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Dread, hope amid looming Mayan date

Chichen Itza expects spiritual-tourist rush

JACK CHANG
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Associated Press

Lu Zhenghai, right, walks near his ark-like vessel under construction in China. Lu Zhenghai is one of at least two men in China predicting a world-ending flood come Dec. 21.

MEXICO CITY – The clock is ticking down to Dec. 21, the supposed end of the Mayan calendar, and from China to California to Mexico, thousands are getting ready for what they think is going to be a fateful day.

The Maya didn’t say much about what would happen next, after a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count comes to an end. So into that void have rushed occult writers, bloggers and New Age visionaries foreseeing all manner of monumental change, from doomsday to a new age of enlightenment.

The 2009 disaster flick “2012” helped spark doomsday rumors, with its visions of Los Angeles crashing into the sea and mammoth tsunami waves swallowing the Himalayas. Foreboding TV documentaries and alarmist websites followed, sparking panic in corners of the globe thousands of miles from the Mayan homeland of southern Mexico and Central America.

As the big day approaches, governments and scientists alike are mobilizing to avoid actual tragedy. Even the U.S. space agency NASA intervened this month, posting a nearly hour-long YouTube video debunking apocalyptic points, one by one.

The Internet has helped feed the frenzy, spreading rumors that a mountain in the French Pyrenees is hiding an alien spaceship that will be the sole escape from the destruction. French authorities are blocking access to Bugarach peak from Dec. 19 to 23 except for the village’s 200 residents “who want to live in peace,” the local prefect said in a news release.

“I think this tells us more about ourselves, particularly in the Western world, than it does about the ancient Maya,” said Geoffrey Braswell, an associate professor of anthropology and leading Maya scholar at the University of California, San Diego.

“The idea that the world will end soon is a very strong belief in Western cultures. ... The Maya, we don’t really know if they believed the world would ever end.”

As the clock ticks down, scenarios have mounted about how the end will come. Some believe a rogue planet called Nibiru will emerge from its hiding place behind the sun and smash into the Earth. Others say a super black hole at the center of the universe will suck in our planet and smash it to pieces.

In China, Lu Zhenghai has spent his life savings, about $160,000, building a 70-foot-by-50-foot vessel powered by three diesel engines, according to state media.

“I am afraid that when the end of the world comes, the flood will submerge my house,” the 44-year-old ex-army man was quoted as saying.

The mystery isn’t only inspiring dread: Some are whipping out their yoga tights and meditation cushions and joining a global counter-movement promoting the date as the start of a new era of hope.

Thousands of New Age adherents are expected to fill ancient sites across Mexico in the days leading up to Dec. 21, while their spiritual brethren party in hotspots as diverse as Culver City, Calif., and Byron Bay, Australia.

One of the biggest movements is Birth 2012, which is using the Mayan date to launch what it hopes will be a global spiritual reset. About 40 events around the world will mark the change.

In Mexico’s Mayan heartland, nobody is preparing for the end of the world; instead, they’re bracing for a tsunami of spiritual visitors of the terrestrial variety.

Hotels near the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza have been sold out, with many rooms booked a year in advance.

Volunteers at the Kinich Ahau center – dedicated to spreading the “authentic wisdom of the Maya” – were busy chopping resinous wood to mix with incense for a sacred fire ceremony to greet visitors from around the world.

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