Podcast: Play in new window | Download
The date was Friday, July 9th, 2021 and it was a warm and humid night in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Many eyes were fixed to the skies and social media was abuzz with reports of a strange ball of fire streaking across the skies. Was it a UFO? Was it a meteor? Was it an experimental craft from the US military or NASA? With all that had been happening in 2020 and 2021, could it have been a sign that the end of the world was near? Everything seems to be on the table when a mysterious anomaly appears in the sky. The next day official news reports quelled whatever residual fear was left and stomped out all other strange explanations for this unusual atmospheric occurrence. According to the media, the fireball was Space X’s Dragon Cargo Space capsule successfully departing the International Space Station and returning to earth. The fireball effect was just the capsule heating up while entering the earth’s atmosphere. After the reports became public, some people still did not buy the official story, because they had good memories, and recalled a time some 40 years before when fireballs in the sky were more prevalent and there were no official explanations.
In 1980 Mexican paranormal researcher Vicente Barrera had heard about the mysterious fireballs over Veracruz and undertook a lengthy investigation centered around the area of Cerro de la Mesa in the Actopan River Valley. This valley is located in the municipio of Actopan some 65 miles east of Xalapa, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz. Barrera had received reports that fireballs were seen in the sky in this area almost on a daily basis from 1977 until he started his investigation in 1980. At the time of these mass sightings, the Actopan Valley was somewhat remote and today’s 45-minute drive from the state capital took two and a half hours over terrible roads. The countryside looks the same now as it did back in the late ‘70s: small farms dot the river valley. Growers produce corn, mangoes, chayote, papayas, coffee and sugarcane. During the 1990s the region saw a mass exodus to the United States and a fraction of the population remained. Over the past 20 years there has been a slow trickle of people returning to the Actopan Valley from up north, along with their English-speaking children.
When Vicente Barrera undertook his fireball investigation, he visited the towns in the river valley closest to the Cerro de la Mesa, where most of the sightings took place. The towns are El Zetal, Chicoasen, Otates, Coyolillo and Trapiche del Rosario. While all part of the Municipio of Actopan, each town is unique. Coyolillo, for example, was settled by escaped Afro-Mexican slaves and the mestizo population there still retains an African influence. Anthropologists who have studied Coyolillo have noted the similarities of the masks used during Catholic religious festivals with those made by modern-day tribes in Burkina Faso in West Africa. Some of the African beliefs and spiritual practices are very alive under the surface here, which was something that the investigative team in 1980 paid little attention to. The town of Chicoasen has a mysterious carved monolith in the center of town, which appears to be Olmec in origin, but it is baffling to archaeologists. North of this town, a few miles from the river is the enigmatic and beautiful Poza Azul, a water-filled sinkhole reminiscent of a Maya cenote, with more than a few paranormal stories attached to it.
Canvassing the area for information the Vicente Barrera team conducted interviews with many locals living in the towns around the Cerro de la Mesa. On the website called “Inexplicata: The Journal of Hispanic UFOlogy,” blogmaster Scott Corrales translated some of the interviews originally published by Barrera. Following are some quotes from the Inexplicata blog.
An owner of some fruit groves in the Actopan Valley named Samuel Flores spoke to the Barrera team about his encounter with the lights:
“I’d heard that fireballs would appear in the summit facing us. But the truth is that I thought it was a lie. Must be a fantasy, I thought. It was around two years ago during the drought. We were on our way back from Xalapa in my pickup truck. I was driving by the town’s limits in a place with papaya groves. There’s a nearly U-shaped curve at that location. All was going well, until I suddenly began to feel cold, and my arms became heavy. When I was about to reach the curve, two powerful lights lit the driver’s side. It must be a car, I thought. I pulled over and stopped to yield, waited two minutes but the vehicle never passed me by. No sooner had I left the curve when I could see two small fireballs taking off swiftly toward Cerro de la Mesa. They flew at an astonishing speed. They covered more than four kilometers in only five seconds.”
Another fruit grower, Benito Palmeros, from the town of Otate, described something similar in the same location. He added, “The fireballs aren’t very large. They measure 30 centimeters or less. At a distance they look like very bright lights.”
