Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bugarach: The Mystic Mountain

Trip to Aude: Day4 (Afternoon)
After the muddled mysteries of Rennes-le-Château, we were a short hop away from the mystic mountain of Bugarach. We simply had to take the road back to our hotel, Laveldieu, and continue on to Bugarach. But Blandine discovered she was running short on cash. So we drove the other way, to the town of Couiza. No banks, no ATMs. Not a one. What a town. No matter, we took the road to Rennes-les-Bains. Rennes-les-Bains, as you can make out from the name, is a sort of sister-village to Rennes-le-Château. But instead of hot air, it sells hot water. It's a thermal spa. (You can be pretty sure that any place in France ending 'les-bains' is a thermal spa). They're close together on the map, but there is no direct road between them.We figured that thermal spas attract all sorts of filthy rich plutocrats with gout and weak liver, and if plutocrats are there, can banks and ATMs be far behind? We figured wrong. No ATMs. No Banks. Not a one. But it was full of plutocrats. We stopped a very expensive looking lady in some kind of rich robe and asked her. She confirmed our diagnosis. She said the nearest place to get money was Couiza. We thanked her and pressed on.
I noted on the map that we weren't far from Bugarach, although we had taken a more circuitous route to get there. I suggested we might suspend the money hunt for a bit and take a look at the heavenly hill. Blandine sighed and agreed. She took the road to Bugarach. I felt a twinge of regret at whizzing through Rennes-les-Bains. It seemed a rather pretty little village. Later, when I learned about it some more, I regretted it even more. But at the time I was obsessed with getting to Bugarach.

Anyhow, here we were at last, on the road to Bugarach:

Bugarach (pronounced BOOGER-ASH. Seriously) is known as the upside-down mountain. Due to a funny movement of plate tectonics, its top is a million years older than its bottom. With most mountains, it is the other way around. Wikipedia says this phenomena is called an overthrust, and who am I to disbelieve Wikipedia. Some people claim it has inverted magnetism. If you take a compass to the top, it goes crazy. But I could not confirm this on Wikipedia, and if Wikipedia says it ain't so, it ain't so. I was too lazy to climb to the top and verify for myself, and I did not have a compass.
Bugarach became world famous in 2012, when the world ended in the Mayan Apocalypse, although most of us did not notice it. At the time, it was claimed that Bugarach was the only place on Earth that would survive the apocalypse. Having been to Bugarach myself of late, I can confirm that it did, in fact, survive.

Bugarach has inspired mystics down the ages. If you see it up close, it is easy to see why. There is something enigmatic about it that draws you in. Local inhabitants claim you can occasionally hear strange sounds and flashes of light from the hill. This has given rise to stories that it is used as a UFO base by aliens. No, not Chinese tourists. Real aliens. Little Green Men. Although popping cameras might be a better explanation for the sound and light than flying saucers. It is a limestone hill riddled with caves and a subterranean river. Jules Verne lived in this area, and it is said to have inspired his 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'. It is supposed to have inspired Stephen Spielberg for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', although he did the actual shooting elsewhere.

A short while later, we slipped into the sleepy village of Bugarach. It was deserted.

Blandine was famished. In all that zipping about in search of ready cash, lunchtime had come and gone. We parked in the village and looked around for a restaurant. There were five in the village, and they were all closed. Even our biscuits had run out. Blandine was looking decidedly cheesed. I started to panic. I don't mind skipping the occasional meal, but as every boy knows, hell hath no fury like a girlfriend starved. The village seemed deserted. We did not see a single other person while jogging all over looking for an eatery. Just then, I came across this place selling sports goods and snacks.

It was closed, but there was a man pottering about in the garden. Now, here in France, you don't go over to people and ask them to open their shops. This isn't back home. But this was an emergency. I went over to him and babbled. Luckily, he turned out to be a decent sort of chap. He was more than happy to open his shop, and gave us a big hunk of fresh country bread, a tin of artisanal sausage from the region, chocolate cookies, and two bottles of artisanal beer. Heaven. Here is a pic of Blandine after the meal, with Bugarach in the background.

Blandine seems to be demonstrating that funny expression French people have on their face when crazy foreign tourists talk about Bugarach. Or maybe she was just tipsy from that fine artisanal beer. I don't remember.

After the meal, we drove closer to Bugarach and walked around it. I was feeling too lazy after the meal to climb it. A pity. I regretted it later. Anyhow, here are pics of Bugarach taken from all sides. There. Now you can't say you haven't ever seen Bugarach.

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