If you want to bear witness to what happens as the world comes to an end, then (the story goes) Pech de Thauze, more commonly called Pic de Bugarach, is the place to be.
There are a lot of doomsday predictions around at the moment. The one that concerns this story is not the May 21, 2011 day of earthquakes and judgement and subsequent rapture for faithful Christians, as prophesized by evangelist Harold Camping, which passed without a tremor or a murmer. Nor is it his revised October 21, 2011 ‘end of the world’ prediction.
The date that we were talking about over dinner and copious drinks at Accueil au Village, Cubières sur Cinoble, was the December 21, 2012 ‘Armageddon’ which coincides with the end of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar – the Maya or Mayan calendar.
To be fair to the Mayans, there is no indication they thought that the end of this cycle was a bad thing. The doomsday predictions seem to be a more recent combinatation of new-age theories, pseudo-science, and hoax mixed in with interpretations of religious eschatology. Whatever the reasons behind the predictions, international hysteria is causing a lot of local consternation.
Apparently Bugarach, which can be seen from from Cubières, is no ordinary mountain. For one thing, it is a geological anomoly: the top of the mountain is millions of years older than the bottom. In other words, Bugarach is upside down! Although I assume this to be a fact, after hours on the internet, I could find no actual verification. What is verifiable is that Bugarach, which stands at 1230m, is the highest of the Corbières Mountains, and its limestone is riddled with caves.
Secondly, the mountain is said to have “an enormous energy”, both magnetic and spiritual. I couldn’t verify the belief that Nostradamus thought the mountain’s “vibrations” useful in his work, or that Jules Verne found the entrance to an inner world, which he fictionalized in “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Then there are the stories that the mountain hides the holy grail, and possibly even the body of Jesus, or that it houses aliens. “The internet abounds with tales of the late President François Mitterrand being curiously heliported onto the peak, of mysterious digs conducted by the Nazis and later Mossad, the Israeli secret services…. A visit to Bugarach is said to have inspired Steven Spielberg in his film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – although the actual mountain he used is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.”
The current story, which is causing headaches for long-time locals, is the belief that at world’s end, December 21 next year, the aliens residing in the mountain will leave, airlifting a few lucky humans with them. According to one source, dozens of UFOers camped out atop the mountain on December 31, 1999, to see in the previous end-of-the-world at the dawn of the new millennium. While (clearly) that ‘end’ did not happen, this has not dampened doomsday enthusiasm, and the tiny villages of Bugarach, with less than 200 residents, and neighbouring Cubières, which is of similar size, are attracting a new kind of visitor. Property prices have been driven up, and the current infastructure can’t cope with what may become a massive influx of people. The Telegraph (UK) interviewed the mayor of Bugarach and numerous other locals before posting two items (1 and 2) one year in advance of the predicted 2012 Armageddon. A month later, the story was picked up by the NY Times. As our host Françoise, former mayor of Cubières, told us, this has only agravated the problem of alternate-lifestylers moving into the area but not wanting to be part of the local ‘community.’
The mountain may well be magic, but the only ‘energy’ we experienced as we sat around the Cubières dinner table on the eve of our walk around Bugarach was the buzz of local wine, home-cooked food, and lively conversation with an international group of visitors and residents. But, we did pay special attention to the mountain, which was in our sights most of the next day.
Our walk today is in the very heart of the Cathar country as we walk between the Fenouillèdes and the Corbières. We traverse the Bugarach massif and the Salso Col before arriving in the beautiful small village of Sougraigne.
If you are going to circumnavigate half a magic mountain, what better place to start than the local church. L’Abbaye de Cubières sur Cinoble, which was redesigned and rebuilt over the ruins of a ninth century abby, is atypical in that, unlike most European churches, it is oriented on a north-south, rather than an east-west axis.
Although the spring sun still held little warmth, the skies were blue and the winds had reduced somewhat, making for a pleasant walk winding through the countryside on stony tracks and small paved roads. We passed large farm holdings and small barnyards, eating our copious packed lunch in the lee of Bugarach and under the watchful eye of the local chickens and sheep.
If Bugarach has a magnetic force, it clearly didn’t work for us. Somewhere after Col de Linas, we lost the trail and ended up working our way down toward the town following goat tracks. A couple of French hikers passed us by, heading the same general direction. When I asked if we were on the path to Bugarach, they refused to confirm it until I pronounced it correctly. You have to love the French, their pursed [y] sound – and their sense of humour! Leaving the town, we lost the track again – not really our fault this time, as all the trees with our way-markers had been cut down by loggers.
The way down into Sougraigne was much longer than I remembered from our last visit… But once we got there, the hotel was as delightful as we recalled and the food was superb:
Entrée: Croustillants au chèvre en confit d’oignon
Plat: Côte de porc fermier, Bouchée aux champignons et légumes du jour
Dessert: Carré aux pommes
Now that is magic! There could be no better place for an extra night and a much needed rest. ‘Till next time!