Friday, November 29, 2013

The Nazca Lines, Peru

You can’t say the name of the town Nazca without adding the word “lines”. They are synonymous with one another. And to be honest, there is not much to the town if not for the “Nazca Lines”. The town is located on an extremely dry high plateau and being here gives dusty a new meaning. Even driving into town we could see “dust devils” swirling across the open Pampa. Just opposite the airport, Hotel La Maison Suisse has plenty of room for the motorhome and is handy for both the airport and town. As soon as we were settled we started inquiring about flights to the lines. The hotel was expensive at $110.00 per person. Some other travelers said they had used a travel agent in town and been charged $90 but they were lied to and instead of being in a 6 seater plane wound up in a plane with 12 other people. Having read enough about it, we decided to just wing it, show up at the airport and see what we could negotiate ourselves. It was easy up to the point where we would board the plane. The lady we negotiated with had told us $90.00 per person and we were very clear we wanted to be in a small plane with at most two other people. We knew that new regulations demanded that all planes now need to have 2 pilots on board due to some unfortunate incidences (read accidents) in which planes were crashing and tourists dying! Plummeting to my death over the Peruvian desert was not on my agenda so we were very careful in our requests. Walking to the plane we realized that they were trying to put us on a large plane with about 15 other people. We stopped. We talked to the airport officials. We talked to the pilot. Finally we talked to the lady who did our booking. She apologized and said that this plane was leaving first and if we wanted something smaller we would have to wait. We told her that was fine and so we waited and waited. Eventually we were taken to a six-seat plane and wedged in. I had forgotten how small and tight these planes were – oh I forgot to mention we were weighed and Tom had to leave his backpack at the airport. Only cameras allowed. I am a little worried – planes and I have a love/hate relationship – but not worried enough to stop me from taking the trip. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the desert that cover an estimated 170 square miles (450 square kilometers). Historians believe they were a three phase project with the earliest designs dating from as far back as 500BC from the Chavin culture. The second phase was the Paracas culture and then the Nazca people got really busy between 200BC and 500 AD, when the majority of the lines are thought to have been established. Two techniques were used to define the geoglyphs. In the earlier Chavín period they were defined in outline, the gravel being removed and piled inwards, so as to leave the figures in slight relief. For the most part, however, the technique used was the removal of the gravel from the figure, providing a solid figure that contrasts with its surroundings. Due to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau and its isolation, the lines for the most part have been preserved. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, and lizards. The largest figures are over 200 meters (660 ft) across. Although first discovered in the 1920’s, it was not until air traffic through the 1930’s increased that the real extent of the lines were seen. In the late 1930’s American scientist Paul Kosok and following him German mathematician Maria Reiche have studied, drawn and hypothesized about them. They are among archaeology's greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity and scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs. One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky. Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and the adobe pyramids. Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals. In the absence of a firm archaeological conclusion a number of fringe theories have popped up, such as aliens. Ancient religion? Aliens from outer space? Ancient astronomers? A megalomaniac artist? Water sources? Take your pick! But there is little debate that the best overall way to see them is from a small airplane. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able either to see them or make out what they were. Regular readers of my blog know that I have little imagination when it comes to “faces in rocks”, lambs playing in cloud formations and petroglphs on mountainsides. I need not have worried. These things are really visible, I mean really, really visible. I could see them before the pilot pointed them out. We flew over 12 of the “lines”, a whale, human figures, a monkey, a variety of birds, a spider, hands and trees. We circled each one until everyone had taken photographs before moving on to the next. As a side bar, these turns are tight and steep so are not for the squeamish or anyone who gets airsickness. As I observed the lines, I wondered about the various theories, including the idea that the Nazca used them to indicate underground water sources. There are water channels, painstakingly built of rock walls and maintained over the centuries that carry water from the mountains to a farming oasis near the figures. But the figures are just mind boggling. That an ancient culture mapped them out and arranged them in the way they did. The time, the commitment, the capability – it is just astounding. As you can probably tell, we loved every minute of the 45 minute flight; it was so worth the money. Completely awe-inspiring.

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