Mexican city to begin countdown for Dec. 21, 2012

December 16, 2011 - 6:40 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A city in southern Mexico wants to live each moment as if it were the last.

Tourism officials in Tapachula have installed a digital clock to count down the time left before the Dec. 21, 2012, solstice, when some believe the world will end.

The clock starts Dec. 21, a year before the supposed apocalypse.

Chiapas state tourism regional director Manolo Alfonso Pinot said Friday that Mayan priests will perform a ceremony at the nearby archaeological site of Izapa.

Maya experts say the doomsday fears are a misreading of Maya stone inscriptions that mention the date, saying the Mayans only considered it the end of one calendar cycle and the beginning of another.

Pinot said he doesn't believe the world will end, but looks at it as a sort of beginning, in the business sense at least.

"A lot of people know they can fill their body with energy if they come to these exceptional sites," he said. "If people are interested, we have to take advantage of this."

Tapachula, best known as a gritty border town crossed by Central American migrants en route to the United States, is not a popular Mayan tourism destination. But nearby Izapa is a place where many stelae have been found, including the "Tree of Life" stone discovered in the 1950s and thought to convey an ancient Mayan tale.

At Izapa, close to the Tajumulco volcano, Pinot says a Mesoamerican ball court, a carved stone and the throne of the Izapa ruler face a straight line that on Dec. 21, 2012 is expected to align with the planets.

"It is hard to say what you will be able to see that day," he said.

The doomsday theories stem from a pair of tablets that describe the return of a Mayan god at the end of a 13th period of 400 years, which falls on Dec. 21, 2012.

Experts say the date marks the end of a 5,125-year cycle that began in 3113 B.C., and the start of another.

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Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this story.