BUGARACH, France — The peacefulness of the Sals River Valley at the foothills of the Pyrenees in France belies its violent, enigmatic history. Once the place of ancient marauding Visigoths, its small villages were also home to the mystical Cathars and to the protectors of the cloth, the Knights Templar – both eliminated by inquisitions and despotic rulers.
Roughly two years ago, the peace of this land was broken once again by strange rumors surfacing online about Bugarach Mountain, a rocky beacon presiding over the landscape.
According to some reports, the peak of the mountain conceals an alien spaceship. Other sources say it is part of an alien space-time portal. The origins of the UFO stories have been difficult to trace, but have generated a response bordering on hysteria. Under normal circumstances, probably, such bizarre claims would have slunk away unnoticed or been relegated to the crazy bin. But, as they say, timing is everything.
Advertise | AdChoices
For years, doomsayers warned that the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Maya timekeeping system, which culminated on Dec. 21, would also signify the end of the world. In recent months, the UFO story has taken over the public imagination. Instead of being passed off as nonsense, Bugarach and its "resident UFO" became star European players in a global doomsday pantomime. And when it was announced that the regional authorities were calling in police and paramilitaries to prevent cultists from ascending the peak on doomsday, the village became the center of a media storm — a different kind of pantomime altogether.
Driving into the village on the morning of Dec. 19, a number of elements met the eyes: telltale blue uniforms and police vans peppering the sides of the roads, smoke rising languidly from stone chimneys, the looming figure of Bugarach Mountain. Other sights included columns of SUVs and satellite trucks snaking their way along the country roads. Roving packs of groomed-yet-rugged types with press passes and hungry looks were busy claiming positions within cordoned-off areas in the village.
No sight of cultists, or for that matter, anything more otherworldly than a mass of waterproof jackets and the hardened boots of teams waiting for their scoop. Soggy fields bordered with caution tape were reserved for vehicles, and over the course of the day the fields became emblazoned with acronyms and company crests, resembling an army of knights from different royal houses, awaiting battle.