Last weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Villa Epecuén, a ghost town in the Buenos Aires province, which re-emerged after being destroyed by floods in the ’80s and subsequently abandoned. On Friday evening, we all hopped on a rickety train which I thought would reach the neighbouring city of Carhue just three hours later; needless to say, it turned out to be an eleven-hour train ride, and we didn’t arrive until the following morning! It was undoubtedly worth every hour though, as well as the hangover that came with ‘accidentally’ finishing all our wine on the journey.
After breakfast, which consisted of coffee, croissants and ice-cream, we pitched our tents at a local camp site, then began exploring our surroundings. We hired bikes, cycled to the nearby salt lagoon, whose salinity level is topped only by that of the Dead Sea, grabbed handfuls of the squelchy mud which lay at the bottom and proceeded to have an epic mud fight. Once that got old, we simply lay back and floated upon the dense waters, soaking up the sunshine and savouring the peaceful atmosphere. Later on, once the sun had gone down, we returned to that same spot to perch on the rocks and gaze up at the millions of stars.
On Sunday morning, we awoke to storms and such strong winds that our tents almost blew away. Not the types to be easily defeated though, we got back on our bikes and cycled (against the wind) to Villa Epecuén, passing the sinister matadero we’d visited the previous day and lines of dead trees that had turned white from the salt. Upon arrival in the town, each of us shuddered at the eeriness created by the deathly silence and further enhanced by the dark, stormy skies. What were once people’s homes, hotels and restaurants now exist only as piles of rubble and, although it is of course heart-wrenching to see the dire effects caused by these floods, it was a strangely beautiful sight. The most haunting was an old playground, where the seats of the swings had fallen off but the chains continued to creak as they swayed gently in the wind.
I had heard that Villa Epecuén still had one remaining resident, but presumed this must have been a rumour, as surely nobody could live in a place like this. However, as we began to make our way back, I spotted a house through the trees beside which cows were grazing and a few chickens were running about, implying there must be some form of life in this desolate town after all. We approached the house tentatively as a couple of barking dogs bounded through the doorway, followed by a tiny old man who introduced himself as Pablo Novak, ‘el único habitante’- we’d found him! What’s more, Pablo invited us in and proceeded to offer us beers, salami and delicious queso casero, before presenting us with his hefty collection of newspaper and magazine articles based on Villa Epecuén. We browsed the collection and listened in awe as he recounted tales of the town’s past and present, telling us how his father was its founder and therefore he felt a certain loyalty to the town, which caused him to return home twenty-five years after the flood waters receded. He now lives in his small farmhouse with his animals, but without electricity or any other modern-day luxuries, and still visits the town daily to walk and read the paper. I was truly reluctant to leave when our time came to return home, but I gave Pablo a big hug and promised I’d write an article for him to add to his collection. Well Pablo, here you are…