The Lake That Randomly Vanishes

Loughareema, also known as the Vanishing Lake, is located on the coast road, just a few miles from the seaside town of Ballycastle in Ireland. The lake sits on a leaky chalk-bed with a “plug hole” that often becomes jammed with peat causing the Loughareema depression to fill, especially during heavy rain. When the plug clears, the lake drains rapidly underground. A passerby who is not aware of the lake and its disappearing act would never even know it existed in the first place.

Interestingly, the road to Ballycastle runs right through the lake, though the modern road sits high enough to avoid flooding, unlike the original. It is quite possible that even the road engineers who built road were fooled by the lake’s trickery. In former days the route was frequently under water, sometimes for weeks on end, making crossing treacherous.

It was during one particularly bad state of flooding in 1898, a certain Colonel John Magee McNeille, anxious to catch the 3 pm train from the town, persuaded his coachman to drive a covered wagon pulled by two horses through the lake. When they reached the middle of the lake, the cold water reached the bellies of the horse who became nervous. The coachman used the whip, the horse went rearing up on its back legs and turned to the side. The Colonel, his coachmen and the two horses soon succumbed to the treacherous, cold waters.

Since that fateful day many people have reported seeing a phantom carriage pulled by two horses and ridden by a military man on the lonely shores of Loughareema.

The road has been raised about the maximum flood level, and just in case, a stone wall has been erected on each side of the road as it approaches the Lough so that no-one can ever meet the same watery end as Colonel McNeille did on the afternoon of 30 September 1898.

Loughareema, nearly full.

Loughareema, empty.

Loughareema and the new elevated road through it.


The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years

Back in the 1920s, a tourist village named Villa Epecuen was established along the shore of Lago Epecuen, a salt lake some 600 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lago Epecuen is like most other mountain lakes, except for one important difference. It has salt levels second only to the Dead Sea, and ten times higher than any ocean.

Lago Epecuen’s therapeutic powers have been famous for centuries. Legend holds that the lake was formed by the tears of a great Chief crying for the pain of his beloved. It is said that Epecuen — or “eternal spring” — can cure depression, rheumatism, skin diseases, anaemia, even treat diabetes.

By late nineteenth century, the first residents and visitors started to arrive to Villa Epecuen and set up tents on the banks. Villa Epecuen transformed from a sleepy mountain village to a bustling tourist resort. The village soon had a railway line linking it to Buenos Aires. Before long, tourists from all over South American and the World came flocking, and by the 1960s, as many as 25,000 people came every year to soak in the soothing salt water. The town’s population peaked in the 1970s with more than 5,000. Nearly 300 businesses thrived, including hotels, hostels, spas, shops, and museums.

Around the same time, a long-term weather event was delivering far more rain than usual to the surrounding hills for years, and Lago Epecuen began to swell. On 10 November 1985 the enormous volume of water broke through the rock and earth dam and inundated much of the town under four feet of water. By 1993, the slow-growing flood consumed the town until it was covered in 10 meters of water.

Nearly 25 years later, in 2009, the wet weather reversed and the waters began to recede. Villa Epecuen started coming back to the surface.

No one returned back to the town, except 81-year-old Pablo Novak who is now Villa Epecuen’s sole resident.

“I am OK here. I am just alone. I read the newspaper. And I always think of the towns golden days back in the 1960s and 70s,” Novak says.

In 2011, AFP photographer Juan Mabromata visited the ruins of Villa Epecuen, met its sole inhabitant, and returned with these images.

The former slaughterhouse of Villa Epecuen, Argentina, among a stand of long-dead trees, photographed on May 4, 2011.

Norma Berg gestures next to the ruins of her family house in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.

A thin layer of salt, cracked, revealing the original paint of the wall of a collapsed building in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.

Lone inhabitant of Villa Epecuen, 81-year-old Pablo Novak tends his wood stove at his on May 3, 2011.

The road leading to the cemetery of Carhue, near Villa Epecuen, at sunset on May 4, 2011.

A man compares a photograph of Villa Epecuen taken in the 1970's with the current state of the place, after almost 25 years beneath the water of Lago Epecuen.