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The flag of Almeria depicts a red cross against a white background, just as red and white are the colours of the Austrian national triband. Rodolfo Lussnigg, meanwhile, was an Austrian tourism developer and diplomat who settled in the Andalusian province in the 1920s and coined the famous phrase: “Almeria, where the sun spends winter.”

Although he passed away in Madrid in 1950, Lussnigg left behind various disciples keen to follow his revolutionary ideas on the tourist trade. And they didn’t fail to notice that the advent of the Cold War and the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 were key in pushing the USA to accelerate its very own space programme. The goal of Eisenhower’s America was to drive technology forward various decades, or even centuries, if only they could manage to capture one of those flying saucers so popular in the pulp movies of the time.

Carmen and Pedro had always wanted to visit the film sets of the Spaghetti Westerns created in Almeria, sites that are now a genuine tourist attraction. It’s no coincidence that the first movies of this kind were shot there in the late 50s, more or less the same time that Sputnik launched into orbit.

Pedro had worked as a stuntman in some of the low budget Westerns filmed after the boom caused by the famous Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Nostalgia for those dusty, gunshot-filled years made him want to share with his wife the place where he’d spent some of the best times of his life. And perhaps to confess the inconfessable. When they arrived, he began his explanations.

“But there weren’t just cowboys and indians, Carmen. At night something preyed on us from beneath the set and our digs. Nobody talked about it openly, but we were scared.”

“How exciting!” Carmen exclaimed, enthusiastically.

“Maybe… But unnerving too… Do you remember that film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers?”

“The one where you can’t tell the humans from the aliens because they emerge from seed pods and duplicate our bodies? Of course! We saw it the very first time you took me to the cinema! And you gave me this Indalo figure that’s on my necklace.”

As an aside, we should explain here that the Indalo man is the symbol for the whole province of Almeria. It’s a human figure, arms stretched over its head to form an arch, although plenty of people believe it to depict a being from outer space. In the late neolithic, the period in which the famous engraving found at the foot of Mount Maimon was created, it is highly likely that extraterrestrial sightings were frequent and that the primitive inhabitants of what is now Almeria wished to immortalise or pay homage to these visitors through their drawings. What are a few thousand years to a civilisation that’s probably much more advanced than ours?

“Exactly,” Pedro confirmed his wife’s account. “It was no coincidence that I took you to see that film… The plot is by no means far-fetched, it’s exactly what happened here. I couldn’t trust my colleagues. Until I organised a meeting of those closest to me so as to coordinate our response. We took advantage of our day off and went for a stroll along the banks of what is now the Rambla in Almeria, where the river once flowed, surrounded by palm trees. When we arrived at La Caridad, the statue close to the old Plaza Circular, we thought that we were safe to speak, without being overheard, and I put it to them openly.”

“Friends, I’ve brought you here because we’re not alone. Neither in the universe nor in the Tabernas Desert. I’ve noticed that many of our workmates are no longer the same. Physically, they look the same, but they behave like…”

“Aliens?”

“That’s right. What’s more, I was alone in the boss’s office one day and suddenly felt the urge to open one of the drawers closest to hand. I found this dossier, which I hid under my waistcoat.”

Then I showed them a folder marked in red as “TOP SECRET” and with “AREA 52” printed in large type.

“It’s all here. They’re using us as guinea pigs and the spaghetti westerns are just a cover…”

“Oh my God! You must have been terrified!” said Carmen on hearing the story.

“You can’t imagine, darling. We headed back to the film set in the Tabernas Desert, silent and afraid. The movie we were shooting would be finished within a couple of weeks and we couldn’t leave the project half-finished without raising suspicion. What’s more, we needed the cash. We didn’t know if there’d be another film that required our skill set but we were convinced that if we carried on there, we’d soon be replaced by…the others.”

Let’s get back to Indalo man. He has been represented across the whole province of Almeria since time immemorial, which is why the US State Department, advised by the followers of Rodolfo Lussnigg, chose this very location. And because they had managed to capture something unimaginable. The famous Nellis Air Force Base, known as Area 51, has also been the subject of endless conjecture around the rumours that a crewed alien craft was captured during the Cold War.

This all led to a secret pact with the Spanish Government, little given to transparency during those hard-line years. Unbeknownst to the population at large, a deal was signed with the US.

In reality, beneath the Wild West film sets in the Tabernas Desert lies an ultra-secret research facility where, over various decades, they have been studying not one spaceship but a small collection of alien craft crewed by different-looking beings. Some exobiologists claim that they all belong to the same species but have distinct roles and responsibilities, which accounts for their differing physical appearance. By way of example, we could think about ants and how little a queen, a winged male and a tender white larva have in common. These aliens were capable of taking on the exact appearance of any other life form they chose to impersonate. Like, for instance, the human beings up on the surface who gulped down whiskey in the saloon, battled it out in quick-draw gun fights or chased around after indians, all under the direction of John Ford.

After the famous Area 51 was created in the Nevada Desert, the logical next step was to investigate the most noteworthy sightings outside US territory. Given the alien preference for deserts, be it for their extreme climate or inaccessible nature, that endeavour led a special division of the Pentagon to choose the outskirts of the city of Almeria for the centre known as Area 52.

“Darling, why haven’t you mentioned this in all these years? Not even when we saw that film…”

“Because I… I’m one of them. That’s why I took you to the cinema, but I didn’t have the courage to tell you.”

“Oh! But this really is exciting! I married an alien!” Carmen managed to get out. Just before she fainted.