners and accept that the Maya truly were a culture destined for doom?

Feeling myself wavering, some force drew me to my trusty guidebook and my moment of salvation. Reading further, I learned that the first Great Cycle was not the only one immortalized in this stone. In fact, on the same stele, another Maya Long Count calendar date was also recorded. This one references another cycle which will roughly terminate a staggering 41.9 billion, billion, billion years into the future. No, I did not stutter. That’s 3 “billions.”

I felt rather dumbfounded and a little embarrassed, as though someone had just punked me. As I reviewed the findings, I attempted to postulate a scenario where a cycle could complete itself in 41.9 billion, billion . . . (pause to catch breath) . . . billion years if the Apocalypse is to occur in just two short years and three days. Confident that the paradox was beyond my level of comprehension, I began to feel better about my future once again. I don’t think I’ll be buying plane tickets to come back to this spot anywhere near the end of 2012.”

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