November 12, 2015 Day 3 – Nazca Lines, Paracas National Reserve
Back in the 70’s my husband used to buy Reader’s Digest Books. I am convinced he thought that he needed to buy something in order that his return envelop for the cash draw didn’t end up in the garbage just because he was returning the “no” envelop. At any rate, it was due to these thought processes that “The World’s Last Mysteries” ended up on my bookshelf and I first became acquainted with Peru’s Nazca Lines. Today I will see them.
Carol and I are up early and join the others for a breakfast by the sea. The breeze is soft and light and the ceiling high. It’s a great day for flying. There is time for a walk along the water before I have to assemble in the lobby at 10:15 ready to head for the airport in Pisco.
We take the Pan American Highway north past the main part of Paracas and the natural gas refinery. At a place where the sea is close to the road, the military barracks have recently been rebuilt as they were destroyed by the 2007 tsunami. I’m feeling guilty that my twisted mind was thinking of all those piles of rubble as belonging to the world’s greatest group of gophers. Now I understand this is not a laughing matter.
This area and the city of Pisco were devastated by the quake of 2007. Rubble is still everywhere. Over 200 people were killed in this city of 120,000. 35% of the homes were destroyed. The distribution of funds to rebuild has resulted in rampant social problems as the community tried to cope with its losses.
The van winds its way through narrow streets lined with debri, boats, old cars and construction materials. Hydro wires hang like slings. Turning into the air terminal is like entering a new world. The main building is not open but clearly the community is thinking big even though the parking lot is pretty much empty at this point.
In the current makeshift terminal, we begin the process of signing in for our flight over the lines only to find that Janis and Ron didn’t hear Able’s reminder that we needed our passports. Despite Able’s best efforts, the airport staff would not be moved. It was clear that there would be no flight without documentation. Our driver heads back to the hotel with Ron in tow, probably at breakneck speed, while the rest of us wait. There is not much to observe. The terminal in use is very small and very hot. A few flights come and go but in a remarkably short time, the van is back and we are moving through security.
The Nazca Lines are ancient geoglyphs believed to have been made by the Nazca culture between 500BCE and 500CE. More than 100 figures have been identified in the Nazca Desert. They are shallow lines made by the removal of the reddish surface pebbles to reveal a white clay that has a high content of lime. In the morning mists, the lime hardens and protects the lines from wind erosion. Nonetheless in a desert that is one of the driest on earth, with an annual average temperature of 25 degrees C., the preservation of the lines that are only 10-30 cm thick is a concern.
First mentioned in a book in 1553, the lines were spotted by a Toubio Mejia Xesspe, a Peruvian Anthropologist in 1927. They are best observed from the air. Although theories abound with regard to their meaning, the truth is, no one really knows. It is believed that they most likely have spiritual significance but I got to say, the idea that they have something to do with intergalactic travel sounds best to me. The mystery continues.
About ten of us pile into our small plane. (I was so excited, I forgot to count!) My assigned seat is right behind the copilot and opposite LeeAnn. At the back are some young people from China. We lift off and bank over the Pacific. The Paracas fishing fleet is at anchor below. Continuing the arc, we head into the desert, an almost monochromatic landscape. Green spaces spring up unexpectedly. Irrigation is the key.
The forty-five minute flight out is fairly smooth. As the lines begin to appear below us we descend to a lower altitude and the bumps begin. Ron says the turbulence is because we are flying lower, but I prefer to think of it as part of the mystery of the place.
The captain speaks broken or broken-up English into his head-set preparing us for banking to the right or left so passengers on both sides of the plane have a good view of the lines. A trapezoid, a hummingbird, the Owlman or astronaut appear to the left and the right. LeeAnn is looking green. Greener, Oh dear, too green!
The size and complexity of the designs are truly amazing. These figures are distributed over 500 square kilometers of desert. The largest spans 270m. The hummingbird is 310’, the Condor, 440’ and the Monkey 310’.
We spend about twenty minutes over the lines and then, reluctantly head back towards the coast over the foothills of the Andes and miles of sand. Hydro lines appear to go literally nowhere. Green valleys pop up here and there. Now and then, Green farms with irrigation ponds are below us. Then there is just sand —lots of dunes with sunlight dancing off them. We disembark at the Pisco terminal, board our van and retrace our path to La Hacienda for a group lunch on the patio. Its already 2 pm. Wow, what a morning!
Not that we aren’t a courageous group but after last nights ride in the dunes we decide that it is not necessary for us to mount dune buggies and roar around out there again. Resourceful Able, decides to take us to Paracas National Reserve – another 800,000 acres of desert awaits. We leave at 4pm with the worst heat of the day behind us. A short ride takes us through the park gate and we follow the sandy, potted road to the first visitor’s station. A path leads to the sea where a flock of pink flamingoes can be seen in the distance mixed in with a half dozen kite surfers.
At a second lookout I gaze at the seascape and watch as a herd of dune buggies fly by. Humm..maybe it would have been fun!
As the sun works its way to the horizon, Able takes us to one of the public swimming beaches–Playa Yumaque. Oyster catchers entertain us and the sea is an inviting shade of blue. At a blowhole, a group of people risk at least getting wet and at most being swept out to sea by crashing waves. LeeAnn yells “ man down” and we collectively rush to scrap Janis off the rocks. She took a tumble on the way to the lookout to see what remains of Cathedral Rock. As the sun fades, it is easy to see why the iconic arch that bridged an island to the mainland had such appeal. Now it is a remnant of its former self thanks to the 2007 earthquake. Still, it is significant to the people of Paracas.
Geologically speaking, the road home is interesting as it warps itself over boulders, through rutted sand and occasionally over firm ground. It’s a long rough ride to see a rock that is no longer there. As we exit the park, we pass the necropolis area where mummies have been found in the sand.
References: Wikipedia, The World’s Last Mysteries, Aracari – A Private Journey to Peru, Cochineal Red: Travels through Ancient Peru.