Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tikal and the "Mayan Prophecy"

View From the Top of Pyramid 4
Late December and early January of 2009-2010 found me traveling solo in Central America, exploring the countries of Belize and Guatemala. What I anticipated to be a beach, snorkeling, and reading vacation turned into an exploration of the inlands of these two countries rich in Maya history and archaeology.
On New Year’s Day 2010, I explored Tikal, the most significant Maya archaeological site in the world. The evening before, I queried the expatriate owner of the small but lovely motel where I boarded, about Tikal, living in Guatemala, and the "Mayan Prophecy." He promised that if I listened, asked questions, and opened my heart that the message behind the prophecy would be revealed at Tikal. With the knowledge gleaned, he told me I would have the spirit to interpret the prophecy in a way that made sense to my heart and intellect. When I asked him what he thought, he smiled wryly and said: “Business has always been slow but steady here. I expected better when I bought this property.” I then asked what he anticipated December 2012 would bring. With that question, his guarded smile turned to a wide grin, “I’ve got a full house with deposits and a long waiting list. Let’s just say I’m planning on a happy new year 2013!”
The heat of Guatemala and the exposure to sun in Tikal National Park required one to start their explorations at the crack of dawn. I set off with my new friend I met in Belize, JoAnne Jackson from Toronto, who was not only a wonderful travel partner but also comfortable with the Spanish language. 
The Climb to Pyramid 4
Several experiences stand out on the way to the Grand Plaza, the center of activity in Tikal. When walking in the jungle, the sounds of howler monkeys filled the air. JoAnne stopped and then pointed up. The tree was filled with dozens, maybe hundreds of monkeys howling, swinging, and perching. My jaw dropped; I've never seen anything like it! The cut trail through the forest would unexpectedly open up to reveal a massive temple, palace, pyramid, residence, or other limestone structure and then the jungle would reabsorb us once again. On the path, one of the spectacular early structures was Pyramid 4. Visitors are allowed, at their own risk, to climb many of the temples and pyramids. JoAnne was unable to climb but I had the monkey spirit in me. The reward of climbing Pyramid 4 was a view of temples seemingly growing from the forest canopy as the sun burned the early morning fog from the sky (see picture above). I glowed; divinity at its finest. 
My hotel-owner friend said to pay special attention to the Grand Plaza, which was the center of Maya life when Tikal was at its peak both in population and influence (c. AD 700). He recommended I find a guide to explain about how the temples align with the Maya calendar. This is what I learned: 
The seven temples of the Grand Plaza align precisely with the solstices making a large format sun dial. Maya life revolved around time and they had various calendars and cycles for different life events. The largest Maya calendar operates on a 25,000 year cycle and ends when the light reaches the end of the cycle, which falls in December 2012. Despite the popularity of apocalyptic claims and prophecies, the Mayas never predicted the end of the world but rather the end of the calendar cycle that will bring a global transformation of consciousness and evolution. 

The Grand Plaza, View One
Grand Plaza View 2
Now, sitting at the beginning of 2012, I can think of nothing more hopeful than a global transformation of consciousness and evolution. Whether this is brought by the Maya calendar or the grace of God the game could change this December. What if the world becomes a more compassionate, peaceful place because of the Maya's forecast of transformation? It's up to me and you and everyone else to make it happen. The "Mayan Prophecy" is a fun and timely way to share this hope. 

Another Angle on the Temple of Great Jaguar, Grand Plaza
Note: Art historians, epigraphers, and most archaeologists continue to prefer the use of Maya, both as noun and adjective, over Mayan. Therefore, against my natural instinct, the term Maya is used except with the distinctly modern term “Mayan Prophecy.” 


  1. What an amazing trip! I love these pictures and your description of the jungle...made me see it in my mind's eye. You have a flair for travel writing. I hope to read more...LD

  2. Tikal was truly a privilege. I think I need to both dig for more travel memories (gosh i wish I had travel journals for ALL trips....lesson learned) and also make some new ones! Thanks for the positive comments.

  3. I was going to go to Tikal and Copan at the end of grad school, but I ran out of money and time and missed out on the trip. I almost feel like i got to go after all, although minus the hammocks and howler monkeys. Thanks!