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Producer's Notebook: Bat Bites, Doomsday, and the Mystery of the Maya

Tonight at 9p ET, Fox News investigates Doomsday and whether the end of the Maya civilization’s calendar on December 21, 2012 indicates that the end of the world is near. Our team traveled to Mexico to explore the mystery of the Maya, and Fox News senior producer Peter Russo sent us this behind-the-scenes diary of the trip. Read below and don’t forget to tune in to Fox News Reporting: Countdown to Doomsday, tonight at 9p ET.

By Fox News Channel Senior Producer Peter Russo

We were all very excited when Clay Rawson, head of Specials Development at Fox News Channel, assigned us to go to Southern Mexico to investigate “The Mystery of the Maya,” as part of our 'Countdown to Doomsday' special. After days of researching the subject and getting our medical shots and filling prescriptions for malaria pills to venture into the rain forest, we were on the ground in Mexico to catch the summer solstice on June 21, 2012. One of our goals was to see how the Maya, also master astronomers, designed their grand temples aligned with the sun, and developed a reliable calendar.

The first thing you realize is that “you’re not in Kansas anymore!” When we arrived at our first hotel in Villa Hermosa, Mexico, you needed your room key card to turn on the lights in your room! “Hello front desk, someone, please help me. I’m in the dark.” Aside from being careful about what we ate and drank (and some of us were not so lucky—Montezuma’s Revenge), the extreme heat and humidity did its best to wear us down. This hearty group, consisting of our reporter Adam Housley from the L.A. Bureau and Iraida O’Callaghan, a producer from our NY documentary unit who is fluent in Spanish and actually Cuban not Irish, did their best to keep me out of trouble with the waiters at local restaurants and the Mexican officials at the airports. But more importantly, she may be responsible for saving my life. More about that later...

We were also accompanied by three talented and experienced professionals: freelance photographer Chuck Denton, sound man Norman Neuweiler and our Australian fixer Verity Oswin. Without any of these individuals we would have never had such a successful trip! The travels to our locations were a long drive every day. Along the way, we could not help but notice all of the very young military soldiers at check points, with automatic weapons on some of the paved roads.

On June 21, the first day of the summer solstice, it poured when we left our hotel rooms at Palenque on route to the Maya ruins. Even as we climbed the slippery wet steps of King Pakal’s “Temple of the Inscriptions” in the dark so we could capture the sunrise, we quickly became disappointed at first light. It stopped raining, but unfortunately, it was cloudy and overcast most of the day, but our pre-Columbian expert, archaeologist Christopher Powell gave us a dynamite interview in front of a million dollar-like set, featuring ancient Maya architecture.

The next morning, it was an early crew call and departure from the hotel at 4am. We headed in our van to another Maya site called Yaxchilan, on the Mexico-Guatemala border, for a 30-minute boat trip along the brownest water I’ve ever seen! After the refreshing ride ended, it was back to the rain forest and the intense heat and humidity—and the animals that occupy the location. Including some kind of large rat, huge spiders, howler monkeys in trees (very noisy, they certainly lived up to their name) and vampire bats in caves! Oh, my…

To make a long story short ... upon arriving at the entrance to the underground Maya city, our archaeologist Dr. Powell went into the cave entrance to check it out, and told us he had “good news and bad news.” The good news was that there were no dangerous snakes in the cave. The bad news was that it contained some vampire bats! My first instinct was this was not a good idea! Bats can have rabies—I announced that to all, but everyone ignored that little factoid and entered the cave anyway, including me, the guy in charge. We were all directed to the back of the cave to meditate in the dark like the ancient Maya once did. Unfortunately, I did not realize it at the time, but one of the bats living inside took a real liking to me. Even though I was only in there for a few minutes!

Once we got home, in addition to the dozen or so mosquito bites, I was bothered by the two raised bite marks on the back of my neck. It was Iraida who researched the strange bite on the Internet and told me to call my doctor, who then sent me immediately to the emergency room in Mount Kisco, NY, for the first wave of rabies vaccine shots. In the “END” it was a total of 8 shots, and yes they hurt! But, I’m alive today to tell you this story. To summarize, it was a great trip -- great photography, interesting stories, plus the experience of a lifetime. And thanks to the vampire bat bite, I could live forever!

Don't forget to tune in to 'Fox News Reporting: Countdown to Doomsday,' tonight at 9p ET.

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