Monday, July 8th Easy but long ride down
to Nazca, at an altitude of 640 meters. We have spent the last 2 months at altitude, so
being this close to sea-level sure felt different (nice and warm!). The scenery
dramatically changes to desert as we came down out of the mountains and even the cactus
eventually disappear towards the bottom. Nazca is nestled in a fertile basin at the bottom
of the mountains, which give it an almost fake-looking green appearance when you come upon
it. The rest of the desert in the area (which stretches all the way to the Pacific Ocean)
is a combination of beige sand and iron oxide rocks. The reason for our adventurous ride
here was to see the famous Nazca Lines, created by the Paracas/Nazca/Ayacucho people (at
different periods) over 2,000 years ago. The weather is warm, dry and sunny when we
arrive. Just the ticket, after so much cold at high altitude!
We find a hotel easily, as theres only a few in this town of 30,000 people. The
Hotel Alegria also organizes tours for a reasonable price, so we reserve a tour and flight
for the next day with them. That evening, we get an email message from our friend Kfir who
has turned up in town as well. We locate him and convince him to stay at our hotel and
take the tour with us the next day.
Tuesday, July 9th: At 9:00am the tour company picks us up in a minibus,
along with about 10 other foreign tourists. Our guide is quite good, energetic and speaks
English. We had hoped to take the flight first as recommended by several people who had
done it before us. But, I suspected, because we didnt pay a higher price we were
relegated to fly in the afternoon. It didnt bother us too much, and we proceeded to
the first location, a pottery maker. The pottery of this area is famous for its rich
designs, which because the Nazcas had no writing help archeologists decipher the story of
their culture. The artist demonstrated his craft and then invited us to browse his shop
and hopefully buy something. We were distracted, however, by his exotic collection of
interesting birds (several different types of owls, falcons, pheasants, etc.)
Next we were taken out of town about 30 kms to the cemetery of Chauchilla. At the turn
of the past century, local farmers discovered a huge gravesite near the river where they
farmed. The cemetery contained the mummies of thousands of their ancestors, complete with
tombs filled with pottery, weavings and some ornamental jewelry. Because the farmers were
very poor, they found that grave robbing was a more fruitful pastime and hence tore up the
place to feed a growing black market in Lima. Some years later archeologists got word of
the place and found nothing intact, not even the mummies. The grave robbers cut off the
heads and arms of the mummies in order to remove the valuable woven fabrics from the
bodies. Enough was left though for them to recreate a picture of how the mummies were
preserved and it rendered yet more information about the Nazca culture. Today, some of the
tombs have been recreated to give us an idea about how they looked before. There are about
10 of these holes in the ground connected by paths. Outside the paths one can see a whole
desert landscape littered with sun-bleached human bones, pieces of broken pottery, burlap
scraps and cotton, which was used inside the bodies to absorb moisture. These things are
literally everywhere you look! And because this desert area receives almost no rain or
moisture, nothing decays.
Our last stop of the morning was to a family-run gold processing facility. Here they
demonstrated the ancient, but still used, techniques they use to extract the tiny pieces
of gold from rocks. Interesting, but we were getting a bit weary and didnt stay
About 2:30pm we were collected again at the hotel for our much anticipated flight over
the Lines. When we arrived at the airport we were dropped off at one of the many little
terminals to catch our plane. We had hoped to see the promised video about the Lines
before our flight, but alas we did not pay a higher price. So, we were whisked to our
waiting plane (a 6-seater) with 2 other tourists. Chris got the co-pilot seat and I sat
behind the pilot. Amazing small planes dont bother me too much, not like my
white-knuckle experiences flying on the big jets.
Take off was smooth and soon we were high above the desert with the geometrical lines
clearly visible below. No one knows exactly why the lines are there or what they are for.
Some researchers think they were part of ritual ceremonies for the gods to bring rain,
others think they are part of some celestial calendar, and others believe they are symbols
and landing strips for extraterrestrial beings and aircraft. Whatever their purpose they
are really something special to see and try to fathom the effort of their creation.
The flight was a bit rough for the two other tourists, who got sick in the seats behind
us. In order to see the Lines from the air, the pilot would bank the plane steeply from
the right to the left so that each person would have a good view. Besides the geometrical
shapes of perfectly straight lines and trapezoids, we clearly saw figures of a dog,
monkey, spider, tree, hands, hummingbird, astronaut, and a condor.
After 35 minutes it was all over and we finally got to see our promised video!