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Mexico: The real star of world's end day was the new president

December 24, 2012|By Catherine Watson
  • Traditionalist groups participate during a ritual in El Meco, in the city of Cancun, Mexico, on Dec. 21 as part of the celebrations marking the end and the beginning of a new era in the Maya calendar.
Traditionalist groups participate during a ritual in El Meco, in the city… (Alonso Cupul / EPA )

They didn’t teach me this in journalism school, but no news gets old faster than a world that doesn’t end on cue.

In Mexico's Yucatan, the real news on Dec. 21  wasn’t the 16,000 world-enders who convened at Chichén Itzá or the thousands who flocked to Tulum and Palenque and other ancient Maya ruins for the solstice.

What trumped the end of the world — and tangled traffic all over central Merida — was a visit from Mexico’s youthful president, Enrique Peña Nieto. He came to Merida to  inaugurate a dramatic new Maya museum here and to announce a new trans-Yucatan railroad that will start running in 2014.  

Advance security for Peña Nieto’s visit included barricaded streets and  a half-dozen army trucks full of machine gun-bearing soldiers parked in front of the main cathedral the night before.  

Gun barrels and Christmas lights — that was so intriguing I almost gave up my plans to spend Dec. 21 in the ruins of Uxmal, Chichén Itzá’s major rival. In the end, I chose mysticism over politics and went to peaceful Uxmal.

When I got back to Merida late that night, the soldiers, the barricades and the president were gone, and downtown was back to Friday-night normal.

Music and laughter poured out of the little  bars and restaurants; souvenir sellers were working the sidewalks. Hammocks! Panama hats! Shawls from Chiapas! People from preteens to grandparents were strolling the central square.

It all felt like a party, which was fitting.

This was the last night of two Maya calendars: The 13th baktun, which ran 400 years, and the mind-boggling cycle of the Long Count, which was within a couple of hours of completing 5,125 years.  

I had a flight back to the U.S. before dawn, but the scene was so happy, I  couldn’t say goodbye. 

It was 1:30 Saturday morning when I finally got to bed –  and 3:30 Saturday morning when I had to get up. Grogginess aside, though, my only real problem was that my camera had suddenly malfunctioned. 

“I think I lost half my trip pictures,’’ I told my best friend when he picked me up at the airport at home.  

“Don’t worry, sweetie,’’ he said. “It’s not the end of the world.’’

He wasn't kidding.

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