Doomsday Fizzles, but Many Hail a New Era

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TULUM, Mexico -- Midway through the supposed end of the world here, searing solar rays blasted a group of people lying on the beach. One of them turned to a visitor and with no trace of apocalyptic agony reported on what was obvious.

"Well, we're still here," said James Mitchell, a tourist from London who planned to really end his day with drinks at a local bar. "But it is a little peculiar to be here on a date with those numbers."

The date -- 12-21-12 -- inspired an Internet-fueled misreading of a Mayan calendar that led many to believe the end of the world would arrive.

NASA, the Vatican, Mexico's archaeological institute, the Smithsonian Institution, the governments in places like China, Russia and France where hysteria took root, all declared it a misunderstanding that would make this, as several debunkers put it, the Y2K of doomsdays.

The date, aside from the winter solstice, merely marked the end of a 5,125-year cycle -- the 13th baktun -- and the beginning of a new one, according to interpretations of the Mayans' long-count calendar. Mexico's government archaeologists actually are not sure if the cycle ended Friday or in a few days.

Still, the prophecy took on a life of its own and gave birth to vigorous tourism campaigns in Mexico and Guatemala, the two countries with the heart of the Mayan empire, which also happen to be trying to burnish an image tarnished by violence.

Ceremonies were held at Mayan and other indigenous ruins, emphasizing the dawn of a new era rather than the collapse of the current one.

"It is more special today because of the date and the Mayan calendar," said Carlos Zendejas, a shaman and restaurateur known as Charlie who led a New Age ceremony for scores of people dressed in white at the Muyil ruins near here. They filled the air with incense smoke and the sound of chimes, drumming and song.

"This day and this time, this 21st, is where all of the past and all the future meets together," one participant said. "This is what makes it so powerful."

Descendants of the Mayans greeted the date with a shrug, or for the dwindling numbers still practicing ancient rites, with solemn, more closed ceremonies. Workers at the Muyil ruins said some priests held rites at dawn in the surrounding forest long before tourists woke up.

Oxlaljuj Ajpop, a Mayan activist group in Guatemala, told reporters there that they objected to the commercialization of the date, but a large public Mayan ceremony was held at Tikal, ancient ruins in Guatemala, at dawn.

Lourdes Macial traveled from Argentina to Tulum, not to witness an apocalypse but because she believed it was a spiritual place and the last city built and inhabited by the ancient Mayans. Its ruins, some of them perched on a beach open to bathers, attract thousands.

"It's silly to think it's the end of the world," she said at the Muyil ruins ceremony. "What is real is the energy that flows here and around the world.

"And," she added with a laugh, "it keeps flowing."

Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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