MIRAMAR BEACH, Tamaulipas — As Tropical Storm Karl formed just a few hundred miles from the coastal cities of Madero and Tampico last month, Beatriz García, a 71-year-old local, wasn’t worried when she saw the news. “I immediately said, ‘they [aliens] are going to protect us.’ And this is what I believe and trust: that they exist, that there is a base,” said García.
Local legend has it that this area in Mexico has been protected from hurricanes and other dangerous storms for over 50 years by extraterrestrials who monitor Earth from an underwater base hidden a few miles off Miramar Beach called Amupac. And Garcia, like many others here, is a believer. While the rumors of underwater alien protectors are unproven, what’s certain is that Tropical Storm Karl took a sharp turn away from that part of the shoreline, and connected further south on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, causing floods in some places, and leading to one death.
Extreme weather events continue to miss these cities, feeding the legend and making Madero and Tampico the epicenter of alien culture in Mexico. Around Miramar Beach especially, the legend of Amupac has become an important driver of the economy and a principal reason some of the tourists flock to the area. Restaurants are named after martians and souvenir stands sell alien stuffed toys next to T-shirts with flying saucers and green men boasting of being the Playa Protegida — “Protected Beach.” And maybe it is.
When García was a girl growing up in the southern tip of the border state of Tamaulipas, she lived through major hurricanes that laid waste to both cities in 1955 and 1966. But the hurricanes suddenly stopped ravaging her part of Mexico after a mysterious event that changed her life.
García said that she and a friend both saw several flying objects in “a formation in the sky,” one evening in 1967. She told her family afterward about it, who downplayed it and suggested that they were just airplanes. “But they couldn’t be planes because of how they manifested, and even the formation: [planes] don’t do that. They were slow and there were lots of them.”
But while her family didn’t see the odd flying objects moving in unison, many others did.
The next day, on August 7, 1967, the local El Sol de Tampico newspaper ran a story with the headline Platillos Voladores Sobre Tampico, or “Flying Saucers Over Tampico” in English. The article claimed that “thousands of inhabitants” witnessed the aerial phenomena and quoted the local airport’s control tower officer who reportedly counted “nine unidentified objects.”
“They came from over there, apparently heading to the sea,” said García, pointing from the direction of Tampico and Madero, over to the waters of Miramar Beach.
García was attending an event at the beach called El Día OVNI Tamaulipas on October 25, an unofficial holiday in the state, named after the Spanish acronym for Objeto Volador No Identificado—unidentified flying object. She was dressed in a tie-dye shirt adorned with a flying saucer and the word “believe” on the front. Her adult daughter accompanied her, wearing earrings shaped like little green alien heads. They didn’t seem out of place amid the group of alien enthusiasts.
The event was organized by a group of self-proclaimed alien investigators called the OVNI Scientific Investigation Association of Tamaulipas (AICOT for its Spanish acronym) and held in a small enclave off Miramar Beach’s promenade painted with a mural of the sea. The group placed several blown up images of OVNIs on easels and gave a series of short lectures on recent sightings, ancient Mesoamerican civilizations’ believed contact with extraterrestrials, and the legend of the underwater alien base, Amupac. Not everyone in the region believes AICOT’s claims or approves of their promotion of the existence of Amupac, but they’ve become an important reference point for alien enthusiasts in the area, and around Mexico.
Juan Carlos Ramón López, the group’s founder and president, is a well-known figure in Mexico’s extraterrestrial scene. He told VICE World News that he visited Amupac nearly a decade ago, during a guided meditation on July 19, 2013, using what he called his “astral body,” which is distinct from the physical.
Amupac, he said, is “intraterrestrial” and “multidimensional,” seemingly made of crystal and some metals, and inhabited by nearly 10 feet tall, thin and light-skinned beings who had a more evolved “consciousness,” with “energy radiating throughout the place.”
“The information that I received in this place is that they are monitoring this stage of this planet,” said López. “And well, for me in particular I can deduce that they are psychologists, scientists who are connected in this reality, but they live in the space of no time.”
While López’s claims about astral travel may seem out there to many non-believers, the study of unidentified aerial phenomena has gained steam in recent years. The U.S. congress recently held its first congressional hearings into so-called UFO sightings in over 50 years after a series of New York Times articles revealed that the government had secretly been investigating unexplainable sightings for years by members of the U.S. armed forces.
Around 300 miles south of Texas in southern Tamaulipas, sightings are reportedly proliferating as well.
Numerous people at the event claimed to have seen OVNIs or other unexplainable phenomena. One man claimed to have been abducted by aliens in 1992 and taken to a different alien civilization where he learned the secrets of the universe. Another, Juan Abraham Soto, who spent years working on offshore oil platforms in the waters off Miramar Beach and claimed to have seen OVNIs numerous times, hypothesized on why the beings in Amupac have allegedly protected the region from extreme weather.
“I believe that more than protecting us, it’s also that they are protecting themselves,” said Soto.
The unofficial holiday, El Día OVNI Tamaulipas, began essentially as a practical joke to mock the area’s burgeoning legend. A media personality from the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon organized an event called El Día del Marciano (Martian Day) in October 2013, and presented a homemade bust of a green alien head near Miramar Beach. He convinced a few people from the local municipal government to attend the made-up day. Photos of officials wearing government shirts in front of the alien statue went viral around Mexico, with people ridiculing what seemed like a real holiday. The local government distanced itself from the event, and the alien bust promptly disappeared.
But over the following years, López and AICOT have spearheaded a move to legitimize the holiday, and tweak it to reference OVNIs, pronounced as a single two syllable word like ov-knees, instead of Martians. And now, the movement has government support.
