Argentina, fearing Maya-linked suicides, closes mountaintop
As mountaintops go, this one is for meditating. And the odd UFO sighting. But now it is closing for a few days to avert a mass suicide by folks girding for the world's end.
That doomsday is indeed upon us – with Christmas just around the corner, heaven forbid – is one gloomy interpretation of a Maya calendar.
To wit, December 21 marks the end of a 5,200-year cycle on the Maya "Long Count" calendar. It's a cause for celebration for many in Mexico and Central America, but spells doomsday for some believers.
In Argentina's central Cordova province, fallout will be felt at a mountain called Uritorco, which was sacred for indigenous peoples when their numbers were still large in Argentina.
Authorities will shut down access to it from December 20 to 22 because an appeal has gone out on Facebook for people to climb the hill December 21 and commit "massive spiritual suicide," said Gustavo Sez, mayor of the nearby town of Capilla del Monte. That name means chapel on a hill.
"It was a decision taken by consensus, to pre-empt any distortion of the Mayan prophecy," he said.
The peak is about 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) high and located in a touristy area 750 kilometres north of Buenos Aires.
Young and not so young people climb up there to meditate and do esoteric stuff. In decades past, UFO sightings from its touchy-feely heights have been reported.
The tourism industry is fuming with the temporary shut down. Hotels and hostels nearby had been expected to house around 15,000 people just before Christmas. Tourism is the main source of revenue in the region.
Forget about all that money now, says Gabriel Schiaffino, head of the Capilla del Monte tourism association, who said he was puzzled by word of the mass suicide.
The hotel occupancy rate is now about 1,000 people "but we don't think anyone else will come, which is awful news," he said.
Is there is a silver lining anywhere? Yes.
Associations of people who like to meditate have appealed for a gathering on December 21 in Capilla del Monte itself to mark the beginning of the new era, as per the mainstream, upbeat reading of the Mayan calendar.
"A lot of people mistake the day for the apocalypse," said Machenka Jacobella, one of the organisers.
Updated: December 20, 2012 04:00 AM