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Judith Dides isn't planning a trip to the ancient ruins of Mexico.

And she's not going to run up her credit card luxuriating at a fancy resort.

Instead, the Santa Rosa Junior College lecturer and anthropologist will spend Dec. 21 -- the last day of the Mayan calendar -- caring for a sick aunt.

She doesn't believe the world will come to an end Friday, despite myths of a coming apocalypse.

If anything, she said, the date will mark the beginning of a new era.

"I'm just hoping I'll wake up the next day and be a better person," said Dides, who studied the ancient civilization for 40 years and taught a six-week course called "Maya 2012: End or Beginning?"

NASA scientists and most people agree: Nothing will happen when the 5,125-year "long count" calendar runs out Friday. But that hasn't stopped speculation and frenzy that has been building for years.

Believers in a doomsday scenario think Mayans forecast the Earth's destruction. Some think the end will come from an astronomical event, such as an asteroid strike, solar flare or the Earth being sucked into a black hole.

The notion has been fueled by media reports and has whipped up a global paranoia. Last week, Russians prepared by buying up vodka and stocking up on matches and candles. A Southern California businessman reportedly is building secret luxury bunkers for the rich. Mass suicides were feared.

Scientists have debunked any such global catastrophes and questioned New Age beliefs in a positive transformation. NASA even posted a video on YouTube explaining why the world will continue to exist on Saturday.

Scholars said the long count calendar, one of three or four used by the Mayans, is merely ending. A new period will take over because the civilization had a cyclical view of time.

Ed Megill, planetarium director for Santa Rosa Junior College, said astronomers have been scanning the night sky for any pending disasters. They've found nothing unusual.

Megill compared the end of the calendar to the end of a week.

"Of course, it repeats," he said. "It's a hoax."

Still, many are seizing the chance to mark the Mayan milestone with spiritual and commercial pursuits.

A contingent from the Bay Area, including Harmony Festival founder Debra Giusti, is expected to travel to Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula for a "transformational" festival. Organizers from Synthesis 2012 offer beachfront accommodations and guaranteed access to the ruins in a 12-day "sacred tour" for $1,899.

Unity Church of Santa Rosa will hold a "Planetary Birth Day Celebration" in observance of what leaders hope will signal a change toward a more peaceful and sustainable world.

Organizer Kristi Bowman said the day-after event on Saturday will include a Buddhist presentation and yoga-inspired movements that will give people a chance to share their visions and dreams for "the next phase of our species."

"We're using this as an opportunity," she said. "We can continue to go down the same path of shift it and be more positive."

Her church isn't alone in spotting the chance to improve their situation.

A number of North Coast resorts are running tongue-in-cheek "end of the world" packages that will allow people to go out in style.

One Bodega innkeeper is offering a two-night group package for up to 40 friends and family members who want to wait for the apocalypse together. They'll get massages, nibble caviar and sip a rare bottle of 12-year-old champagne at the secluded resort off Highway 1.

The price? Just $55,000 or $1,375 a person.

"You could put it on a credit card and never get the bill," joked Johannes Zachbauer, co-owner of the Sonoma Coast Villa & Spa.

But just whether the Mayan milestone will spell big business is unclear. Zachbauer had no takers as of last week, and other hoteliers using similar gimmicks reported the same.

Lucy Lewand, owner of the historic Camellia Inn in Healdsburg, said no one has signed up for her $725-a-couple, two-night deal that includes a Mayan chocolate dinner.

She's holding off on printing T-shirts that would let people know her guests experienced the end of the world in Sonoma County.

"We did another doomsday thing awhile back," she said. "Nobody came to that."

Dides, who has been teaching her class since 2009, is hopeful of a positive change.

She said Mayans had insight about the universe we don't possess. They were able to travel through dreams and visions. And they designed the calendar so it ended when the sun aligned with the galactic center of the Milky Way -- something that happens once every 25,000 years.

The world may not come to an end, but the potential is there for something good to happen, she said.

"Hopefully, you haven't charged too much on your credit cards," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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