Meeting the End of the World

The Ruins at Day Zero

When will the world end? Is there an apocalypse coming? Did the Mayan’s get it right, somehow, from their vantage point on the verge of the prehistoric age? On Friday, December 21st, at 6:11 PM, are the poles going to fling themselves into a magnetic reversal? Will a huge solar prominence suddenly lash out and drop us all like flies? Will the New World Order emerge? Will the phantom planet Nilbir sudden collide with the Earth, or is something really surprising going to happen?

There seem to be two common responses to this question – either “Yes, as I’ve long predicted”, or “No” followed by a scoff. It is not a question that is taken very seriously.

But what if it was.

When will the world end? There has to be an answer to that rather discomforting thought. Someone is going to be the last generation around to face the end, how do we know it isn’t going to be us? So why not December 21st, 2012? Why not this month?

I was sitting on the couch when this question walked up to me. I didn’t have an answer for it. Normally, that doesn’t bother me. Today it did.

“I don’t know,” I told the question. “I think I have to go down to Mexico and find out.”

The plan was simple. Take a plane from Los Angeles to the Mayan homeland, the Yucatan Peninsula. There I would attend two of the several major gatherings that had been planned for years in advance – the Time and Space Festival on the coast near Tulum, and the Day Zero event near Playa Del Carmen. 10,000+ participants were anticipated at both events, possibly more. No one knew for sure. No one knew for sure if there was even going to be a December 22nd, least of all me. If there were going to be answers anywhere then this was the spot, and who more likely to know than the true believes gathering en masse?

I bought me tickets, packed my sandals and my tent, and headed for the airport.

***

Two enormous explosions shatter my sleep and tear the night apart. It’s 3:00 AM on December 21st, 2012. I jerk awake, utterly disoriented. I’m totally naked, blinded by the dark, and tangled up in my sleeping bag. I’m the very definition of panicked. Something shoots out over the top of my tent, whistling.

It’s too soon for the apocalypse! is my first thought. Nobody was predicting the end of the world this early in the day – it’s practically still the 20th.

Two more explosions go off, followed by an electric sizzle. I get my head outside of my tent flap. Mortars are exploding overhead, fireworks I realize. They pop dangerously close over head, red and silver spidering down from the sky and over the party goers. Over at the dance stage, one of the endless procession of DJ’s is providing revelers with the 18th continuous hour of electronic music while a complex array of LCD screens flash through hallucinatory visuals.

I don’t know who’s sick joke it was to set off pyrotechnics in the middle of the night on the eve of the Apocalypse, but I’m not amused. Don’t they know people are trying to sleep?

Actually, I’m probably the only one trying to sleep in a 5 mile radius. I’m on the beach near Tulum, Mexico at the Time and Space Festival, and the party could not be going harder.

The Stage at Tulum

Time and Space is the party par excellence. Three large stages are stretched across a half mile of beach, broken up by bars and food stands. 10,000 people swarm it, each on their own leg of a some personal, drug-fulled odyssey.

The acid housers are gathered at the middle stage, a large swimming pool decked out with giant fake lotus blossoms that spit water in time to the beat. They are, justifiably, tripping acid. Aimless gyrations are the dance of choice, followed closely by a sort of wild and vacant stomping – as if cosmic machine elves were in control of the dancer via interdimensional marionette strings. The other two stages are devoted to their own sub-genres of the expansive House music world. Someone tells me one of the stages is playing Side Trance. I nod, appeasingly. This means very little to me, House isn’t really my scene. In fact, this whole scene isn’t really my scene. That’s not to say there’s something wrong with it, the pumping vibes of the truck sized speakers convert the air to pulverizing noise waves that you can feel in your lungs. Crowds of revelers sway, swing and hop in ecstasy, on ecstasy. It can’t help but pull you in. When the sounds of DJ Blue Lunar Monkey suddenly reach the moment of pulsing perfection your want to tear off your shirt and join these people in their party. But that’s all it is. A party. The exalted ruins of Tulum, some of the best on the coast, aren’t even within eyesight of this stretch of pristine white sand beach.

Dancing with fire in Tulum

I ask Scott, a Canadian from off the coast of Vancouver Island, what he thinks will happen on the 21st.

“Nothing,” he says, “It’s just a very good excuse to party.”

Scott used to be deep into new age mysticism, he was a student of the 2012 apocalypse for years before it was ever mentioned in the mainstream media. He took the conventional new age understanding of the event to heart. An alignment with the fabled Galactic Center. A universal growth of consciousness. A metaphysical transcendence, even, to a higher dimension of being. But eventually his studies lead him down a different path. That’s not what he’s here for now.

“If you want really want something to happen in your world, it will happen. If you want 12/21/12 to mean you’ll be a nicer person, then you will. But you don’t have to wait for that to happen, you can do that any time.”

Pool Party in Tulum

The incredible volume of the festival’s music renders meaningful conversation nearly impossible, but the handful of other party goers I manage to talk to all agree. This is a rave scene, not a mystical event. Once day has broken I wash myself in the aqua blue sea waves and pack up my tent. By 11:00 AM I’m standing on the roadside, ready to head to Day Zero just up the coast at Playa Del Carmen. Day Zero features a count down timer prominently on their site. In seven hours, what is coming will be here.

***

It’s raining, and I’m headed inland from Playa Del Carmen for the jungle proper. My taxi driver takes a turn off the paved road and bumps along a pitted dirt path that runs through the emerald green selva, the Mexican jungle. Before long we’re at the entrance to Day Zero. Over the tops of the trees, I can see the flat peak of a Mayan zigguarat. Rain splatters on my backpack and face as the taxi pulls away. I grumble. There are few things in life I like less than camping in the rain. Crawling into a sleeping bag while wet is essentially a form of self torture. A trio of travelers pass me as I enter the forest.

