Day 100 – 10 Jun, 2015
I almost skipped Nasca. Almost. Nasca (also Nazca) is famous for its mysterious geoglyphs that are said to have been created about 2000 years ago and were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. They are best seen from the air, but it’s also possible to see some of them from a viewing tower. Essentially, there are hundreds of geometric shapes or designs of animals that were constructed using simple tools and elementary surveying equipment. The real mystery lies in WHY they were created. Noone really knows, although some have devoted their lives to trying to find out.
Some of the theories of why they were built include markers to show sun and celestial body alignment, religious ceremonial sites, offerings to the deities for water, and aliens (I’m not making this up!). Whatever the reason, it’s a huge draw for people to visit Nasca in southern Peru.
Because of the dry, arid climate and the isolated nature of the plateau, these geoglyphs have existed now for about 2000 years. Recently, in December 2014, Greenpeace staged a publicity stunt in the region of the lines and damaged some of “The Hummingbird” geoglyph, which has now drawn a lawsuit from the Peruvian government. Greenpeace has apologized but the damage was already done.
I had decided that if I went, I had to take the flight. It hardly seemed worth it to go only to the viewing tower where, I believe, it’s possible to see only 3 of the figures. The problem being that the plane was a 6-seater and it’s not uncommon to hear of accidents and lots and lots of motion sickness. Again, I had to push through a fear if I really wanted to live…so here we go again!
The flight cost about $80 for 30 minutes. There were only 5 of us as passengers, with a pilot and co-pilot/tour guide up front. They placed us in our seats according to weight (well, that’s reassuring…sort of) and I happened to be in the back without anyone next to me. The pilot advised us to try to only look out one side of the plane, that he would circle back so that both sides of the plane got the same view. This suggestion was to help with the whole motion sickness thing, although they passed out barf bags nevertheless. Well, I don’t listen, and because there was noone next to me, I thought I should take advantage of both windows and have 2 opportunities to get the best photos. It only took about 5 minutes for my stomach to start doing somersaults.
“The Astronaut”, carved into the side of a hill, might elicit the same question from you as it did from me – if these were lines were created so long ago, how did they know what an astronaut was? Well, they didn’t. This geoglyph has been named for tourism purposes. But then again, this could add some validity to the alien theory. I’m just sayin…..
When you look at the photo of “The Monkey,” you begin to see just how difficult it is to find, zoom, and focus a camera in a topsy turvy little bitty plane. I only captured his tail. This was also about the time I wanted to vomit. Luckily, that feeling passed but I was relatively underwhelmed with the whole experience. It went so fast and when you feel sick half the time, it hardly seemed worth it. My opinion, anyway.
After the flight, all I really wanted was to lie down but somehow I had been talked into joining an additional tour for the day. The guy that had been assigned to pick me up from my hostel for the flight was also a tour guide and he was taking a Dutch couple around to a couple other sites in Nasca. To make it worth his time, he wanted to recruit more people and I was suckered into it. I will say that even though I had very little interest in seeing anything else in Nasca, the enthusiasm of the guide was contagious and it was clear that he has a deep pride and appreciation of his heritage.
We visited the Cahuachi Ruins first. Again, I was a little underwhelmed because many of the ruins have yet to be excavated, but the guide made up for it with a wealth of knowledge and boundless energy.
Next, we visited the Chauchilla Cemetary, where mummies were discovered in the 1920s. I found this site especially interesting because these are now open air tombs. When mummies are preserved, it’s because they have been interred in such a way as to prevent oxygen and the natural elements from affecting the body. These tombs were opened up for public viewing without any sort of glass case or vacuum seal so that now, what remained of the skin and some pieces of clothing have deteriorated in the environment. Only the skeletons and hair will eventually remain. They have somewhat recently built awnings over each tomb to try to protect the clothing from sun damage. There has also been an initiative to try to construct glass enclosures but any money that has been allocated to this project has since been “reallocated” under a possibly corrupt Peruvian government.
Our last stop was at the ancient aquaducts, some of which are still in use today. Called puquios, these aquaducts were built to bring water into the arid desert. Once each year, it is an honored tradition for young men to be chosen to go inside for an elaborate cleaning ceremony, to free the aquaducts of debris so they can continue to filter the water to the region. Our guide spoke with fond memories of the year he had been chosen.
As a backpacker, Nasca makes a sensible stop because by bus, it’s on the PanAmerican Highway and almost all buses going between Arequipa to Huacachina (both popular backpacker destinations) stop there anyway. As a tourist, I’m not sure that it’s worth the extra excursion unless you are really into archeaology. Again, only my opinion. Peru is bursting with amazing sites but for me, Nasca fell a bit flat.