“The mountain that shines hides a village struggling not to die”, describes Romain Lescurieux

The end of the world in 2012 did not happen. However, hundreds of people had gathered in Bugarach, a small town in Aude (11) in the south-west of France, set up as a refuge by certain apocalyptic theories. The reason ? The peak (or Pech) of Bugarach would be a mystical point that would escape Armageddon.

At the time, two young journalists, Romain Lescurieux (former journalist at 20 minutes) and Antonin Vabre, intrigued by the proportion that the event was taking on around the world, went there on December 21, 2012. Ten years later, they returned to Bugarach to immerse themselves in the daily life of its 200 inhabitants. at the same time as in the bowels of the mountain. They tell it in their book The inverted mountain, an expedition into the twists and turns of fantasy*, which comes out this Wednesday. Behind UFOs, shamanism and cosmo-telluric plots, they tell the life of a village hit by desertification, unemployment and oblivion.

Romain Lescurieux (on the left) and Antonin Vabre (on the right), authors of “The inverted mountain, an expedition in the meanders of fantasy”. – Chloe Vollmer-Lo

In 2012, when you were journalism students, you went to Bugarach, where the end of the world was announced. Nothing happened. Why go back ten years later?

We were fascinated at the time by the excitement around this event and the magnitude it had taken. It was everywhere, on the continuous news channels that had just been born, on social networks… Imagine, three hundred journalists from all over the world, hundreds of gendarmes, an elite unit, the Red Cross mobilized. All this knowing that nothing would happen.

As journalists, we have seen similar situations happen several times. What we call between us the “Bugarach syndrome”. Phenomena where nothing happens and yet the world talks about it. Bugarach has always remained in our heads. We felt unfinished. We had to understand how we could arrive at this kind of situation. We waited for the excitement to die down, for the village to come out of the news and we went back there with three questions in mind: how did stories of the end of the world, UFOs and the Mayan calendar collide in this small town South of France ? Where does the prophecy come from announcing that the people present on this peak, this December 21, 2012, would be spared? And how did this rumor go around the world?

Have you found the answers to these questions?

Largely, yes. For two years, we went back to the origin of the story through word of mouth. After more than a hundred interviews, we traced the thread from the 2000s to the 1970s and observed how everyone added to the legends, a rumour, a belief… to arrive at the end of the world.

This is how you discover that Bugarach is not just 2012…

No way. It didn’t come out of a hat by accident one fine day. Le Pech has a rich history, if only for the last century. And it has been attracting the curious in search of esotericism for decades. Many legends and myths surround this mountain. Some speak of a UFO hangar within it, others lend it cosmo-telluric qualities. The New Age, this movement which took off in the 1970s, brought many followers back to the peak.

In your book, we feel that some of the inhabitants are tired of these legends and the fame they bring. How were you received on your return?

It was tricky at first. There is a real weariness caused by all these stories. The first journalists arrived in 2010, attracted by the excitement around the phenomenon. And often, the inhabitants are portrayed as visionaries. There is a confusion that is made with tourists in search of esotericism. We feel that the inhabitants love their mountains and their land. But they are still traumatized. And we, on our way back, put a coin back in the machine. Pech is both a pride and a curse.

How is this a curse?

Because behind the mountain that attracts followers of cosmic energies and treasure hunters by the thousands, there is a village that struggles not to die. Nearly 10,000 people come to Le Pech every year. Some pay 2,000 euros in organized themed trips. But often they only stay one day and do not come to the village at all, which therefore does not benefit from the economic benefits.

The inverted mountain
The inverted mountain – Editions Marchialy

The mayor fought to prevent his town from becoming a sort of ufological Lourdes with plastic UFOs for sale on every street corner. But he would still like to attract tourists, whether they come to spend a night or two there. To revive the economy. There isn’t even a store anymore.

And while the municipality juggles with a very modest budget to keep Bugarach alive, they are called a village of madmen…

Yes, because through your book, we discover that despite its fame, it is a town in difficulty like thousands of others in France…

This is also what we wanted to highlight. Aude is one of the poorest departments in France. And Bugarach is hit, like many others, by desertification, unemployment, deindustrialization. The young people leave for the city. There is no longer a doctor for miles. The only class in the school is hanging by a thread… We wanted to place Bugarach in a social context and retrace the history of the village with the memory of the elders, during the Second World War, during the rural exodus, through the years 1980 and 1990. See what was behind the shining mountain.

Even ten years after the false end of the world, is esotericism still as present in the region?

Still. With the Covid, it even experienced a resurgence. There is a great search for well-being and, above all, for answers to existential questions. In this context, we see a lot of detox cures, fasts, “sacred feminine” workshops. We come to “recharge” with the energies released by the peak. It may sound absurd, but we are in a period where many people are looking for a bit of meaning in everything. We see a lot of women from privileged backgrounds who come looking for a bit of magic. Esotericism is very feminine because 8 out of 10 followers are women. Men are more concerned with ufology and treasure hunting.

So much so that you two went to the heart of the mountain during a caving expedition to check if the rumors about him were true?

Yes, because it is the center of the fantasy. Throughout the years, the interior of this mountain has always given rise to many legends. Treasures, UFO hangars, vortex, passage to a parallel world… We did our job as journalists and we went there to demystify the thing and with the desire to see with our own eyes the kilometers of gallery that are there , and all the history of caving on site which echoes the history of the village. It is a mountain which, before becoming a place concerned by the end of the world, had already interested scientists and paleontologists for what it is. An inverted mountain. We wanted to start a scientific process.

And what did you find in the end?

A cul-de-sac ! Because the exploration is not over yet. And the elders are waiting for a new generation of young adventurous speleologists to come and continue the research. In the meantime, all fantasies are still possible.

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