By Mikiah Fender, Virtuoso Staff

I’m standing in the middle of the Yucatan jungle looking at what must be the oldest man-made structure I’ve ever seen. “365 steps to the top,” Juan Carlos says. Juan is the quintessential tour guide. He is well versed in all Mayan history, but even better, at the art of the punch line. “That represents the days in the year,” he says. “The nine main platforms of the pyramid are thought to represent the 18 months of the haab, and the 52 panels represent the number of years it takes for a calendar round date to recur.” The Maya were such mathematical geniuses that some people think that the gods and idols they believed in were simply created to explain mathematical equations for the times that their many calendars aligned with special astronomical events or another calendar. And from just looking at El Castillo, the icon of the Mayan people, you can imagine that this is a real possibility.

Inevitably, a member of our group asks if the World is going to end in 2012. “The only thing we can be sure about,” Juan Carlos snaps back, “Is that London will get the Olympics in 2012.” The crowd chuckles. ” The Maya believed heavily in cycles,” Juan continues, “Just like they knew that a new people would come to change their way of life, they understand things change. Their math and studies showed them this. The Maya did not believe the world would come to an end on this date amigos, they believed that this was an end of a cycle and a beginning of a new one.”

Whether or not the Maya could in fact predict the future is uncertain. What is certain is that these incredible people and their culture left an indelible impression on me. Mexico and it’s true history is something that can fill the mind and heart of even the most experienced traveler with wonder and curiosity, which I believe are some of the true treasures of life. Thank you to Classic Vacations for organizing this amazing educational experience.