SAN FRANCISCO DE CAMPECHE, MEXICO -- The life of Luis Calderón de Huatapotliz y Barca de Madera is essentially identical to the lives of his distant ancestors (except that he's fictitious). Luis, a Yucatec Mayan, wakes each morning with the sun's first glow and enjoys a light breakfast of plantains and horchata. He then leaves behind his wife and 14 children, setting off on a 43-mile walk into the jungle where he plies the trade of his heritage -- foreseeing the future.
En route to the fabled Vision Rocks of Tlacolopatatlanqatl, Luis follows the trail blazed by those venerable truth seekers whose stories are now lost to colonial history, kept alive only in the undying memories of modern-day prophets like Luis and the half-dozen other Mayan holy men who travel each day from their huts, some as far away as Houston, to summon the spirit mediums and invoke their sustenance of life on this fragile earth. Their ritual involves gruesome self-mutilation, ingesting live scorpions and channeling the harnessed energy of five-pinioned jaguars representing the five primary elements: earth, air, fire, water and crinoline.
Luis and his compatriots are among an estimated seven million Maya living in Southern Mexico and Central America (that's actually true). Like most other contemporary Maya, Luis speaks a derived form of his people's traditional language as well as a regional Spanish dialect. His life and culture exhibit clear evidence of his ethnic connection to pre-Columbian Mayan civilization, though heavily influenced by the encroachment of Hispanic society.
Having learned recently of the approaching end of time (December 21 of next year) marked by the end of the ancient Mayan calendar, we traveled on horseback several weeks through the treacherous, steamy growth of the subtropics to find Luis and learn once and for all what the Maya have to say about that ominous date.
Luis told us through a translator, "Get a life."
A quick perusal of the most prominent 2012 pundits turns up a cast of international characters representing many cultures and many traditions save one, but no Mayans. There are self-styled spiritualists, hack meta-physicists, and this huckster. There are White Americans, Europeans, Scandinavians, a few Canadians and a Russian or two all invested in the End-of-Days industry. There are sites devoted to selling memberships in underground survivalist colonies and others to selling survival gear for do-it-yourselfers. There are handbooks and guidebooks and textbooks and rulebooks. There are testimonies, acrimonies and sanctimonies and the one thing lacking from any expert account of what's going to happen to turn our globe to a cinder two winters hence is a single Mayan who might actually know what he's talking about.
Back to the fiction ...
Pressed for details, Luis addressed our queries about the supposed end of the Mayan calendar, saying, "The calendar is circular. Where is the end of a circle?"
He pointed out that other remnants of history have run their course -- the Sumerian Language, British possession of Hong Kong, The Golden Girls -- and the world has not yet ended. In the sacred, liturgical tongue of the Mayan priesthood, Luis proclaimed, "In k'aabae', tikin oot'el,
chi'il chi' u chi'chi'al, u chá'acha'al tumen u dzay máako'ob. Dzok in pitik u nóok'il in k'aaba'
je bix u podzikubal kan tu xla' sóol," meaning, "No kidding. Get a life."
At trek's end we -- my faithful cameraman Lars and I -- found ourselves no closer to solving the mystery of 2012, Luis having chosen to keep the secret to himself. Such is the way of the Maya. There can be no doubt they know the truth. The wisdom of their ancients is evident from the record -- human sacrifice, animism, putting up a heckuva good fight against a few hundred Spaniards with swords and funny hats. Luis himself bears a heavy burden, laden as he is with foreknowledge of the apocalypse but unwilling to speak it lest humanity be thrown into chaos.
One ponders and one fears. But should one instead welcome the impending terminus of all our journeys? Ought we to embrace the arrival of comets and sun blasts and tsunamis and volcanoes and earthquakes, birds, snakes and aeroplanes and John Cusack's worst role in decades? To each soul falls the task of preparing itself for the end. To each life is given knowledge of the eternal and to each wallet, discretion. Should we rather seek in the purveyance of charlatans or in the wisdom of the forest our own path to Revelation or...
Seriously y'all -- get a life.