Must Have Been Aliens

Nazca (17 – 19 November 2013)

Another bus was sent to pick me up at my Lima hotel and take me to the bus station. I had booked another standalone trip with G Adventures to see the Nazca Lines. And again I had the bus all to myself. Someone from G Adventures  C had come along to make sure that I caught my bus to Nazca.

C was Peruvian but educated in the US. I had initially thought that he was from the G Adventures head office because of his accent. We had a short chat while the bus wound its way to the bus station. Since it was a Sunday the roads were nearly empty. It was a far cry from what I had encountered in the last few days. C told me that Lima was planning to build a subway system and was consulting the Japanese on this. I thought that having a subway was a splendid idea and the Japanese would be the best people to consult if a subway system were to be built in an earthquake prone city like Lima. C however was not so optimistic. He did not think that the Peruvians had the discipline like the Japanese to make the plan work.

I boarded a Cruz del Sur bus and was disappointed that I got an aisle seat. It was going to be a seven and a half hour ride and I wanted to be able to enjoy the scenery. I think I looked quite unhappy when a lady came along and took the window seat next to me.

The journey though long was comfortable. The Cruz del Sur bus was new and modern and definitely exceeded my expectations. Some things in Peru are very much geared towards tourism and long distance transport is definitely one of them. The only thing that is not is the toilet. They cannot handle toilet paper. Fortunately I had some training for that during my time in South Korea.

It was late by the time I got to Nazca. My guide A was already waiting for me at the bus station. He was also waiting for someone else. It was the lady sitting next to me on the bus. I discovered that I was going to have a companion on my Nazca visit after all.

My tour of Nazca started the next morning at the Maria Reiche Neuman Airport. This is the starting point for flights over the Nazca Desert to see the Nazca Lines. It looked like we were going for the climax right at the beginning.

I was very prepared for my flight, or at least I thought I was, having taken a pill to prevent motion sickness at breakfast. I foresaw that I would get sick since I had read that people did get sick. Although I was feeling quite drowsy fro the medication I was in high spirits. I was going to see the Nazca Lines!

The plane that took me over the Nazca Plains

The pilot had a co-pilot and four of us tourists shared the same plane. Obviously our combined weight was within the acceptable range for that plane. Before the flight we each had to be weighed. My companion on this Nazca tour was M. She was from Canada. A couple also from Canada joined us on the plane.

We were a bit nervous about the plane seeing that it was so small and looked so vulnerable. Would we be blown away? The flight however was smooth although I wished the windows could be clearer.

And then they appeared.

The pilot had given us some instructions on how to spot the patterns. He would tilt the plane whenever a pattern came into view and use the wing tip as a pointer. Much of the flight was filled with the pilot telling us “Under the wing! Under the wing!” and our eyes would dart here and there to try to see whatever the wing tip was pointing at. The patterns were not crystal clear and the slightly blurry windows did not help as well. We had to make some effort to discern the patterns. Nevertheless we were all just happy to be there seeing the Nazca Lines.

The plane was flown to ensure that each pattern could be seen from both sides.

Alien (heard that it was actually a fisherman)

Monkey

I got quite giddy during the flight. The continuous tilting of the plane was awful for someone as prone to motion sickness as I am. And this was despite medication to prevent getting sick. Imagine if I had not medicated myself. Nevertheless I still had the frame of mind to be amazed by what I had seen. The patterns were huge and complicated and with the right proportions. The lines were mostly drawn quite perfectly. How the hell did they do it? And why?

Dog

Hummingbird

There are of course many theories propounded by various groups of people to explain why the Nazca Lines were drawn and their purpose. Some people say that the patterns were created by aliens and the long straight parallel lines were perhaps runways for spaceships. However, this hypothesis unfairly discounts the ingenuity of earthlings. I wonder if the alien theory would even be proposed if the lines were found in Europe.