“We’ve had everyone from children to the elderly that are interested in the subject,” said Nembra Carmen Jiménez, director of tourism for the state government of Tamaulipas, and a member of AICOT.
Jiménez is trying to get the celebratory day official recognition, and helped organize the first ever Holistic Ufological Congress in Tamaulipas in June that brought alien investigators from around the country together in Madero and Tampico.
“People come here exclusively to visit this area…to see these types of phenomenons,” said Jiménez, before correcting herself. “Well, we got rid of the word ‘phenomena’. This type of ‘reality’ that we have here.”
Like others at the event, Jiménez also claimed to have experienced the region’s extraterrestrial neighbors firsthand. “I believe in this. I have seen them since I was 5 years old, I have had contact with a spaceship,” she said. “We are not alone in the universe.”
But not everyone believes in Amupac.
Javier Francisco Álvarez, the recently retired meteorological harbor master who tracked weather in the region for years, told VICE World News that he was “skeptical” that an underwater alien base steers storms away from southern Tamaulipas. Instead, he said that “the trajectories of these hydrometeorological phenomena are erratic, that is, they do not always hit the same part or in the same place, or enter through the same way, touch land through the same place.”
He mentioned that several other cities along the coast haven’t been hit directly by a hurricane in a long time, not just Madero and Tampico. Álvarez also reiterated another school of thought popular in the region: that the lack of large storms in the area is because the water near the coast of southern Tamaulipas is slightly cooler than further to the north and south in the Gulf of Mexico.
“As the sea water is one or two degrees colder, it manages to pull the mass of air and, consequently, causes the rejection of hurricanes. The air mass that enters through the gulf is diverted towards the coasts of the United States and towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec [in Southern Mexico],” said Álvarez.
But Álvarez didn’t believe that the region's luck would continue forever.
“The explanation of the Martians has developed into a fun oral tradition that has begun to transcend several generations and create a tourist attraction,” he said. “However, it is important not to blind ourselves to reality by an urban legend and adopt protective measures in the event of the arrival of a hurricane.”
Over the years, the myth of Amupac has grown, especially after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 diverted from hitting Madero and Tampico after meteorologists projected the deadly storm would slam into the region. The storm killed over 300 people and caused billions of dollars in damage across the Caribbean, U.S. and Southern Mexico. By 2005, locals appeared at Miramar Beach holding signs asking for the aliens to protect them as Hurricane Katrina approached. Again, the hurricane connected elsewhere, especially around New Orleans, causing over 1,800 deaths.
Carolina Infante, an official historian in Madero, posed a different theory. She said that in 1967, the same year of the mass OVNI sighting, the city also built a monument to the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. Many religious members of the community believe the protection comes from her, not aliens.
The combination of the two opposing sets of beliefs, she said, have created “something beyond an urban legend. It’s a social phenomenon where people are aware of and believe in superior beings.”
Along Miramar Beach, it's clear which of the two beliefs has become more popular.
“People invariably come to the beach to look for aliens. They also come to look for souvenirs, key chains, T-shirts, hats, bracelets, stuffed animals, anything that has to do with aliens,” said Infante. “Definitely the local people have tried to use this phenomenon to increase their sales.”
Street stalls along the road leading to the beach sell everything you could imagine with an alien theme. Around the two cities, everything from barber shops to restaurants have embraced the imagery. But it’s not just people looking to make a buck.
Around three years ago, a group of graffiti artists began painting murals around the cities with alien heads and the name of their crew — WTA. The group's leader, who asked to only be referred to by his artist name DELO, said their name means “Transforming the World with Art.”
The group originally painted more traditional graffiti of the crew’s name and their tags, but after DELO and others in the crew saw something they couldn’t explain, they began to create alien imagery.
“We were out painting one night, then we saw a light. It was a flash, but it was glowing,” said DELO. “We looked up and then just like that, it completely disappeared.”
The murals, he said, have been received very positively by locals because the majority believe. “We're transforming [the world] now with the concept of aliens. We're turning the world into aliens,” he said.
And some people in Madero and Tampico are taking that idea very literally.
As the sun shone over the tourists on Miramar Beach on a recent October afternoon, many experienced an alien sighting. Sort of. A man and his nephew walked along the sand dressed in alien costumes. The man, known solely as El Marcianito, or The Little Martian in English, has become a staple here. El Marcianito, who asked that his real name not be used, takes photos with visitors, or will fetch and deliver orders from nearby stores and restaurants. Today he is teaching his eight-year-old nephew how to be a “Martian.”
El Marcianito slipped in and out of his alias, at times claiming to be an actual alien that had been expelled from Amupac for having contacts with humans after falling “in love with Miramar Beach.” He claimed that the money he saved up from taking photos with tourists would be used to fix his spaceship so that he could one day return to Amupac.
But at other moments, the man behind the mask acknowledged that he and his family live in a poor part of town, and get by selling fruits and vegetables at a local market. He said that he doesn’t have enough money to own a cell phone. Of one thing he was certain—that aliens exist.
He said that one night he made contact with aliens during a dream, and after that “I changed distinctly. I wasn’t the person I was before.” Soon after, he began appearing on the beach as El Marcianito, wearing the well-worn alien costume that is forever covered in sand.
Dressed in the oversized costume, El Marcianito reiterated over and over again that the inhabitants of Earth had nothing to fear from aliens: “They are good, they’re not bad.”
“There are many people who believe in us because we are real. We like to take care of this beautiful coast of Miramar, so that nothing enters that could destroy it,” he said. “We are protecting it.”