Watching out for Nibiru, but so far, nothing
THE Mayan Long Count Calendar ends today after 5,125 years. Not a bad run, as calendars go.
So, what happens?
Probably nothing, although there is no shortage of suggestible folk prophesying that Dec. 21 will be the Mayan apocalypse.
Armageddon could come by way of a collision between Earth and the planet of Nibiru, although the fact that Nibiru is only a myth has cast some doubt on the theory.
Another piece of lore suggests that aliens, who have been "parked" in their ship somewhere on Earth, will escort a few humans off the planet just before annihilation.
Believers think of the chosen ones as the lucky few, but getting whisked away by aliens almost never ends well.
The ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal in the rainforest jungles of northern Guatemala are a geographic focal point for the end of days. Tourists have flocked there, which is curious, since one might want to move away from ground zero.
Many years ago, before I was a straight-laced radio talk show host, I was a bit of a free- spirited traveler, and I visited Tikal. This was 1977, and just getting there was an event.
I started out alone in Belize City, where I made friends with a fellow traveler from Australia named Malcolm. We hitchhiked west to the Guatemalan border.
Belize is a former British colony and the military still had a small post there. Malcolm talked his way into a jeep ride for the both of us to the border checkpoint. From there, we took an old school bus on a dirt road to Flores.
Arriving at night, we drank a few cervezas, bunked down, and headed out the next day on another ramshackle bus on the mountain road that led to Tikal.
Tikal didn't get many visitors back then. There were just a handful of us, and we were free to wander around the spectacular ruins of the sprawling ancient city.
We climbed the steep steps of the 154-foot-high Jaguar Temple, which is now off-limits since a visitor died after falling.
We slept in hammocks in open-air thatched-roof huts in a clearing in the jungle, making sure to cover thoroughly with blankets, despite the oppressive heat and humidity, to protect ourselves from swarming mosquitoes.
There was one fresh water spigot for the camp. It was turned on for short periods during the day and guarded by armed Guatemalan soldiers. Each meal was a simple plate of beans, eggs and rice.
For an adventure-seeking 22-year-old, it was a spectacular time. The inconveniences and modest dangers were more than offset by the experience.
I don't recall anyone there talking about the Mayan calendar or the end of the world. Maybe 2012 was too far off, or perhaps none of the people there who spoke English paid much attention to it.
I'm pretty confident the world won't end today, despite the Mayan calendar. But the event does remind me of a time when I took a road less traveled to a place where it felt as though I had reached the ends of the earth.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.