Updated at: 12/21/2012 11:06 AM
By VANESSA GERA
As the sun rose from time zone to time zone across the world on Friday, there was still no sign of the world’s end _ but that didn’t stop those convinced that a 5,125-year Mayan calendar predicts the apocalypse from gathering at some of the world’s purported survival hot spots.
Many of the esoterically inclined expected a new age of consciousness _ others wanted a party. But, in some places said to offer salvation from the end, fewer people showed up than officials had predicted _ much to the disappointment of vendors hoping to sell souvenirs.
Here are some key places being marked by the fascination over doomsday rumors:
In an area of Mexico that was once the ancient Mayan heartland, spiritualists gathered in the darkness before dawn on Friday to prepare white clothes, drums, conch shells and incense. They believed the sunrise would herald the birth of a new and better age as a vast cycle in the Mayan calendar comes to an end.
Many people who came to Yucatan for the occasion were already calling it "a new sun" and "a new era."
According to one rumor, a rocky mountain in the French Pyrenees will be the sole place on Earth to escape destruction. A giant UFO and aliens are said to be waiting under the mountain, ready to burst through and spirit those nearby to safety. But there is bad news for those seeking salvation: French gendarmes, some on horseback, blocked outsiders from reaching the Bugarach peak and its village of some 200 people.
Eric Freysselinard, head of local government, said the security forces had "partially stopped the new age enthusiasts as well as curious people from coming to the area."
Meanwhile, some Bugarach residents dressed up like aliens, with tinfoil costumes and funnels and fake antenna on their heads, strolling around their village Friday to make light of the rumored UFO prophecy.
Doomsday rumors have prompted some people across Russia to stock up on candles, water, canned foods and other non-perishable foods. The apocalypse has proven a good business, with some shops selling survival aid packages that include soap and vodka.
In Moscow, salvation has also been promised in the underground bunker for the former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin _ with a 50 percent refund if nothing happens. An underground stay was originally priced at 50,000 rubles ($1,625) but dropped to 15,000 ($490) a week ahead of the feared end.
The bunker, located 65 meters (210 feet) below ground, was designed to withstand a nuclear attack. Now home to a small museum, it has an independent electricity supply, water and food _ but no more room, because the museum has already sold out all 1,000 tickets.
Hundreds of people have converged on Stonehenge for an "End of the World" party that coincides with the Winter Solstice.
Arthur Uther Pendragon, Britain’s best-known druid, said he was anticipating a much larger crowd than usual at Stonehenge this year. But he doesn’t agree that the world is ending, noting that he and fellow druids believe that things happen in cycles.
"We’re looking at it more as a new beginning than an end," he said. "We’re looking at new hope."
Meanwhile, end-of-days parties will be held across London on Friday. One event billed as a "last supper club" is offering a three-course meal served inside an "ark."
Some Serbs are saying to forget that sacred mountain in the French Pyrenees. The place to be Friday is Mount Rtanj, a pyramid-shaped peak in Serbia already drawing cultists.
According to legend, the mountain once swallowed an evil sorcerer who will be released on doomsday in a ball of fire that will hit the mountain top. The inside of the mountain will then open up, becoming a safe place to hide as the sorcerer goes on to destroy the rest of the world. In the meantime, some old coal mine shafts have been opened up as safe rooms.
On Friday a New Age group called "The Spirit of Rtanj" was holding a conference there. Participants, however, said they expect not the end of time but the start of a new time cycle. Locals turned out to sell brandy and herbs.
"There will be no tragedy, no doomsday," said resident Dalibor Jovic. "It was supposed to happen at 12:12 and I think that time has passed. So, we can now go on with our lives and be happy to be alive."
A small Turkish village known for its wines, Sirince, has also been touted as the only place after Bugarach that would escape the world’s end. But on Friday journalists and security officials outnumbered cultists. This outcome disappointed local business people who had prepared a range of doomsday products to sell, including a specially labeled Doomsday wine and Turkish delight candy whose "best before" date was Dec. 21, 2012. One restaurant prepared a special "last meal" menu that included a "heaven kebab" and "forbidden fruit dessert."
Another spot said to be spared: Cisternino, a beautiful small town in southern Italy in an area of trulli, traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs. The notion that Cisternino could be a safe haven at world’s end derives from an Indian guru, Babaji, who said "Cisternino will become an island" at world’s end. His followers built a community in Cisternino centered on an ashram built in 1979. Hotel bookings are up this weekend.
Mayor Donato Baccaro told the AP that the beauty of the place has inspired many foreigners to live there. "This confirms that this place has a special energy," he said.
A fringe Christian group has been spreading rumors about the world’s impending end, prompting Chinese authorities to detain more than 500 people this week and seize leaflets, video discs, books and other material.
Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, also called Eastern Lightning, which preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. Authorities in the province of Qinghai say they are waging a "severe crackdown" on the group, accusing it of attacking the Communist Party and the government.
Dozens of Michigan schools canceled classes for thousands of students to cool off rumored threats of violence and problems related to doomsday. The fears were exacerbated by the recent shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, which "changed all of us," the school system in Genesee County said. "Canceling school is the right thing to do."
Associated Press writers Florent Bajrami in Bugarach, France; Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow; Peppino Ciraci in Cisternino, Italy; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; Paisley Dodds in London; and Dejan Mladenovic in Mount Rtanj, Serbia, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)