“Why are you going in there,” the Australian in sunglasses shouts, “it fucking sucks!”

Filled with happy thoughts, I wend my way into the Day Zero grounds.

Astoundingly, things could not be better at Day Zero. To whit, I find myself standing in one of the several, small interconnected clearings that ring a large, exposed cenote, or water hole, regarding an assemblage of eight Mayan shaman.

Shaman at Day Zero

The Day Zero festival is taking place amid a gathering of three Mayan ruins, two small ziggurats not more than 30 feet tall, and a grand ziggurat almost twice that high. Heavy reconstruction went into the ruins at some point in the previous few years, but the grandeur of the ancient structures shines through all the same. One of the small ruins has been converted into the DJ’s roost, where revelers very much like those at Time and Space are getting their psychedelic groove on. The vibe is entirely different however. Here the festival has bent to conform the the shape of the land, and the Mayan ruins loom over all of us.

It is at a midpoint between the three ruins that the shaman are sitting, languidly preparing for the timer to hit 0:00:00. They primp enormous head dresses made of extravagant feathers and the preserved faces of jungle animals. Death and beauty mark them all, from the incense bearer, a young woman in white surplice crowned with a single tall feather, to the stocky man painted in black pigments and bedecked in leering skulls.

The shaman come from all over Mexico. I speak with the shaman from Qintana Roo, a young guy, 30 at most. He emanates an air of such ease that I find myself sitting next to him, chatting with his wife and brother after a minute. He has a very different opinion of the rain than me.

“The Grandfather’s are here,” he says, not grandly, just simply. “They’ve come to bless us. They’ve come because we sang for them. The clouds, these huge clouds, the rain, have come just to show us their blessing. Now the sun is back to smile on us.”

He’s right, the sun is out again. And the air is clear and pure. This is the kind of stuff I was looking for. I ask him what he thinks will happen tonight.

“We will dance,” he says.

I’m sure they will, but will something happen?

“It already happened,” he says, “at 5:08 this morning. The new era began.”

This is a problem I’ve run into several times now. The Time and Space festival celebrated the change at 11:11 AM, Day Zero is set for 6:11 PM, and now the shaman disagrees with both. Calculating for a 25,625 year period are tricky to get right, I suppose. Trickier still when you actually start looking into it. What about adjusting for changes from the Julian to the Gregorian calender in 1582? Is that accounted for? What about leap day? This whole line of questioning likely to lead you down the rabbit hole of questioning the legitimacy of the apocalypse all together, which is not the purpose of my trip and probably best avoided.

If we go with the Shaman, and it seems like he would know, then I slept through this one, but I’m still not sure what I slept though. Nilbir hasn’t struck. There’s been no news of earthquakes. The New World Order seems to be keeping themselves under wraps. Is the Shaman wrong? How can there be an apocalypse without cataclysm?

Shaman at Day Zero

The rest of the Day Zero festival ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. The Mayans dance, and I stand in awe. They shake their feet and the bells on their ankles chime. They rattle the massive rattles the skull wearer bears. Incense fills the air. Then, within ten minutes, its over. The dance, the whole festival.

Within half an hour the entire sound system has been carted off by Mexican laborers. The assembled party goers break camp and follow suit. By 8:00 PM I’m alone by the embers of a dying fire.

Nothing happened. No scientists had thought anything would happen, no one I met thought anything would happen, and even I never seriously thought anything would happen. Nothing earth-shaking anyway. I slink back to my tent disappointed, and spend a restless night under the boughs of the jungle canopy.

Why did I come here?

On December 19th, high winds were scouring LA in the predawn murk, a sudden freak storm that arose from nowhere just after I got off work. The winds brought down tree branches on the I-5 north of the city, killing power in isolated patches and halting Christmas bound cars.

It felt like it was trying to blow me out of the city. I wanted it to. I’d just watched a gunman kill 20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary School on the news. I’d been watching it for five days. Earlier, that same week, a man had opened fire in a shopping mall in Oregon for no reason. 2012 was a year peppered with horrors capped by a week overflowing with horrors.

I went to the Yucatan because, to me, it felt like the world was ending. Like all this madness would me sense if it were part of some cosmic scheme, no matter how unbelievable. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the world was primed for something, and that this, maybe this was the trigger. If the world ended on December 21st, if something had happened, if anything had happened, then maybe I would know what to do with myself.

The predawn light rouses me on the morning of the 22nd. I gather up my belongings and ascend the peak of the tallest pyramid. Nothing may have happened, but strangely I feel better than I did on the morning of the 19th when the cold winds were lashing me in LA.

I think about the response everyone gave me, every time I asked them what would happen on the 21st. Nothing will happen, only if you want it to. Maybe they were right, and maybe the Shaman was right too. Maybe what I wanted had already happened to me.

I came to meet the end of the world head on because I was afraid, afraid of all the horror that has happened this year, afraid of what each subsequent day might bring. Which means what I was hoping for, all along, was that I might find some peace.

Slowly, gradually, the sun rises over the jungle. I’ve only stood and watched three dawns rise in my life. This one was the best, as ten rosy rays fanned out above the tree line and illuminated the sky with a canary glow. This is the end of the world, and this is a new beginning. That will have to be enough.

David Crennen

David is a freelance writer who tackles the strangest locations, foods and events world-wide as part of this ongoing adventure called life. He was raised on the rocky slopes of sunny Colorado, and now calls the planet-at-large his home. His personal motto is, "There is nothing mundane in this world." Websites: http://eatingatjoes.wordpress.com http://japandavid.blogspot.com http://theamazingworldofdavid.blogspot.com Twitter: @adventuringlife
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