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The rumors have been circulating for years in Bucharach, a tiny village of farmers and lumberjacks nestled in an isolated valley between Perpignan and Carcasonne, in southwest France: that the peak that looms over the village has special powers; that its caverns connect to the center of the earth; that there's an alien parking garage buried in its bowels, and that the aliens who park there will rescue any humans waiting for them on December 21st, 2012.
That's the end date of a much-cited ancient Mayan calendar. But for Bucharach's long time mayor, Jean-Pierre DeLord, the fault doesn't lie with the indigenous Americans.
"There are groups who have latched on to this," he said, in his office, "and believe that one of the only places on earth to be saved is here on the Bugarach Peak."
On a recent morning DeLord recounted how he became alarmed weeks ago after groups of strangely dressed people began appearing in town and on the 5,000 foot high limestone outcropping.
People dressed all in white, he remembered, carrying out ceremonies on the mountain.
After a search on the Internet, he calculated that as many as 10,000 people may descend on the hamlet in the run-up to December 2012, overwhelming Bugarach's meager resources. So he called the regional police and the national Gendarme, to ask for back up should he need it.
"We in the town can't do much," DeLord said. "We have just two years to go until December 21st, 2011. We don't have time to set up an infrastructure to receive folks, for example: yurts or bungalows. In town there are 100 beds for tourists. But we can't take in ten thousand or more."
Bugarach has been on the map of new-agers and doomsdayers and idealistic explorers for decades. It's said that the peak inspired Jules Verne to write his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.
NASA, Israeli spies and the French government are alleged to have carried out experiments in the mountain's vast network of caverns -- where electro-magnetic fields are said to be particularly strong.
The curious have been coming for a long time, DeLord said.
He said a handful of doomsday believers had even bought houses in town. DeLord declined to identify them because he said the newcomers don't want media attention.
A stroll through town turned up only exasperated residents, doubtful of the doomsday scenario and tired of reporters' questions. One eldery resident, out cleaning his barn, said he'd discuss anything in the world except questions about 2012.
"I won't discuss it," he said, "because I don't want to talk about silliness."
Another resident said, "I'm not interested," from his stoop before slamming his front door.
Over thirty journalists, from all over the world, have descended on Bugarach in recent days. That's one reporter for every six residents.
But a visit to the mountain itself was a different story. There at the base of Bugarach Peak, two believers, Mikel and Marcela, were willing to talk. But on one condition: that the person asking the questions climb the mountain first. Several hours later they opened up.
Mikel, a skinny, thirty-something with an unshaven chin, said he'd seen a vehicle of light, a sort of living being, one evening. But he said that was anecdotal.
"People talk a lot about the end, in 2012, he said. "But before that lots of information will be revealed. Reality will be broken. We'll see the end of government manipulation. People will start asking, what is this life? This Earth?
"There will be much fear as well," he said. "But the information that the mountain gives us will spread through the collective consciousness, putting us in tune with the oneness of life and the universe."
Mikel's companion, Marcela, put it less esoterically.
"Have you seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the movie by Stephen Spielberg? That's it. That's what's happening."
Back at his office, Mayor DeLord said he doesn't believe any of the myths. But he's not dropping his guard.
He's installed a secret counter to track the number of people who climb the mountain. If the numbers begin to soar, he'll be back on the phone with the Gendarme.
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