Travel a few hundred miles south of Buenos Aires, and you’ll find Villa Epecuen. This eerie real-life Atlantis has reappeared from under flood waters after spending 25 years submerged.
The small Argentinian spa town sits along the shore of Lago Epecuen, a beautiful indigo blue lake nestled high in an alpine valley.
Back in the 1920s, a tourist village was established along the shore of Lago Epecuen, a salt lake some 600 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The resort town, named Villa Epucuen, soon had a railroad station, and it thrived for several decades, peaking in the 1970s with a population of more than 5,000. Around the same time, a long-term weather event was delivering far more rain than usual to the surrounding hills for years, and Lago Epecuen began to swell. In 1985, the salty waters broke through an earthen dam, and Villa Epecuen was doomed.
At the time of the disaster, the flood gave the town’s residents little time to gather their belongings. One of the residents, 48-year-old Norma Berg told AFP, “I had a bunch of cats and dogs, and they ran away a couple days before the flood and I never saw them again.” “I think my pets could feel that the water was coming,” she said, explaining that her and her family had to flee the town.
A slow-growing flood consumed the town until it reached a depth of 10 meters (33 feet) in 1993. The wet weather later reversed, and the waters began to recede in 2009.
Lago Epecuen is like most other mountain lakes, except for one important difference. It has salt levels second only to the Dead Sea. Ten times higher than any ocean.
Lago Epecuen’s theraputic powers have been famous for centuries. Legend holds that the lake was formed by the tears of a great Chief crying for the pain of his beloved. It is said that Epecuen — or “eternal spring” — can cure rheumatism, skin diseases, anemia, even treat diabetes. Some say a plunge into the salty blue water is a miracle cure for paralysis.
Villa Eqecuen’s neat, symmetrical rows of dead trees look like they’ve been burned instead of drowned. Their knobby roots sticking out of the ground like bony, white fingers. The once welcoming little hotels and restaurants now seem frozen in time.
During the day, Vella Epecuen is quiet as a ghost. But at night you hear all sorts of weird noises. The old slaughterhouse, now home to thousands of restless pigeons, is one of the loudest.
Many locals that left have never come back, not even to visit. But one man has. 81-year-old Pablo Novak is the Villa Epecuen’s sole resident. The lonely octogenarian rides around town on his bicycle every day, remembering better times.
“I am OK here. I am just alone. I read the newspaper. And I always think of the towns golden days back in the 1960s and 70s,” Novak says.