A loud countdown rang out in the early afternoon on December 21, creating echoes in the sleepy hills surrounding Sirince, an ancient village near Turkey’s Aegean coast. Mayan zero-hour had arrived.
“Five, Four, Three…”
The type of noise that locals normally associate with New Year’s Eve was being made by outsiders who had converged on Sirince’s central square to mark “Judgment Day.”
And when the countdown was over, life went on.
The quaint village of 600 residents, nestled above the ancient city of Ephesus, had become an odd attraction over the past few months, thanks to a Mayan prophecy predicting a fiery end to humankind on December 21. Sirince, some believed, was to be one of the few places to be spared amid the “Day of Doom.”
Months of hype had locals hoping that the village would be the place-to-be for hordes of Mayan myth-buyers and nutty new agers. But on the big day, December 21, the vast majority of visitors were curious Turkish visitors and journalists.
“Where are all the doomsday tourists?” asked local business owners, who had hoped to capitalize on the unique event during what is a normally slow season for tourism. Instead of a natural disaster, the day for these entrepreneurs ended up being somewhat of a financial calamity. Racks of “Doomsday Wine” remained stacked full, and journalists formed lines to photograph the products alone with no buyers.
“People were put off by all the hype,” said Omer Samli, owner of the Terrace Houses. His wife and co-owner, Charlotte, had received absurd phone calls from potential customers who asked if they had heliports and waiters in their hotel. Some even called 10 months in advance to book. But just days before their expected arrival, many visitors were willing to give up their deposits and back out, worried about the hype, with some people even predicting suicides.
True believers also were apparently put off by widespread mockery of the event by those who know the earth is not flat. “We survived, we survived, the world has ended, there have been plane crashes, but we have been saved,” a Turkish visitor, who appeared to be intoxicated, shouted in fits of giggles while gallivanting through the village. Some members of the Blue Energy Group, expected to go to Sirince to utilize its “positive energy” during the event, also did not show up because of the media circus during the run-up to the event.
“I’m happy that so few people turned up, we didn’t want so many people to come and lose control,” said local villager Aysel Vural. “People say it’s good for business, but it’s been bad because business owners went over the top and spent money crafting memorabilia and buying furniture for pop-up shops, without being able to sell their products.”
Local doughnut seller, Haldun Usta, was more optimistic saying that business will get better over the weekend. He added that the publicity has also been great for the village that normally sees its peak traffic during the summer months. “People will come back next winter,” he said.
The atmosphere in Sirince on December 21 was boisterous, with Turkish tourists having travelled from all over the country in order to get a glimpse of events that one passerby described as “absurd.” Foreign tourists were scarce. Kol Peterson, a tourist from Oregon, was among the few foreigners present. He found out about Sirince’s connection with the Mayan prophesy just a day in advance of the big non-event.
“I had just proposed to my girlfriend, so it seemed like a perfect location, but when we told some Turkish people where we were going, they warned us against it,” he said. After weighing their options, the young couple decided to live it up on potentially the last day. They ended up enjoying the festivities that were definitely at odds with the gloom and doom predicted by the Mayans.
Ceylan Yeginsu is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.