A story could begin with that line. Perhaps my friend Joshua Berman's telling of the events of the sacred festival at Caracol 12/21/12 starts that way. It could. He was on top of Ka'ana at 4am. I was not.
At 4am I was lying on the cold ground below, having a conversation with All the Gods of Pain. It was a deeply personal one, so I won't relate it here except to say that I let them know that I get the message, loud and clear, cursing a life of travel and seafood, alternately laughing at my own hubris and crying as throbbing waves of agony rippled in angry pulsed from the joint in my crippled big toe.
The gout attack hit me in Punta Gorda three weeks ago. It was my first since Beijing, 2002, about the time I started my illustrious career as a travel writer. Now I was unable to walk, let alone climb pyramids to witness a solstice.
There was not enough codeine in my bag to kill the pain. I would greet the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in agony. So be it. At least I was here.
The trip had been long and cumbersome, beginning with the ill-advised carrying of heavy bags a mile and change down an uneven road from Northern Ambergris off the coast of Belize to the airport. It was a puddle jump flight to Belize City followed by three hours in a pickup with my good friend Demian Solano over rough roads to Caracol.
The event itself was put together by Belize's National Institute of Cultural Heritage, who had gone all out to make sure that the gathering maintained respectful air. They'd limited ticket sales to a small number, 250 I think, plus some journalists, noted scholars, and yes, of course - or so one would hope, some Maya people.
The Maya were present, and holy people led both the opening and closing ceremonies. I saw from my vantage point on the ground great leaping bonfires being lit, and heard bursts of sacred music throughout the long night. In between these two ceremonies (taking place at sunset and sunrise on the night of the 20th and 21st) was a Powerpoint presentation in which noted Belizean Archaeologist Jaime Awe explained a great deal about the Maya, their achievements, and most importantly, dismissing the idea that the end was in any way nigh. Following this was a feast featuring excellent foods, most of which I dared not touch, and a small confrontation in which I nobly resisted bludgeoning the young man working for the Belize Tourism Bureau who kept calling me "Moses".
Safety guidelines best observed on either side of stellar alignments: Refrain from mocking(Violence was avoided, but I digress.)
a) Limping strangers
b) Cudgel-bearers in general
In between the ceremonies were bonfires and small parades, music and drinking, perhaps too much of that. The overall vibe was reverent, but a small segment of those gathered seemed to treat the whole affair like a frat party with pyramids. At around 10pm I limped over to Ka'ana in the dark, intent on climbing it for a second ill-advised time. I was passed en-route by half a dozen drunk Americans. They were singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs. To the Maya sitting quietly in the plaza I imagined the group were as welcome as inebriated Korean tourists performing Gangnam Style at St. Peter's Basilica during Midnight Mass.
I headed instead to the parking lot, where a small Maya group were playing music. Around 1am I headed back to the tent and pretended to sleep for another couple of hours before being woken up by the powerful feeling that I was missing something important.
I stumbled over to the kitchen where tea was being served from a cauldron and headed over to a bonfire to warm up before facing the climb up the Pyramid.
The sun was rising. Joshua Berman had been there all night. I shot a few photos and this film:
Josh and I discussed travel writing, which I have concluded is best left to younger people with more enthusiasm, people not subject to battles with painful disease of obese monarchs, people like the young man live-blogging the Apocalypse for the Telegraph (pictured somewhere in the stack below). Demian appeared sometime after, carrying heavy equipment, having just photographed the fire-lighting ceremony I'd somehow missed.
After an hour or so we headed down, but not before Berman and I assisted each other in shooting short videos, me for this blog and him for his own more focused and polished Tranquilo Traveler.
No more words for now. Soon it's time to pass the torch. In the meantime, some photos - not up to the usual standard on account of my having swapped the good gear for a cheap point and click for the Belize update - from Caracol to ring in the new age.
|Demian Solano & Joshua Berman|
|Three Guidebook Writers - Joshua Berman (Moon), Amber Dobrzensky (Rough Guides) & Me|
|I forget this lad's name, but he was live blogging for the Telegraph.|