While visiting my friend in Bolivia, we took a little trip out to Cuzco for a few days. Thrilled at the prospect of seeing a world wonder, I was beside myself with excitement when the morning came to travel to Machu Picchu. Alana had already been there, so I was going this one alone. With almost no Spanish at my disposal and a gnawing fear of getting desperately lost and stranded somewhere overnight (although Machu Picchu wouldn’t be a bad place to get stuck), I set off with the most confidence I could scrape up and tried to navigate the bus schedules to get myself out there.
It was no easy task, which was surprising in a place swarming with English-speaking tourists, but I did figure it out and it was well worth it. I spent the day roaming the incredible green hills, marveling in Incan splendor and stretching out on the grassy steps alongside llamas, so the three hour ride home through Peruvian countryside was a welcome end to a long day. Because of landslides that covered the railroad tracks, the train ride from Machu Picchu back toward Cuzco is shorter and visitors to this world wonder enjoy a three hour van ride back to Cuzco instead of a straight train ride.
Until Benjamin McCloud* climbed aboard. I slid across the first bench seat and positioned myself against the window. An Irish guy named Martin sat next to me and on his right sat Benjamin McCloud. The bus ambled off and I got comfortable, chatting briefly with Martin about Gaelic. We’d been on the road a mere minute when Mr. McCloud turned to us and introduced himself. He was a professor of some kind of science at a highly acclaimed Boston university, and he had discovered a way to ween people off of glasses. After a few questions from Martin involving vision and some branch of nuclear physics, Mr. McCloud shifted topics.
“I didn’t find what I wanted there, at Machu Picchu. I came all this way, and spent years of research…for nothing.” He hung his head, looking not unlike Indiana Jones had he failed to obtain the lost ark. I made the mistake of asking what he’d been looking for. I blame myself for what followed (all three hours of it).
“The architecture here is similar to architecture at Stonehenge, and a miniature stonehenge my son and I uncovered in Brazil. My theory…is that there was extraterrestrial involvement. You know, aliens. But I couldn’t prove it today. I couldn’t get close enough to see if the brickwork was similar.”
I silently cursed myself as he unleashed a barrage of bizzare memories. The stories that unfolded over the three hours included (but were certainly not limited to) the following theories and anecdotes:
1. Everything we have in the United States was shipped over the Atlantic by Viking prodigies. Mr. McCloud discovered this while he was relaxing in his New England den one evening and his television fell over. Behind the TV stood the Mothman, who led him out to his backyard woods where they uncovered a stone engraved with Viking symbols.
2. The Vikings, the Mothman, and the condor that inspires much of the Incan culture are all, in essence, Jesus. (And if you live in Alabama or Delaware, your state’s name means God, which actually may be true.)
3. An older McCloud was once kidnapped by Indians and brought into the woods (someone’s been reading too much Mary Rowlandson) where she discovered mystical blue lights that enabled her to predict earthquakes and other natural disasters. The blue lights were located under a waterfall.
4. Tecumseh was also able to see these lights.
5. Mr. McCloud and his son were able to see the lights. On a trip to Ireland, he and his son saw fairies and possibly a leprechaun that no one else saw. However, the fairies, leprechauns, and blue lights were all actually Jesus.
6. Mr. McCloud traveled the world looking for more blue lights, and found some in Florida in a sequestered “No Trespassing” zone. He and his son violated federal law and took pictures of the blue lights.
7. His research on the blue lights is halted, because his son recently passed away. However, his son has been contacting him from the hereafter, and Mr. McCloud is waiting on one final sign before publishing his research. (Here I felt bad for him.)
8. Mr. McCloud also revealed to us that he is somewhere between 60 and 120 years old, and according to a prophecy from his recently deceased son, he will live to be 140.
9. I asked Mr. McCloud if he’d ever predicted anything based on the blue lights, and he said yes, a small earthquake off the coast of Florida, before saying predictions weren’t his specialty and quickly changing the subject.
10. Mr. McCloud thought he was the only one with unique ideas on reincarnation, but then he saw Julia Roberts the year she did not win an Oscar, and he knew she had some abilities as well. He taped the Oscars, paused the tape and studied her face for hours, realizing that she knew in advance that she would not win. Since it’s impossible for an awards show to be fixed or for information to leak, Mr. McCloud came to the only plausible conclusion: Julia Roberts was reincarnated and is living a second life on earth.
11. Enthralled, Mr. McCloud wrote an unpublished dissertation on Julia Roberts, reincarnation, and schizophrenia. Some of his sources include her apparent pre-knowledge of her Oscar loss and a clip of her sobbing when an orangutan hugged her in Africa.
12. Soon, the topic of conversation turned to the impending apocalypse and Mr. McCloud advised a mass exodus to South America or Africa, the only two continents on which life will be able to survive after this event occurs – and where he’ll be living out his days until 140. He then told a story about canoeing college students who may or may not have been abducted by aliens; he, however, thinks the spaceship that was pursuing them was some kind of floating matter.
By the time we arrived at the bus depot in Cuzco, I was ready to call my friends and family and profess my love to them (but could not afford to do this), terrified that the Mothman, aliens, or a planetary alignment-induced apocalypse would be waiting for me at the Incama Hostel. Shaking, I exited the van, bidding farewell to Mr. McCloud and hating the fact that 3 hours of beautiful Peruvian countryside (and the most stars you will ever see in the night sky) were obscured by eerie tales of death and the supernatural. He had be feeling fearful of either an apocalypse or an alien abduction, and he was now off to enjoy some peace pipe or something back at wherever it was he came from.
Unsettled, I walked alone toward the terminal until I heard rapid footsteps behind me. Turning, I saw Martin, a look of disbelief and amusement on his face.
“What the hell was that?! I thought he’d never shut up! And what the hell was he talking about?” Martin asked, a lovely Irish accent about his voice.
It took a few beers and a barely cooked hamburger to calm my nerves, but Martin’s empathy and the fact that it could’ve been worse (at least Mr. McCloud didn’t smell or die in the van) helped me through the night.