“One passenger carried her own sizable bag of puke out from the plane. A true Nazcan souvenir…”
The Nazca Lines. 1000ish ginormous geoglyphs (large designs or motifs) and about 50 biomorphs (plant and animal designs) spread out over 325 square kilometers of Peru’s coastal desert. Think razor sharp pictures— some spanning 12 kilometers in size— etched out in the sand, to be seen from above. Or featured in a terrible Indiana Jones movie…
E.T. phone home?
If you haven’t heard about the Nazca Lines, first understand that they are yet another one of those unsolved mysteries that sends freaks and sci-fi geeks into a sexy frenzy. Just like those Moai statues we stared at. Researchers do know who they were drawn by: the Nazcan people between 1-700 AD. And we do know how they were created: by removing stones from the desert to reveal the lighter-colored soil beneath. The perfect lines were measured out with sticks and rope. But why did the Nazcan people bother to make them at all? For shits and giggles?
In 1927, the Nazca Lines were discovered by a Peruvian archaeologist. He was hiking in the nearby hills and basically lost his shit. It wasn’t until 1939 that they were recognized to be shapes, when researchers flew over them. They created a scientific sensation and the theories escalated from there. Perhaps an intricate astronomical calendar. A running track (wtf?) A device used to communicate with aliens, naturally.
But in the end, the theory that carried the most weight involved a drought. A drought that lasted for years and caused the Nazcan people immense suffering. So much so that they turned to the Gods, able to see their SOS signs from above. Make it rain, por favor! But they didn’t just design elaborate pictures. They also dabbled in human sacrifice. Andddddd it worked. Sort of. The saving came from below: underwater wells, to be precise.
These days, the UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts tourists for its mystery, for the photo ops, and to risk an angle-defying ride on a Cessna.
Please don’t crash
My biggest reservation about seeing the Nazca Lines— besides yet another slow bus crawl to reach the dusty town of Nazca— was entrusting my life to a business littered with quite the number of fatal accidents. Due to massive competition, the cost to see the Nazca Lines remains low. So dangerously low, that in the past, it prompted hundreds of cheap companies to cut corners. Hell, up until 2010, 90% of the planes were over 35 years old. A good percentage were grounded after a crackdown by the Peruvian government, but that didn’t stop the issues from happening again in 2011. Or in in 2015.
“My biggest reservation… was entrusting my life to a business littered with quite the number of fatal accidents…”
Nazca Airlines, in particular, sent several planes (and occupants) to their demise thanks to a list of faulty excuses that eventually proved wrong: a heart attack, a passenger going berserk, the Bermuda Triangle. In reality, the crashes were due to fuel loss. To show off the lines, the pilots have to use steep curves, which can cause stalls. It also doesn’t help that many of the pilots are overworked due to the demand.
These days, there are just a handful of airlines that have survived the inspections and media impact. Most flights cost around $100, so we went with Movil Air, one that banks at $130. (I’d like to think that extra $30 ensures a parachute or life jacket or something). This also got us 15 extra minutes to see a few more sand designs, as compared to the usual 30-minute jaunt. Movil Air also sends up the newest in Cessnas, has an excellent flight record, and promised not to kill me upon request. Engines have to be replaced every 1,000 hours and flights fly with two pilots. Pre-flight we found out that our Japanese co-passenger paid half the price. Maybe because she was alone. Maybe because she booked the night before. Sometimes peace of mind costs you…
Try not to puke
“The air hiccups caused most of us to gasp, scream, or quickly decide never to open one’s eyes again…”
All sense of organization promptly went out the window once we arrived at Maria Reiche Airport, the tiny launching point for all Nazcan flights. We were shuffled around to weigh our bags, pay an airport tax (thanks), and sit around to wait for a random employee to call our names. Just five of us were eventually led to our Cessna. A vessel that— in my eyes— didn’t look brand-spanking new and proudly displayed half a tank of gas. Lovely start. We squeezed in and suffocated ourselves with the seat belts, me “locking” the hatch behind me with a handle that looked as if it were held together with Elmer’s Glue.
We were told by the world to take a morning flight. This helps to avoid afternoon winds, and thus, turbulence. And while the flight was smooth enough when it was horizontal, the air hiccups caused most of us to gasp, scream, or quickly decide never to open one’s eyes again (a Japanese man). Wariness was escalated once we decided to start taking a gander at the designs below us, all by swooping vertical. First left. Then right. Bleh. Made worse though a camera lens. My Air Force companion notified me after of the potential danger here but I was still reeling from nausea to care. One passenger carried her own sizable bag of puke out from the plane. A true Nazcan souvenir.
The Nazca Lines themselves were as to be expected from the pictures we’ve seen. Very impressionable and part of a larger desolate landscape just as beautiful. Though some were quite faded, I could make out all the announced shapes: a hummingbird, a dog, an astronaut that looks like Gachapin. One design was bisected by a massive highway. Sort of cool and sort of not, I suppose. All in all, I lost interest in the designs at times when I feared my safety or projectiling vomit.
I think not
With no desire to recreate the above experience or other near deadly endeavors, I fully understand that some visitors to Nazca may want to stay grounded. If so, you can actually drive out to a few viewpoints to see some of the designs from a safer distance. Or you could just go for a walkabout in the desert and make your own lines. Seems to be pretty straightforward 😉