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2012 Mayan Sacred Journey marks dawn of new era

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XCARET, Mexico -- Ixchel  smiled.

After a torrential pre-dawn downpour, the clouds parted on a calm sea Friday morning as 268 rowers in 28 canoes began a 28-kilometre pilgrimage from this ancient Mayan port to the sanctuary of the goddess of the moon, fertility, luck – and rain – on the island of Cozumel.

The first canoe reached the Chankanaab Marine Park on Cozumel in a record time of three hours and 50 minutes. All of the canoes made the crossing successfully.

After a ceremony Friday night devoted to appeals to the goddess,the rowers made the return crossing to the mainland on Saturday, coming ashore near the tourist mecca of Playa del Carmen.

Several thousand cheering spectators gathered at the Xcaret eco-archeological park, about 75 km south of Cancun on the Yucatan coast, to witness the annual recreation of the Mayan Sacred Journey, now in its sixth year.

The rowers -- about 35 per cent women and dressed largely in white pre-Colombian Mayan garb – emerged in a torch-lit procession shortly after 6 a.m. Friday to be blessed by bona-fide Mayan shamans amid the burning of copal incense and the release of dozens of ara macaw (red parrots).

Two Mexican navy vessels kept watch offshore as the eight-metre canoes sped south from the site of the ancient Mayan trading port of P’ole, now called Xcaret. They then turned northeast and headed for the island, landing near where the long-lost temple of Ixhel is thought to have been located.

The rowers, usually 10 per canoe, trained for six months to take part in the event. Most are Mexican, but about five per cent are foreigners.

The pilgrimage takes on profound significance in 2012, since December 23 marks the end of a 5,125-year era in Mayan cosmology. Both Mayan scholars and the modern-day Maya themselves scoff at the apocalyptic predictions that have sparked a movie and dozens of doomsday books, saying this year ushers in an important new Mayan calendar cycle and is a time of hope and renewal.

Lost since the Spanish Conquest, the pilgrimage was one of the most important for the Mayan civilization, which thrived from about 200 BC to 900 AD. It was devoted to appeals for fertility and good luck, with many pregnant women making the arduous crossing.

The event was revived in 2007 by the Xcaret eco-park in conjunction with municipal authorities.

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