CHICHEN ITZA, Mexico (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of mystics, hippies and tourists celebrated in the shadow of ancient Maya pyramids in southeastern Mexico on Friday as the Earth survived a day billed by doomsday theorists as the end of the world.
New Age dreamers, alternative lifestyle gurus and curious onlookers from around the world descended on the ruins of Maya cities to mark the close of the 13th bak’tun - a period of around 400 years - in the Maya Long Calendar.
Dismissing a widely disseminated myth that the Maya had predicted some kind of apocalypse on December 21, 2012, they celebrated what they hope is the start of a new and better era for humanity.
After the sun rose in Mexico and the world continued to spin, the visitors to the Maya heartland gave thanks.
“It is a transformation, the dawning of the age of Aquarius,” said Jonah Bolt, 33, a radio show host from North Carolina who had brought a large quartz with him to “download” energy from the sacred spot.
“We hope that everyone’s intention and love and light focused on this day will just help awaken others to just a better way of living.”
The end of the 13th bak’tun in the 5,125-year-old Maya calendar had inspired pockets of fear around the world that the end was nigh or that lesser catastrophes lay in store.
A U.S. scholar said in the 1960s that the end of the 13th bak’tun could be seen as a kind of Armageddon for the Maya. Over time, the idea snowballed into a belief by some that the Maya calendar had predicted the Earth’s destruction.
Fears of mass suicides, huge power cuts, natural disasters, epidemics or an asteroid hurtling toward Earth had circulated on the Internet, especially in recent months.
In the end, there were no reports of natural or man-made catastrophes linked to the doomsday predictions.
To the people congregating in the imposing ruins of the city of Chichen Itza, a focal point for the celebrations in Mexico, it was a day for celebrations.
“It’s not the end of the world, it’s an awakening of consciousness and good and love and spirituality - and it’s been happening for a while,” said Mary Lou Anderson, 53, an information technology consultant from Las Vegas.
Around 50,000 people visited Mexico’s main archaeological sites by early afternoon, authorities said.
A few minutes before the north pole reached its position furthest from the sun on Friday, a spotlight illuminated the western flank of the Temple of the serpent god Kukulkan, a 100-foot-tall (30-meter) pyramid at the heart of Chichen Itza.
Then a group of five tourists dressed in white made their way across the plain, dropped their bags and faced the pyramid with their arms raised before park officials cleared them away.
As the sun climbed into the sky, a man with dreadlocks played a didgeridoo - an Australian wind instrument - at the north end of the pyramid. Nearby, groups of tourists meditated on brightly colored mats.
Visiting the Yucatan peninsula on Friday, new President Enrique Pena Nieto sought to harness the energy of renewal to give Mexico and its economy a boost.
“Today a cycle of the Mayan calendar closes, and some thought it meant a fatalistic end, but we and the Mayans are sure it’s the start of a new era,” he said. “May this spirit of renewal infect us all.”
In Turkey, thousands of tourists flocked to Sirince, a picturesque village east of the Aegean Sea that believers in a potential cataclysm had said would be spared on Friday.
At 1:11 p.m. local time (1111 GMT), visitors to Sirince gathered in the town square to await the return of Noah’s Ark on a nearby hill. They counted down from 10 and applauded when the vessel failed to appear and the world did not end.
In Bugarach, France, a village that was said to be harboring an alien spacecraft in a nearby mountain that would enable people to survive an apocalypse, authorities cordoned off the area, fearing an influx of doomsday believers. But on Friday journalists and partygoers outnumbered the survivalists.
Meanwhile in New York, Buck Wolf, executive editor of crime and weird news for the Huffington Post, organized an end of the world party at Manhattan’s Hotel Chantelle on Thursday night.
Wearing a gray T-shirt with a black Maya calendar on it, Wolf said he was inspired by a similar party he had attended in 1999 related to Nostradamus’s doomsday prophecies. “It’s all a big scam,” Wolf said. “You might as well throw a good party.”
In China, the United Nations issued a tweet on its official Weibo microblog denying it was selling tickets for an “ark” in which people could escape the apocalypse after such tickets were offered for sale online, albeit apparently as a joke.
Maya experts, scientists and even U.S. space agency NASA had insisted the Maya had not predicted the world’s end.
“Think of it like Y2K,” said James Fitzsimmons, a Maya expert at Middlebury College in Vermont, referring to the year 2000. “It’s the end of one cycle and the beginning of another cycle.”
Companies have also had fun with the date.
On Friday, the makers of Mini cars placed a full-page ad in the New York Times headlined, “Well, So Much For The 2014 Models.” It suggested customers hurry to their local dealership in case time was running out to buy the car.
The New Age optimism, stream-of-consciousness evocations of wonder and awe, and starry-eyed dreams of extra-terrestrial contact circulating on the ancient sites in Mexico this week have left many of the modern Maya bemused.
“It’s pure Hollywood,” said Luis Mis Rodriguez, 45, a Maya selling obsidian figurines and souvenirs shaped into knives like ones the Maya once used for human sacrifice.
The Maya civilization reached its peak between AD 250 and 900 when it ruled over large swaths of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
The Maya developed hieroglyphic writing, an advanced astronomical system and a sophisticated calendar that helped provide the foundation for the doomsday predictions.
The buzz surrounding the Maya “end of days” has generated massive traffic on the Internet, but the speculation stems from a long tradition of such prophecies.
Basing his calculations on prophetic readings of the Bible, the great scientist Isaac Newton once cited 2060 as a year when the planet would be destroyed.
U.S. preacher William Miller predicted that Jesus Christ would descend to Earth in October 1844 to purge mankind of its sins. When it did not happen, his followers, known as the Millerites, referred to the event as The Great Disappointment.
In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, believing the world was about to be “recycled,” committed suicide in San Diego in order to board an alien craft they said was trailing a comet.
More recently, American radio host Harold Camping predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011, later moving the date forward five months when the apocalypse failed to materialize.
Sporting a long gray beard, dark glasses and a cowboy-style jacket, Raja Merk Dove, a self-proclaimed “interplanetary ambassador” from Asheville, North Carolina, said he believes aliens helped the Maya build Chichen Itza, for centuries a major Mayan metropolis, trading hub and ceremonial center, and he is hoping they will drop by.
“I envision on a higher plane, or whatever our reality is, that extraterrestrials and their spaceships will come and land on top of the pyramid or wherever the landing site is, and that they will come and mingle with the people, bringing new information, new knowledge, new blessings,” he said.
“This is one of those dates. If humanity is ready for that, it can happen today. If humanity is not quite ready, it will happen at a future date.”
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay, Ben Blanchard, Morade Azzouz, Martin Howell, Peter Rudegeair, Jilian Mincer, Gabriel Stargardter, Bernd Debusmann Jr and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Kieran Murray, Simon Gardner and Eric Beech