This month, travel leaps to front pages worldwide, floridly touting enigmatic symbols inscribed in stone on the Tortuguero Tablet and the Comalcalco Brick in remote Central American landscapes — tantalizing us with a confluence of death, time, math and secrets of the universe.
On Dec. 21 at the end of the 5,125-year Long Count cycle foretold by the Mayan civilization’s astronomers thousands of years ago, will it be business as usual around the world, or will the Earth screech to a halt?
Mayans’ “end of time” — transformative or cataclysmic upheaval, as some analysts interpret while others dismiss it as theatrical nonsense.
Further high drama is added because Dec. 21 is also the winter solstice and very near the date Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. One of many 12-21-12 websites predicts that on Dec. 21, there will be a “shifting of planetary stewardship into the hands of the feminine.”
The eclectic discussion of apocalypse hums on the Internet, electrifying the world, intensifying as clocks ticktock, closer and closer. Some Mayanists declare the operative date as Dec. 23. (The math is too complex to describe in a short feature. See www.viewzone.com.)
Dismissing exotic Maya astronomy as rudimentary and crackpot pseudoscience like other end-of-the-worlders, doesn’t work.
Even a cursory examination of Mayans’ stunning architecture, exquisite art and ultrasophisticated knowledge of cosmology and math which, in some aspects, exceeds our present computer capability, is jaw-dropping.
Linda Schele (1942-1991) a University of Texas professor, garnered accolades when in the early 1970s she was able to decode their written language, so complex and daunting, its decipher eluded male scholars for hundreds of years. Admirers rank Schele’s triumphal achievement as equal to discovery of the genetic code and space exploration.
A classic archeological mystery is what happened to the Maya civilization? True, 6 million persons of Mayan heritage remain in the Yucatán area. But from about 600-900 A.D., Mayan civilization collapsed, they abandoned their cities and their culture disappeared. Some experts describe their diminution as virtually overnight. Others posit a longer decline. With either theory, no one knows why.
Ruffian intruders from Spain, caring only for gold, arrived. Regarding the hand-painted delicately beautiful Mayan books as heretical, they burned the treasures in great fiery piles. Only 3 to 4 copies of any Mayan books remain in the world.
From my mid-20s, Maya fascinated me. I traveled to their major iconic sites over an adventurous lifetime: Tiotihuacan, Tikal, Chichenitza, Uxmal and many others, climbing up near 90 degree angle sides of pyramids in debilitating heat, awe-struck then and now. The rounded House of the Magician at Uxmal is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, ranking, in my opinion, with the Taj Mahal. Mayans are impressive folk. I highly recommend touring these extraordinary sites.
So what do I think will happen 19 days from now? I don’t know. But I have Dec. 22 tickets for the Kingston Trio at The Grand 1894 Galveston Opera House. So if I am not there, Maureen Patton, you’ll know why!
Janice Law is a columnist for The Daily News. Have a travel question? Email email@example.com.