Villa Epecuén, a picturesque tourist village located in the Buenos Aires Province of Argentina, was perched on the eastern shore of the serene Laguna Epecuén, merely 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) north of the bustling city of Carhué. Its intriguing history and unfortunate fate provide a compelling narrative that captures the imagination of those who delve into the mysteries of this once-thriving destination.
The origins of Villa Epecuén can be traced back to the early 1920s when it was conceived as a tourist haven, accessible from the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires by train. The Sarmiento Railway line, a vital transportation link in the region, offered easy access to Villa Epecuén via its dedicated station. Additionally, the Midland Railway and the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway efficiently transported passengers to the nearby Carhué station, enhancing the accessibility of the area.
The tale of Villa Epecuén’s rise to fame is attributed to an English entrepreneur who recognized the potential of this pristine location. Leasing the land, he began marketing the lake as having unique healing properties, even going to the extent of enlisting Italian scientists to lend credibility to this assertion. This clever marketing ploy soon attracted tourists seeking respite and rejuvenation.
During its zenith, Villa Epecuén could comfortably accommodate a minimum of 5,000 visitors. The village burgeoned with a vibrant array of amenities, including lodges, guesthouses, hotels, and various businesses. It became a favored destination, drawing up to 25,000 tourists annually between November and March, especially during the 1950s through the 1970s.
However, the fortunes of Villa Epecuén took a devastating turn on November 6, 1985. A seiche, a rare weather-induced phenomenon, triggered a calamitous series of events. First, a nearby dam was breached, and subsequently, the protective dike guarding the village was overwhelmed by the relentless waters. Over a period of time, the water level rose steadily, eventually reaching a staggering peak of 10 meters (33 feet). The village, once a thriving haven, was abruptly rendered uninhabitable, and sadly, it was never rebuilt. Many of the structures that remained above the waterline became shrouded by a blanket of white and grey salt, lending an eerie, post-apocalyptic quality to the site.
Villa Epecuén’s rise and fall not only represent the loss of a vibrant tourist destination but also the collapse of a thriving community. At its height, the village was home to a population of 1,500 inhabitants, but the catastrophic flooding marked the end of an era. By 2011, only one resident, Pablo Novak, born in 1930, remained, and he had miraculously returned to his ancestral home in 2009 when the waters finally receded after an astonishing 25-year submersion. His story is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the enduring connection people can have with their roots. A documentary aptly titled “Pablo’s Villa,” released in 2013, chronicles the life of the town and the remarkable journey of Novak, providing a poignant insight into the village’s history.
The mystique surrounding Villa Epecuén has not gone unnoticed by the world of entertainment and media. The town has been featured in various TV shows, including “Abandoned Engineering” (season 4, episode 1), and “Mysteries of the Abandoned” (season 4, episode 1), which delve into the engineering marvels and the mysteries hidden within the ruins. Furthermore, the hauntingly beautiful and desolate landscape of Villa Epecuén was used as a location in the 2010 film “And Soon the Darkness,” starring Amber Heard and Karl Urban, adding a touch of cinematic allure to its abandoned streets.
Notably, Villa Epecuén also found its place as a backdrop in one of Danny MacAskill’s remarkable street trials cycling videos. The juxtaposition of the once-thriving town and the acrobatics of a talented cyclist highlights the poignant contrast between the past and the present, further perpetuating the legend of this lost village.
In conclusion, the story of Villa Epecuén is a captivating blend of history, tragedy, and resilience. This forgotten tourist village stands as a testament to the ebb and flow of life, where nature’s unpredictable forces can alter the destiny of a once-bustling community. Villa Epecuén, with its salt-covered ruins and haunting memories, continues to intrigue and mystify, ensuring that its legacy endures, even in its submerged silence.