Thwack! Thwack! The three men hack their way through the Guatemalan jungle, one machetazo at a time. A thick canopy of kapok trees filters out all but the faintest stream of emerald light. As they reach the ruined temple, each man fires up his torch. The youngest, a college student, points into a pitch-black hole. "There," he says. "That's where I saw it."
A portly, bearded archaeologist aims his beam into the darkness. Suddenly, like a horny teenager's hand in a movie theater, the light finds what it's looking for and stops. Framed in the flashlight's pale halo is a frightening figure: a giant, hairless man, his bulging, unblinking eyes staring out from the crumbling wall. "Oh my God, we have a glyph," the archaeologist mutters. "It looks like their leader."
Scrambling over dirt and rock, the visitors tumble into the tiny room. Around them, every surface is splashed with shapes and colors. But these are no ordinary murals. They are prognostications, left by the Mayans more than 1,200 years ago. They are a warning.
In one painting, three fertility goddesses flaunt their hideously enlarged hindquarters. When the stars align, the oceans will rise and the earth will shake, reads the inscription. In a second image, a wild-eyed cannibal, his mouth dripping with gore, tears strips of flesh from his victim. Men will turn into beasts, it reads. In a third tableau, beneath the king's portrait lies an ominous prediction: And at the end of the 13th era, a struggling lord will fall and take mankind with him.
But there is one larger message buried here. Slowly, the archaeologist circumnavigates the tomb-like chamber, studying a series of dots and lines as it winds its way around the walls. "It's a calendar," he says finally. And it ends December 21, 2012.
When news of the stunning discovery broke in May, doomsdayers across the world seized upon it as proof of the apocalypse.
Panic spread. Russians in the industrial town of Novokuznetsk raided store shelves like Rush Limbaugh unleashed in a pain clinic. Near the Russia-China border, prison wardens called in a priest to put down a bout of "collective mass psychosis" among inmates. In the Pyrenees, the French prepared to hitch rides off the planet on alien spaceships. And in Cuba, habaneros took to lining Bacuranao Beach to pray for Armageddon, because a fiery maelstrom is apparently preferable to another year under Castro.
"The end of the world is coming," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed in a TV broadcast earlier this month. "It turns out that the Mayan calendar was true."
Scientists scoffed. But in South Florida, a place so apocalyptic we see asteroid impact craters in our morning cortadito, Judgment Day has never seemed so real. As 2012 unfolded, the Mayan hieroglyphics began looking pretty damn prescient. Celebrities took over South Beach, ushering in a new age of physical and spiritual destruction. The shooting of unarmed Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin brought us to the brink of a race war. "Causeway Cannibal" Rudy Eugene became patient zero for a bath-salts-fueled zombie pandemic. And our heroes failed us in criminal court, in the state capital, and, most spectacularly, on the field in the new Marlins Park.
Cigarettes exploded. Flaming squirrels fell from trees. A meth addict burned a 3,500-year-old tree to the ground. A guy screwed a three-legged dog. A dude fell in love with his donkey. And while orangutans learned to use iPads, humans slaughtered, stabbed, and shot each other over videogames, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, taco sauce, and pork rinds. We had homeless beheadings, highway masturbators, and a killer who complained that his victim's brain tasted like ladyparts.
Despite all of those terrifying signs, you're still here reading this today. So unless a bath-salts-belching Kim Kardashian is gnawing on your femur, something went awry with the end of the world.
Let's revisit the year through the eyes of the Mayan warnings to try to figure out where it all went wrong — or right.
Mayan Prediction: When the stars align...
Florida Reality: While doomsdayers interpreted this piece of the Mayan warning as proof that a planet called Nibiru would emerge from its hiding spot behind the sun and hurtle into Earth, South Floridians suspected all along it foretold another, equally disastrous type of galactic realignment. Sure enough, in 2012 an ever-more-insidious constellation of ballers, reality television show hags, and Republican hacks coalesced at the tip of the peninsula like spunk in a Sunshine State-shaped cock sock.
The monied masses poured in from around the world as if pulled by the plata in their silken pockets. First came those hoping to share in the city's supposedly imminent sports greatness. Texas A&M touchdown tosser Ryan Tannehill arrived to Dan Marino-size expectations, only to find Dolphins fans giving up on the gringo and turning their attention to his bronze Barbie doll of a wife. Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria punked all-star peloteros Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell into joining baseball's most infamous manager, Ozzie Guillen.