The more palatable explanation for me is that the patterns were drawn for religious and ceremonial reasons. The only problem is that no one could decipher how everything should fit together and what all the lines, patterns and pictures meant. Also, how exactly did they manage to get those patterns so accurately drawn?

Spider

Tree and hands

The afternoon was spent exploring Nazca itself and a cemetery outside it. That was after I had taken a short nap to kill off the motion sickness. M and I had a leisurely walk through town and then had lunch. I kept thinking aloud about how everything in Nazca looked so Southeast Asian and M thought that I was missing home. The way the locals looked, the dusty roads, the food, the mobile stalls, the cars not respecting traffic, the cars horning, the cheesy souvenir shops, I could have been in Cambodia. There was however definitely also something very idyllic about Nazca that I liked. It was a tiny but relaxing place. I had definitely come a long way from crowded busy Lima.

Street in Nazca

Nazca main square

Nazca church

We met A after lunch and he took us to the Chauchilla Cemetery. This is not an operational cemetery but an archaeological site in the middle of the desert. There is a museum on site that showcases some of the finds in some of the graves of the cemetery. The dry weather of the area ensured that the corpses and items buried with them were very well preserved.

Perhaps too well preserved.

Mummy in the museum at the Chauchilla Cemetery

Not all of the graves were emptied however. Some of them still retained their occupants and are open for visits.

One of the graves of the Chauchilla Cemetery

Surroundings of the Chauchilla Cemetery

After the cemetery we were brought to a pottery and a goldsmith’s workshop. The point of the visits was mainly to tempt us into shopping I think. I did learn something about the gold mining that used to go on in the area. It was extremely hazardous work. In fact the man who worked at the goldsmith was a former miner and he was in a wheelchair when we met him. He had to be pushed around by his wife. It was quite heartbreaking to learn that only a few ounces of gold could be extracted for every tonne of ore so painfully collected and processed, on a good day. Even the processing of the gold ore was terribly harmful to health as mercury was used and the work was of course very manual.

M and I were not quite satisfied with our visit yet. Even though we had seen the Nazca Lines it was only from up in the air. What do they look like really on the ground? The tour did not include any close up visits however and so we hired A for a private tour.

The next morning we started out first to the house of Maria Reiche Neuman, now a museum. Maria was a German lady who had dedicated her life to the study of the lines. She carried out the first proper research on the lines and later researchers owe much to her.

House of Maria Reiche Neuman

Not far away from the house is an observation tower and hill from which visitors can get a good view of the surroundings and some of the Nazca Lines.

Hands from the observation tower

One of the lines close up

So that was how the lines were created, by pushing aside surface stones to reveal the lighter coloured stones and sand underneath. It all seemed so simple and yet it was so effective.

It was back to the G Adventures tour after the observation deck. A took us to see the puquios, or underground aqueducts built by the ancients to irrigate their lands. Water from the river would be carried along these puquios and collected in tanks built for that purpose. The water channels of the aqueducts can be accessed by a series of spiral paths descending into the ground. The puquios are still in use today and their continued relevance today makes them all the more fascinating.

Puquio

Puquio channel

Puquio

Next to the puquios we were brought to visit was a prickly pear plantation. M and I noticed that the cacti looked very sad. Has it been so dry lately that even the cacti are dying? No, they were infested with parasites. Useful parasites in fact. The white fluffy stuff on the cacti that we saw were in fact cochineal bugs and they are used to make the carmine dye that gives lipsticks and some foods their red colour. According to A the prickly pears would be grown and then harvested for prickly pears for the first 2 years or so. After that the cacti would become infested with cochineal bugs and they would harvest those bugs instead. The cacti would die as a result of the infestation of course but the farmers could make a lot more money with the bugs it seems.

Prickly pear cacti with cochineal

It felt sad as we said our goodbyes to A. It seemed like we had just arrived in Nazca and we had to leave again. M and I boarded our bus and started our bus ride back to Lima. M left for the airport to catch her flight back to Canada upon reaching Lima. I stayed another night at Casa Suyay before starting another exploration the next morning.

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