Diehard doomsayers will be scurrying to the nearest shelter in fear of a Mayan prophecy of the world’s end tomorrow, but many more from Delhi to Sydney will ring in the date by partying like there is no tomorrow.
One thing is certain: From off-the-shelf bunkers to “World’s End” menus or trips to esoteric hot spots, Dec. 21, singled out by the ancient Mayan “long count” calendar as the end of a 5,000-year era, has spelled big business worldwide.
Across the Mayans’ ancestral homeland, a vast swathe of Central America that includes parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, “The End of the World As We Know It” has been a shot in the arm for tourism.
Ancient Mayan sites will be buzzing with activity on Friday, hosting ritual reenactments, conferences and sound-and-light shows — often against the backdrop of protests by indigenous groups who complain their culture is being hijacked.
However, elsewhere around the globe, there will be no shortage of shelters or shrines to host the fearful — or simply curious — crowds through the night.
Apocalyptic-minded folk in Brazil can head to the village of Alto Paraiso, a place pulsating with “mystical energy,” as local lore would have it, which has been readying for the end for years.
An anti-Armageddon ceremony will take place on the Island of the Sun, in the middle of Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the highest in the world, where legend has it the founders of the Inca empire were born.
And illuminati in Serbia are predicting that the pyramid-shaped mountain of Rtanj will glow on Friday night, which is also the solstice.
The village of Sirince in western Turkey has also become an apocalyptic magnet, with all 400 hotels in the vicinity fully booked.
It is reputed to be doomsday-proof because the Virgin Mary is said to have risen to heaven from there.
Likewise, the picturesque south Italian village of Cisternino, singled out by an Indian guru as a safe bet come the end of the world.
Or there is France’s apocalyptic spot of choice, the Pic de Bugarach in the foothills of the Pyrenees, though the site is cordoned off to keep out the hordes, and a local hotel will set you back 1,500 euros (US$1,988) — payable in advance.
Short of a sacred site to weather the doomsday storm, there is always the man-made option of a good old bunker.
For 30,000 rubles (US$970) per head, the wealthiest Muscovites can check into a Stalin-era communications bunker 65m underground, which is offering 300 people a 24-hour experience called “A chance to survive.”
Local TV has put up tickets for the bunker in a prize draw, and will be broadcasting live from inside on the night — like a world’s end take on Big Brother.
In eastern France, the underground galleries of Schoenenbourg fort — part of the World War II Maginot line of defense — will exceptionally be thrown open to the public.
And in the US, the growing ranks of “preppers” — who believe in planning for bad times, be it economic chaos or natural disasters — are more than ready for the end, if it comes, with everything from food stockpiles to pre-fabricated underground bunkers.
No-nonsense authorities in China have adopted a dim view of the Mayan prophecy, rounding up more than 400 members of the Christian group “Almighty God” who have been publicizing the world’s end.
However, elsewhere in Asia, the end of times will be the best of times, featuring a techno soundtrack and fine dining.