Vicente Barrera interviewed Roberto Callejas, Nicolás Salazar and Miguel Estrada who had an encounter with the bright lights on the slopes of the cerro while on a hunting expedition. Callejas and Salazar were from the town of Otates and Estrada was from Trapiche del Rosario. Nicolás Salazar began with his description of evens that Saturday night:
“Frankly, we were bored. Two hours walking and not a single rabbit to be seen. We were already heading back when a luminous orb appeared at a distance of some 100 meters. I had been seeing these lights for a long time, just not this close. It resembled an incandescent soccer ball. It would suddenly turn on and off. After remaining in the air for a few seconds, the ball went away without a sound.”
Roberto Callejas continued: “As the fireball went away, I took out my flashlight and pointed it at the luminous object. I shouldn’t have done it because the ball stopped and came toward us. Then we witnessed a phenomenon that scared us. As the ball approached, it multiplied. Now we weren’t facing a single ball, but five. They were some 60 meters distant and kept approaching. I turned off the flashlight, which seem to confuse the fireballs. They stopped in mid-air and formed a circle. Then they moved, and forming a ‘V’ in the air, took off at considerable speed.”
Another interviewee, José Santos, a resident of Coyolillo, worked as a laborer in the mango and papaya groves of Trapiche del Rosario. This is what he had to say about the Cerro de la Mesa fireballs: “It’s true that they exist. I see them nearly always on my way back home from work. They’re small and move quickly from one side to another at high speed. The truth is they no longer surprise me.”
According to the locals, the fireballs seem to possess some sort of intelligence and don’t move randomly. They have been spotted floating among the papaya and mango groves as if they are walking. They respond to the presence of humans, sometimes in a friendly way and sometimes in a hostile way. Their appearances usually startle onlookers, and there is no telling how the bright red orbs will move when they appear: they sometimes move at amazing speeds, they may hover silently above witnesses, and they may divide themselves into smaller orbs that move independently of one another. Locals believe the mountain is the home of the fireballs, and some are convinced that they are either evil spirits themselves or somehow created by dark magic. To this day there is a small shrine on the side of the road that circles the Cerro de la Mesa originally constructed in the late ‘70s to ward off whatever evil may or may not be controlling the mysterious orbs. The mountain is pockmarked with many caves and fissures, and some believe these lead to other worlds or other dimensions, and the fireballs are using them as portals to enter our realm. Others believe that there are minerals such as uranium in the cerro that are either causing unknown light effects or they may be drawing the lights to the mountain and surrounding area. No one has been able to explain the feeling of coldness that witnesses experience right before the lights appear. Does this indicate something magnetic is going on? Is some rift between our reality and another reality occurring before the appearance of the strange orbs?
The original Barrera reports of this paranormal hotspot briefly mentioned the locals’ belief that the lights are the results of brujería or sorcery practiced by certain people in the Actopan Valley. Dating back centuries, there is an interesting legend of 5 witches that may tie into these strange aerial phenomena. Depending on the legend, the five young women are either indigenous or of African descent, and they spent their days on the side of the mountain practicing their witchcraft. On day, they managed to manifest or conjure up a large shiny golden bell and it took the 5 of them to carry it on a thick wooden pole. They hauled the bell to a cave on the side of the Cerro de la Mesa where it supposedly remains hidden to this day. If anyone tries to go looking for this bell, they are sure to have bad luck for the rest of their life. If anyone finds the bell, they are never heard from again. Some researchers liken this large bell to a classic flying saucer in miniature form, and early tellers of the legend only used the word “bell” because it was the closest shape or object that they were familiar with. Some claim that the witches’ bell is the reason for the orbs to begin with, in that it is emitting bad energies.
Modern eyewitnesses of the Veracruz fireballs have a more convenient explanation: they blame the United States. They allege that NASA or the US military or both are responsible for these lights. Few people know that in the early 1950s the US Air Force investigated similar fireballs through the recently declassified Project Twinkle. The project’s final report came to no conclusions about mysterious fireballs first spotted in the skies over New Mexico starting in 1947, seemingly right after the Roswell Incident. The fireball phenomenon – whether on this side of the border or the other – seems little understood, even to this day. The people of a quiet rural valley in Veracruz are left with a huge mystery on their hands
Inexplicata web site: http://inexplicata.blogspot.com/
Various YouTube channels (for background on the Actopan area)