BUGARACH, SOUTHERN FRANCE
— The end of the world is near -- that is according to some interpretations of Mayan predictions. While those predictions say it all ends December 21 at 11:11 UTC, some say the tiny village of Bugarach, in southwestern France, will be saved.
Bugarach - population 180 - seems perfectly ordinary at first sight - except for the mountain, rising suddenly above it, as if out of nowhere. It is this mountain, the Pic de Bugarach, that seems at the heart of most of the rumors surrounding the place and the reason why people here believe the village is safe from harm.
For a start, it is upside down, created when the Earth’s plates pushed against each other millions of years ago, flipping the older rock on top. And, it stands alone, so when you climb to the top, you can see for kilometers in every direction.
Bugarach Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord poses in front of a road sign, Dec. 14, 2010.
French Gendarmes patrol a street where mobile-homes are parked, on December 20, 2012, in the French southwestern village of Bugarach.
A man walks with a stick past gendarmes controlling access to the French southwestern village of Bugarach, Dec. 20, 2012.
Journalists from South Korea file a report from the southwestern village of Bugarach, France on Dec. 19, 2012.
A woman examines an esoteric sign engraved on a rock near the summit of the Peak of Bugarach, the highest point of the Corbieres massif, in southwestern France, June 24, 2011.
Bottles of wine and backpacks are proposed to visitors at the "Bug' boutic" (Bugarach shop) of the "Amis du Pic" (Peak's friends) association, on December 20, 2012.
A dog is pictured under an information board for a restaurant reading "The end of the world, is here" on December 20, 2012 in the southwestern French village of Bugarach.
Many people believe it has mystical properties and some say it is home to aliens, ready to abandon Earth ahead of the predicted apocalypse.
Not everyone is convinced. But locals say there is something there.
And, people have been flocking to the area for decades - although most say they chose to stay for the region’s natural beauty, rather than its esoteric reputation.
Englishwoman Valerie Austin has lived in Bugarach for 24 years and has never seen so much as a light in the sky. But that has not stopped people coming in search of strange phenomena.
“As long as I’ve been here, people talked about strange things. People come here expecting strange things,” Austin explains.
The mayor of the village, Jean-Pierre Delord, says the mountain has always been a little bit mystical, and attracts a wide variety of people.
"There are people who believe in aliens, in people living inside the Earth, in UFOs, " Delord notes. "And there are those who believe the mountain has magical healing properties - because of its magnetic force."
Irishwoman Jennifer Harpur lives in the region and loves to go walking on the mountain. She does not believe the rumors of aliens - but she, too, has felt something there.
“There is a strange kind of feeling because as you turn around, the wind either makes lots and lots of noise in your ear, but you turn around slightly to the left or slightly to the right and it’s very, very silent," she says. "So it’s a kind of eerie feeling.”
Patrice Etienne, who runs a small local café and does a brisk trade in tee-shirts and postcards of the mountain with superimposed orbs, has no doubt there are strange occurances up there.
"We can see flying objects. It’s moving so fast you cannot see it with your eyes, without a camera," Etienne says, " [have you seen…] yes….. During the night, there’s a lot of strange lights, like falling stars, going down and up again. It’s really strange.”
And, it is those reports that have attracted New Agers and healers and the simply curious for years.
With the latest rumors that Bugarach will be saved, the mayor has called in the army and banned access to the mountain Friday through Sunday, concerned the tiny village will be overrun by thousands of outsiders.
"The police do not know if there will be no one or throngs of people," Mayor Delord says. "So we had to put some security in place."
Some local residents, like Valerie Austin, believe the mayor should have kept quiet and blame him for stirring up all this interest in Bugarach.
And, Austin says it has not brought anything to the town - in fact, quite the opposite… tourists who would normally seek out the tranquility of the area have been frightened off by rumors of hordes of New Agers descending on the place all year long.
“The people who normally come to stay…… just haven’t come,” she says.
Sarah McMeekan, who moved to the area years ago, says she too believes there’s a special energy about Bugarach - but she laughs at the rumors that the end is nigh for anyone not actually in the village…
“I shall be drinking a nice glass of wine with friends," McMeekan quips. "We’re having a we-have-survived party on the 22nd."
Like many others, she believes if the Mayans were that good at predictions, why didn’t they see their own end coming?