Reports from the end of the world

In the Yucatan, a New Age fest turns into chaos

The Castle at Tulum is a major archeological attraction

TULUM, MEXICO — Sometimes you need to just listen to the universe and the many ways she conspires to set your path. That seems particularly true while visiting the Yucatan to cover the end of the Mayan calendar, the galactic alignment, and the winter solstice. Things at the grand festival that was supposed to be happening did not go according to plan — to say the least.

I was supposed to be Chichen Itza, attending the Synthesis 2012 Festival and perhaps the Ascendance party. But several factors lined up to keep us in Tulum, miles away from the Mayan pyramid where the much-awaited festivities were to take place.

For one thing, there was my sweetie's bout with bad ceviche. But there was also the general disorganization of an event that was supposed to bring thousands of people, many of them Americans, to a part of the world not exactly set up for mass tourism.

The shuttle service from Tulum to the festival essentially fell apart. Our hotel room at the festival also disappeared, along with rooms offered to performers at the festival by organizers who overbooked and overpromised, apparently too optimistic in this moment's power to provide.

They also seemed to have a little too much confidence in the welcome they would receive from locals: The sound system delivery crew was turned away and threatened with violence. The show eventually went on after organizers found a sound system provided by a local vendor — but the scene was chaotic.

I tried to get more information about the sound system truck, but the festival organizers ignored my request for a copy of the email describing the incident that was sent to performers. Musician Jeff Scroggins told me he'd been informed that the truck was pulled over by locals, who told the crew to go away and said they'd be shot if they returned.

My press contact minimized the incident, which left the festival without amplified sound for its first day. But the incident does seem to get at an inherent tension between local life in a small Mexican town and the hopes and ambitions of outsiders who came to layer a big festival onto this sacred moment.

Festival organizers seemed pretty overwhelmed by the fact that, as one musician taking a break from the madness told us, "everything that could go wrong did go wrong." Or as media spokesperson Candice Holdorf told me, "It's kind of like radical self-reliance," borrowing a phrase from Burning Man.

On the other hand, the Mayans that I've talked to about the end of their Long Count calendar on this trip, like my cab driver yesterday in Tulum and someone we met a few days ago in Playa del Carmen, mostly just shrug when I ask about 12/21.

Perhaps we're all projecting lots of our first-world hopes and desires onto this occasion. When I interviewed Peter Mancina — a cultural anthropologist who studies Maya culture (and who works as a board aide to Sup. David Campos) — he emphasized to the modern Mayan people are still plentiful and have diverse viewpoints on the world. Similarly, author John Major Jenkins told me that he didn't want to see the Mayan people and their needs get lost in this moment.

It's been amazing to watch the rapid transformations of space taking place all around us as this once-pristine beachfront develops ever-more amenities for the visiting tourists.

The Yogashala hotel across the road from our Pico Beach cabanas had a new roadside room and sign added over the last two days. Next door, an Italian couple opened a roadside juice bar two weeks ago. On the other side of that, Jaguar Restaurante was staffed mostly by people who have been here for weeks, months tops. And as I write these words, a new beach is being rapidly built right before my eyes.


Local Mayans: 1
Self-indulgent Rich San Francisco Hipsters: 0

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly Persistent on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

As the Yucatan has developed its tourist infrastructure over the past few decades, the Mayans have not been at the table and as a result they are fast becoming minorities in their own land as others flock in for the loot. I'd seen this in coastal Oaxaca as well, where the Zapotec have been replaced by other Oaxacan mestizos, other Mexicans and, finally, Italians.

The influx of clueless gringos fleeing their own bankrupt culture and "spirituality" in search of someone else's to appropriate in what used to be your home never goes down well either when they come at the behest of growth boosters, whether in the Yucatan or San Francisco peninsulas.

And, Steven, the only place where you should rent a car in Mexico is in the Yucatan. The distances are manageable, prices reasonable, the infrastructure is some of the best in the country and it is pretty safe. Bus it everywhere else, drive it in the Yucatan.

Did you all at least get to ride bikes around Cobá?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

i think that Its not finish

Posted by Guillaume on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:56 am

Really? Reverence and respect for Mayan culture? Blasting base 24 hours a day, drowning out the sound of the ocean waves? Self indulgent assholes is more like it- I had fantasies of destroying the sound system myself. I felt like it would be a great form of torture boom boom boom all fucking day & night. Self centered raver assholes - I was 40km away in my cabana sleeping with ear plugs. My first vacation in 10 years since I'm not a trustafarian - people trying to emulate a hippy style - I'm A pissed atheist, but since these assholes had things fucked up for them maybe here is a god :)

Posted by Wanda on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

synthesis was nothing like burning man.i am a long time burner and artist.the person that ran this event conned allot of people .period

Posted by Guest on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

Such a terrible end of the world haha

Posted by Loto on Apr. 01, 2013 @ 8:38 am

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