Two Weeks ‘Til Doomsday

A gentle reminder to all Webner House readers:  the Mayan “long count” calendar ends on December 21, 2012.  Get ready!

It’s entirely natural that people would be paying attention to the end of a calendar created by a long-dead ancient civilization that engaged in ritual human sacrifice.  The “long count” calendar began, quite logically, in 3114 B.C. and accounts for time in those familiar 394-year-long periods called bak’tuns.  December 21st marks the end of the 13th and final bak’tun.  Some people are preparing by engaging in panic buying of food and candles and other essentials.  The U.S. government, on the other hand, has reassured us that the world won’t end on December 21.  If Uncle Sam says it, it must be so.

The big problem with the Mayans is that they weren’t very clear about what would happen when this latest bak’tun cycles down to nothingness.  Will old Earth be smashed to bits by a comet or a hidden planet?  Will returning aliens land on the Gaza plateau and plains of Chichen Itza?  Will the 22nd mark the commencement of the Apocalypse, Ragnarok, and the return of vengeful Mayan gods, ready to give puny humans their comeuppance?  Or, as I prefer to think, will the end of the unlucky 13th bak’tun herald the beginning of a blissful new era of enlightenment where negotiations about “fiscal cliffs” are quickly consummated to the satisfaction of all and the Cleveland Browns win dozens of Super Bowls?

We’ll find out soon enough.  If I’m right, on the 22nd all of those panicky folks are going to feel pretty silly, wasting their money on candles and food instead of buying Cleveland Browns paraphernalia that you can get a bargain prices these days.


Mayan Misunderstanding

Our New Year arrives carrying some apocalyptic baggage.  Many people have focused on the significance of 2012 under the Mayan calendar, and whether the calendar predicts that 2012 will bring the end of the world.  It’s even been the subject of a hilariously over-the-top disaster movie.

According to this BBC article, however, that apocalyptic interpretation of the Mayan calendar is in error.  The Mayan “long count” calendar, which began in 3114 BC, proceeds in 394-year periods called Baktuns.  2012 marks the end of the 13th Baktun, which is supposed to mark certain celestial alignments and herald the return to Earth of a powerful god and the start of a new era.  So, the end of the “long count” calendar just marks the end of an era, not the end of the world.

Whew!  What a relief!  I was concerned that, of all the civilizations, religions, and cults in the history of mankind that have predicted the end of the world, a civilization that engaged in ritual human sacrifice and other bloody practices and hit its high point more than 1,000 years ago might have just been the one to get it right.

Vacation Time: Cozumel And Chichen Itza

The cave pool

We spent Christmas break a few years ago at Cozumel. We stayed in another of those all-expenses-paid resorts that offered a fine, white sand beach, several different restaurant options with good food, and a menu of different activities. We decided to try two of the activities — one of which was disastrous and one of which was wonderful.

I’ll talk about the disastrous one first. Richard and I decided to try scuba diving because Cozumel has some excellent diving sites.

Richard and Russell at the cave pool

We boarded a boat, and on the ride out we received instruction on how to clear our masks, how to equalize pressure in our ears, and other basics. When we got to the first dive point and went down, I obviously failed to equalize pressure because my ears immediately seemed to plug. Never having been scuba diving before, however, I didn’t know anything odd had happened.

I enjoyed the scuba diving when I was underwater. After you overcome the initial panicky feeling of being so far below the surface, it is very peaceful to drift along, watching brilliantly colored sea creatures swim past.The main temple at Chichen Itza

When we came back up to the boat and I took off my mask, the instructor noticed that my nose was bleeding. I shrugged it off as part of the scuba experience, and we went down again. On the ride back to the resort, however, I couldn’t get my ears to unplug, and the sensation — like having my ears stuffed with wet, heavy cotton balls — was very unpleasant. The next morning I visited the resort doctor, who told me that I had blown out all of the blood vessels in both ears (which caused the bloody nose) and blood had pooled behind both eardrums. He prescribed antibiotics and warned that the plane ride back would be uncomfortable — which it was. Although I enjoyed the underwater part of scuba diving, it is something I won’t be trying again.

DSC01007The wonderful part was a day trip that Richard, Russell, and I took to Chichen Itza and a few other places on the mainland. I like antiquities, and Chichen Itza is right up my alley. Although resorts can be very relaxing, it is fun to get out and see a bit of the countryside. We boarded a bus one morning and had a full day of adventure.

Our first stop was an underground pool. The pool was a limestone pit at the bottom of a cave, lit by shafts of brilliant sunshine. DSC01014You could climb to a landing and leap into the pit for a swim, which the boys promptly did. I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in wet shorts, so I gave it a pass.

DSC01045After a stop at a touristy place with a floor show for lunch we rolled into Chichen Itza. It is an extraordinary place. At one time one of the centers of Mayan civilization, it still impresses through the glimpses of a long-distant civilization that can be discerned on pieces of crumbling stone. The complex is large and includes temples, an observatory, sacrificial platforms, and playing grounds. The stonework is intricately carved and, from the remnants of paint left after centuries of sun and weather, was once colorfully decorated. We roamed the grounds under blue skies, marveling at the structures and wondering what had happened to the culture that built them.

DSC01056When the shadows grew longer we boarded the bus once more for the long drive home. Twilight fell and we made one final stop, at a town whose name I have forgotten, with a green, heavily treed town square framed by brick buildings and a twin-spired church. In the middle of the square was a fine fountain. DSC01057As we disembarked and moved into the square, which was full of townspeople enjoying the evening, we quickly came to notice that we were like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. The natives all seemed to be five feet tall or shorter, and Richard and Russell towered above the crowds as they walked through the square. It brought home clearly that we were guests in a faraway land.