Tangentially related to mammoth’s long-running and fascinating siftings on floods, the Atlantic profiles the case of the Argentine settlement of Epecuen. Settled in 1920 on the shores of an inland lagoon about 6 hours south of Buenos Aires, the town was a bustling resort that welcomed visitors from the city who came for the supposed healing properties of the saline waters of Laguna Epecuen. Between 1950 and 1970, the 1,500 inhabitants welcomed upwards of 25,000 visitors each summer to the bustling town protected from the lagoon’s waters by a slender earthen dike.
Laguna Epecuen is the final lagoon in the saline hydrological system known as the Lagunas Encadenadas del Oeste de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, receiving water from the increasingly saline lagoons but having no outlet. As such, it is the largest and most variable of the lagoons, with the highest salt content (10x that of sea water). In the 1970’s and 1980’s, unusually large amounts of rain in the province slowly built up the water level in the lagoon system and increased pressure on the dike protecting Epecuen. In 1985 that dike gave way.
All inhabitants left save one, and the town remained underwater for the next two decades. In the last five years lower water levels in the lagoon have opened the town back up, and the lone inhabitant reports that people have been coming around to explore, shoot movies, reminisce, and try to reclaim materials or lands (this last task has proven a bit difficult, what with the crust of salt now covering everything it didn’t already dissolve). If this wasted town can be considered terrain vague, this place is perhaps another example of what we have argued for before– that the role of terrain vague in the creation of new mythologies is paramount. And the mythical form (that which is ahistorical yet suggests a history) resulting from the fracturing of the historical narrative is one of the reasons these terrain vague sites are so interesting and meaningful.
Reports have surfaced that this lone, grizzled inhabitant who has supposedly spent the intervening 25 years alone, “reading the paper and riding his bicycle”, is our very own Don Roman de la Mancha. We approached him about this topic, about which he had only one comment: “No comment.”