All of this notoriety has caused San Clemente to get ready for a new industry. In 2007, the town hall of Juan Rojas decided to create a UFO tourist route in the commune, which includes El Enladrillado, Lake Colbún and Maule Lagoon. The mayor himself - now in his second non-consecutive term - decided to boost tourism in this way. One reason is that he too is a witness. His first sighting was in 1976 at age 15. "I was in Vilches on a school trip. One of my classmates was injured and it was necessary to carry him away on foot, in the middle of the night. We were then followed by an oval-shaped object, luminous and with many points. It followed us practically the entire night, until exhaustion forced us to stop for a rest, and we fell asleep."
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The second episode occurred in 1990. Rojas was with his family in the El Colorado sector, near Lake Colbún. "We all saw a luminous object emerge from the water. It was impressive." According to experts, what the mayor saw was a USO - an unidentified submarine object.
But Mayor Rojas has no doubts about the area's attractiveness to tourists thanks to UFOs. He says that capital is being secured to build a quality hotel, build a road crossing the Vilches area and also erect an observatory.
"Have you ever seen any UFOs?
Maria Elena, who leases horses for outings to Altos de Lircay, is walking toward her home in Vilches, which more than a town, is a long road with houses and plots of land on either side of the road, home to some 800 people according to the Municipality of San Clemente's own calculations. Maria Elena smiles and says: "I've never seen a thing. I think they're doing it to bring in tourists."
A conversation of some 15 to 20 minutes on what life in Vilches is like - the subject of isolation in the Cordillera.
"Seriously, you've never seen UFOs?
"No, I've never had the opportunity."
While the skies are clear and unclouded in the pre-Cordilelra, residents of Vilches claim to know that the next day will be cloudy and rainy, without any need for weather forecasts. Alberto Moreno is working outdoors on the property of his log cabins, known as El Roble. Moreno says he's from Talca, but always spent summers in Vilches, until his family built the cabins he now manages. When asked about sightings, he is hesitant at first, but then conveys what he knows: "It was in the late 80s and I was 10 years old. It was at night and we went out for a stroll with my family. Some hippies were playing guitar on the road when we saw a large flattened cloud emitting multi-colored lights. It lasted a long time and we all agreed about what we had seen. We asked the hippies over to the house for some coffee and chatted. Years later I found out that what we had seen was a mothership."
Moreno never had another sighting in spite of having lived in Vilches for four years. He does remember the experiences of some Talca schoolteachers who were camped near Maule Lagoon. "It was during the February 27th earthquake, and while the ground shook, they told me they saw vehicles exiting the lagoon and vanishing into the sky. They were truly overwhelmed by it."
Theories accounting for the presence of UFOs in the area are many. Fuenzalida, the ufologist, says that aliens are drawn by the energy of the hydroelectric plants in the area, such as Colbún, as well as the large concentrations of freshwater in the lakes. There is also the theory that this area marks the end of the Inca Road, making a link with Nazca and its space legends. There are also stories about El Enladrillado having been built by a past civilization, while ufologists do not dismiss the likelihood of a natural phenomenon caused by activity in the nearby Descabezado Volcano.
Juan Claudio Cerro, current director of Public Relations for the Municipality of San Clemente, and director of tourism during the period in which Mayor Rojas worked on the UFO Route, says it is now necessary to consolidate the stories of the residents in these UFO hotspots. There is a consensus in the municipality that sightings cannot be guaranteed, but it must be made clear that these have actually occurred. "Fearing ridicule, people feeling uncomfortable about discussing their sightings poses a problem. It isn't good to have tourists engaging in a long trip only to be told by locals that there's nothing going on. It isn't a matter of everyone thinking alike, but we should proceed from the basis that many people have had sightings."
It is for this reason that the San Clemente Tourist Board is organizing a seminar in November for residents of Vilches which seeks to standardize the story, among other things.
Before this happens, Juan Rojas, mayor of the commune, has no doubt that what is happening in the skies overhead is momentous. "We are a commune that is very close to God," he says with conviction.
[Translation (c) 2014, Scott Corrales, IHU with thanks to Guillermo Giménez, Planeta UFO and Ignacio Bazán]