Big Lines in the Desert

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hospedaje Latino

Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Following a forgettable overnight bustrip of 13 hours with food poisoning, I was feeling pretty rough upon arrival in Nazca, but I could still appreciate the stark beauty of the desert landscape driving into town. Ed was considerably more chirpy, having slept well as usual.

We were a little nervous in this area as we were just 4 hours drive away from an area which was devastated by earthquake a few days earlier. take your chances.

The key reason why people visit Nazca is to visit the Nazca lines, huge drawings of animals and other figures in the desert, best seen from the air. Our plan to get to Nazca, fly over the lines and leave again was foiled by the typical, winter misty weather hanging over the area.

Typical in a very touristy town (and one lacking tourists following the earthquake) - we were beseiged by tourists touts at the airport wanting to provide accommodation and flights. Appreciating the hours I had put into my Spanish I told them firmly and politely not to hang around us because we wouldnīt be making a decision on either any time soon.

Due to the lack of tourists, we haggled for a fair price on our hotel room - Hospedaje Latino - we didnīt feel guilty about it as we know from experience that plenty of overcharging of tourists happens when the going is good!

I slept while Ed hunted and gathered some food and drink for us. When the skies cleared we headed our to the local airport to have a flight over the lines. Many DVDs later about the mysterious Nazca lines (not so mysterious now), the mist lifted, the wind slowed down and we were ready to fly. I always get a bit nervous around small planes...

The pilot takes off in our 5 seater plane and I am struck at how simple flying a small plane is - not much different really from driving a car. The twists and turns make us a little queasy and one of our fellow passengers looked a little green, but we were distracted by the scenery.

The grey desert is punctuated with occasional rounded red hills, like islands in the expanse. The Nazca lines consist of different huge shapes such as a hummingbird, tree, monkey, hands, dog, tree, whales etc. and a favourite of mine, the astronaut. We were furiously snapping away with the camera. Even without the fabled lines, the flight would have been worthwhile. The only reason the lines still exist is due to a little maintenance, restricting people from walking on them (footsteps and tyre prints stay forever in this desert) and an almost complete lack of rain in the area.

So, what are the lines about? One German woman Maria Reiche spent her entire life trying to prove that they are part of a complex astronomical calendar. Unsurprisingly, her background and passion was astronomy and mathematics. Unfortunately for her, research since has showed that only about 30% of the lines correspond to any stars or astromical patters - essentially random. Another theory was that the lines pointed towards water sources - critical to a desert culture - also vetoed these days. Other more likely theories (to us, at least) are that the figures and animals represented important animals for shamans (wise magic men) of the local tribes, but given that monkeys and whales wouldnīt have been part of the local fauna - there had to be some interchange between the ancient Nazcans and the nearby coast and the faraway jungle. The lines are only properly visible from the air, and supposedly shamans have some trippy experiences with their rituals and hallucinogenic cactus plants!

We wandered off the plane feeling very pleased with the whole experience. Our fellow passenger literally stagged to his vehicle where his girlfriend took the keys off him - a good idea or he would have been driving in circles on the main highway.

Back at the hotel, we collapsed into a 12 hour sleep...

Next day, fresh juice at the market organising a bus ticket, tootling around the town and an excellent lunch special at a restaurant called restaurant. We hired a taxi after that to visit Chauchilla - an ancient Nazcan cemetary discovered by grave robbers many years earlier. The robbers would poke poles down into the sand and when they struck something solid would dig it up overnight. They took anything of value, but the mummies themselves and the clothes they wore werenīt saleable so were left behind. A windswept place in the desert, pieces of bone and scraps of cloth lie all over the sand.

The rich had well-constructed family tombs made of adobe blocks and the poor were just put in individual holes in the ground. The mummies themselves were tied into foetal position by breaking tendons in the limbs and faced the direction of the rising sun. Why? To ensure that they would be reincarnated and to this end those burying the dead also ensured they had pots with food and tools they would require in the next life.

One of the mummies had a wicked grin, long crazy hair and a patterened woven headband - immediately I christened that one, Woodstock Mummy. Tiny babies bodies werenīt so amusing.

On the trip home, we popped into a local pottery shop where the family made reproductions of ancient Nazcan pottery. We had seen much of this pottery in a wonderful museum in Cusco and wanted our own little souvenir of the artistic Nazcans.

Leaving Nazca late afternoon, we saw groups of oasis fed by the 2000-year-old underwater aqueduct systems which are still maintained by the locals today. One village had mountains of shiny mandarins we were offered through the bus window on a brief stop.

Nearing Ica, the earthquake damage was very evident on the poor extremes of the city - the shabbily constructed adobe houses had simply caved in, colonial churches too. Unfortunately, it is all too likely that the houses will be constructed in the same way to fall again in the future as those affected donīt have the money to build better, stronger dwellings. Despite the earthquake, central Ica was buzzing and you wouldnīt know that anything had occured with the exception of our bus terminal. We had directions to the terminal, but walked right past it because all the buildings in front of it had fallen down. The terminal had no front wall, no sign and we could see other dusty furniture hastily moved from a nearby collapsed building. It was a chilly few hours waiting for our late bus to Ayacucho...
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