Alien Encounters

My family loves to travel and observe nature, but we do not necessarily yearn to interact with the great outdoors. For example, we will all gather to watch a majestic summer thunderstorm, but we do it comfortably under a sturdy roof and behind window screens.

Exploring Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca site, with my family this January was therefore invariably a delight—although even before we landed, I knew that my parents were unprepared for Mother Nature's warm and insect-filled embrace.

I learned quickly that Peru was also wet. As soon as we landed at the Aguas Calientes rail station, a steady downpour began with no intention of relenting for the weak-hearted.

The second a raindrop touched the ground, umbrellas and raincoats popped up outside of the stores as if they were the understudy who finally got the chance to perform because the main actor called in sick.

Once at the park entrance, we had one final test to retrace the path of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who stumbled upon Machu Picchu a little over a hundred years ago. We were going to hike up the mountain (a more historically accurate test would have required that we take artifacts and not return them until much later—not so lux or veritas after all, Hiram).

My family’s average physical aptitude and the high altitude resulted in a deceptively demanding climb. My mother, the clever and considerate woman that she is, allegedly only pretended to be completely out of breath in order to slow down my father, but the jury is still out. My sister and I would systematically check that a black orb was still behind us, as my father's windblown black poncho made him look like the Phantom of the Opera.

When we finally reached Machu Picchu, the planes, trains, and automobiles were worth it. A never-ending line of vibrantly green peaks with a gushing river at their bases surrounded our insignificant bodies. Climbing over the stones strolled upon by my Inca counterparts 600 years ago, I truly was on an adventure.

I was reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote: "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very;' otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite." With this moment as one of those scarce occasions in life when the word "infinite" seemed appropriate, I crossed the threshold of time into a pre-Columbian world.

At each corner of the restored city, one word—how—prevailed on everyone’s lips. How did the Inca build a city in such a hidden place within the Andes? How is it possible to accurately predict the winter solstice by measuring the shade projections on the central rock from the east window in the Sun Temple? How did they split these massive stones to create such solid structures that have survived every earthquake? How did they fill up two circular receptacles with water in order to serve as "mirrors" for astral observations during clear nights? How did they construct a communication system using an understanding of sound wave travel in water to contact another compound 100 meters away? How did archeologists find tubes of rubber with small remnants of blood, an indication of a blood transfusion, in the "hospital" area?

Our tour guide Fred related the theories about the Inca, emphasizing that they were a technologically advanced people who adapted to their environment and whose religious focus caused them to track celestial patterns.

But I have a better, more rational theory: What if the Inca were helped by aliens? It would explain their remarkable understanding of astronomy, their impressive city, and their mysterious disappearance supposedly due to an epidemic and the arrival of the Spanish.

While I attempt to gather more proof for my speculation, one thing is clear: Nothing is too extraordinary or impossible at the top of Machu Picchu—not even theories of alien assistance.