Palenque 2012: Countdown to the Lamest Apocalypse Ever!
Here is what set the Mayan apocalypse apart from other doomsday predictions. First of all, it was new and fresh. We hadn't yet heard from the Mayan's about doomsday, and by apocalypse prediction standards that means you're batting 100%. “The Mayan's, they've like never been wrong on this one!” The next thing the Mayan apocalypse had going for it was that it was not a biblical apocalypse. Sorry Bible, but after so many bad calls it's time to pass the torch. At this point if you hear the words 'biblical' and 'doomsday' in the same sentence, then you can bet it's sure to be a snoozer. Finally, they had already made an apocalypse movie about the event which was, by the way, fucking awesome no matter what the critics said.
It was under these pretexts that my fiancé and I made our plans to attend the solstice in Palenque since we were already traveling in Mexico. I started brushing up on my Mayan history and bought an end of the world iPhone app to get ready, but it wasn't long before early troubling signs emerged questioning the apocalyptic nature of the end of the Mayan Calendar. More troubling than the rumors was the source themselves, from scholars of Mayan history and the Mayan community itself. Yet thanks to the American media, the drumbeat of doom was still sounding loud and clear and I was able to convince myself that these so-called “Mayans” and “scholars” were just interlopers intent on ruining everyone's good time anticipating planetary extermination. Besides, you can always expect some asshole to poke holes in your armageddon and it's up to each individual to keep the faith. But don't think that I haven't been burned before. I had been an early enthusiast of the Heaven's Gate cult and had I been old enough in 1994 I surely would have run off to California to join in their suicidal apocalypse. In 1999 I was practically salivating over Y2K, and most recently I had been gunning for Harold Camping's doomsday of May 21, 2011 after he and his Family Radio International ministries put up thousands of billboards for the event. After a decade of disappointments it was becoming increasingly clear that Christ had better things to do than wipe out humanity. It was time to start looking outside the box and so I latched onto the Large Hadron Collider. As we're all painfully aware by now, time and space did not unravel when the collider came on line and as far as I know they're just pioneering new frontiers in physics over there in Switzerland or wherever it is. I was left with only the Mayan Calendar and somewhere deep down I knew that this was the last great hope.
We arrived in Palenque on the morning if December 20th after an all night bus-ride from Cancun to discover the international rainbow festival taking place at the same time. I like hippies as much as the next guy, but their good natured new age spiritualist ways seemed to clash with my expectations. They talked about the birth of the next age and energy and such topics that seemed to me very off point.
“New age my ass,” I would say. “When those temples open up for the aliens or when Jesus comes down on a righteous bolt of lightning to lay waste to the land… then whose gonna be talking about the new age?”
We visited the ruins where hippies from the rainbow festival were holding hands in chant circles at the entrance, and we walked through the beautiful forested ruins. I imagined the mighty city as it once was, the Mayans packing the temples with aliens or explosives and rigging a detonator against the long count calendar. We joined a group at the top of one of the temples for sunset, and as the sun fell below the trees I slapped my hands together in a, “Well, I guess that's the end of that” sort of gesture.
On our way back to the town of Palenque I day dreamed about the myriad possibilities it could all go down. Floods, aliens, astroids, zombies, plague, raining fire, a simultaneous and unexplained launch of all nuclear warheads… the possibilities are endless and tantalizing. My favorite involved a giant spear wheeling Jesus in Mayan garb in epic battle with Godzilla and an army of dinosaurs. Yet fate, being the cruel wench that she is, would shortly bring a small apocalypse down upon us in the form of a lost camera that evening as we hurriedly departed the van on our way back to the city. I am a veteran of loosing treasured things while traveling including completed journals and three months worth of photos. This was just another in a long list loosing things, yet it always sucks to loose something irreplaceable. What was more troubling however, was how bummed I felt considering the imminent end of the world.
Intent on not letting the loss of the camera ruin the end of existence, we made our plans for a midnight venture to the ruins even as the skies clouded and light rains began intermittently. Then, right on cue at midnight, torrential rains began and there was rumors among the hippies that the pilgrimage to the ruins and the morning celebrations were being canceled. Meanwhile, the rainbow festival camp was flooding with many bags and even several campers being washed away in a flash flood. It was beginning to seem like things were picking up steam, yet in the end that was about as apocalyptic as things got. We woke up the next morning not to screams and maniacal laughter, but just the rhythmic sound of rain on tin roofs. We mad up some signs about our missing camera and visited the ruins again. The rainbow kids had more or less taken over the joint and they made an awkward pair with the local Mayan community who had their own relatively modest celebrations and rituals. In some ways it seemed like an awkward first date which was not helped by the relative monolingual nature of the rainbow kids.
Later on we visited the rainbow festival camp which did have it's own post apocalyptic feel going on. Half and fully naked hippies stalked around in the mud blissfully unaware that they were trashing an otherwise pristine piece of forest. Indiscriminate fires burned here and there, cars and RVs spun their wheels in the mud making their fresh tracks into the forest, while the locals who owned trucks carted the rainbow kids back and forth to town. My fiancé and I chatted with them about the flood and we walked around feeling dreary until I kicked a downed palm frond burring a large thorn into the tip of my big toe. Did anyone know palm fronds are armed with large sharp spikes their entire lengths? Overall it was kind of a depressing scene and despite the fact that I had now accepted there would be no apocalypse this year I was still disappointed with God's half hearted attempt at flooding the rainbow camp. I took my bloodied toe and my girlfriend, and we boarded a truck back to town.
In the days to follow I scanned CNN in a relatively desperate search for news of the fiscal cliff negotiations, but something inside of me had died. I doubt I will ever again be able to bring myself to believe in another foretelling of the precipitous end of the world. Certainly an astroid or another other unforeseen event could could wipe out the world as we know it at any moment, but the odds of that seem dismally slim and it's something that can hardly be predicted. For me it was back to the busy work of living with relatively petty grievances about lost cameras, stubbing toes, and a bout of diarrhea that would see me through the holidays. I've resigned myself to the fact that the world will keep on spinning and I will keep on living for a period of time unknown to myself or anyone else. In the doomsday predictions game I'll be making the safe bet from here on out yet it's still a prediction that is no less disturbing or horrific than any other I've considered. So I will sign off with this dire warning to you all.
BEWARE, Doomsday is coming! Year 7,600,2012 AD: Sun becomes red giant, wipes out the universe. THERE IS NO ESCAPE!!!