Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nazca: A Day for the Sky

Yesterday was a day for the sky.  What do I mean by that?  Well, I took a flight to see the Nazca lines, and I went to a planetarium to go stargazing.

After a nice breakfast at the hostel a guy named Raul picked me up at 9.  There was a German couple in the car too, and we talked about our travel experiences on our way to the Nazca airport. 

The airport was surprisingly busy.  There were about 12 counters with different companies offering flights to see the Nazca lines and small groups of people milling around waiting for their flight.  Luckily Luis was making all the arrangements for us.

After stepping on a scale and handing over our passports for verification, the three of watched an informative video.  The Nazca was a pre-Incan culture that survived in very harsh conditions: only 2 hours of rainfall per year and a very hot climate.  We don't know the reason why, but they constructed elaborate lines of various figures such as an astronaut, monkey, parrot, and triangles by arranging rocks in various outlines.  The incredible part is that the figures can only be seen from the sky, which begs the question: How did they do it?  They didn't have the technology to fly then.  Some people think that they made the figures for their god to see, as they believed in one god who could fly.  Mysteriously the Nazca disappeared without a trace at one point, leaving scientists baffled as to what happened.

Before the video was over Luis came over and told me that I would be flying with 4 Colombians.  They had to arrange the flying groups based on weight distribution since the planes were so small.  We had the chance to snap some pictures on the runway before getting in and taking off.

The flight was smooth, and we got a detailed card showing the flight path and the different figures we would see.  The pilots passed by each one on the left and right side and pointed the wing so that we could see the figure.  It was amazing seeing them with my own eyes, but unfortunately it's difficult to see them from the pictures I took.  The flight was about half an hour, and then we were back on the ground again.  Here are some of the pictures I took:

You can see the outline of a man along the right dark side of the mountain.
If you look closely you can see the outline of a hummingbird.
Attached to its tail are a bunch of geometric lines.
We survived!  Our reward?  The chance to get a picture
in the pilot`s seat!
Afterwards I got a van ride back to the hostel, and it turns out two other people in the van were staying there too.  We chatted about our travel experiences, and they decided to go on the sand dune tour I took yesterday.  The sun was strong, so I decided to rest a bit before heading out for lunch.  As I walked through town I came across some really beautiful murals.  Some of them do a much better job of showing what the Nazca lines look like:

Either they must have spent a lot of time at the gym and had a steady
diet of protein shakes or they must haven done a lot of steroids.

This is a representation of the god the Nazcan people believed in.
The woman who dedicated her life to preserving the Nazca lines
After killing some more time I went to the planetarium.  I got there a bit early and chatted with a Peruvian woman who ran the gift shop until the guide arrived.  The planetarium is actually part of the Hotel Nazca Lines, and he took us through the courtyard towards and open area with a telescope.  Unfortunately it was cloudly so we couldn`t see much except for the moon, but then we went inside and got to see a show.

The guide created a show all about the Nazca lines and how they were created and what we know about them.  Apparently the Nazcans created them over a period of 1000 years by picking up the dark rocks in the area to uncover the whitish/grayish ground underneath.  They used poles and string to help create straight lines, and the lines cover an area of over 300 square miles.  Not at easy feat considering that this spanned over multiple generations of people.

They were first discovered in the 1920s when commercial airlines began traveling over the area.  At that time the Pan American highway had already been built, cutting some of the figures into two. They believe that the lines point to water sources related to the nearby river, but they also discovered that some of the lines point to the sun´s location during the winter and summer solstices.  Archeologists think that the lines were part of a religious ceremony and that the Nazca people would walk or dance along them.  Many of the lines lead to the river and large hills, so that seems to make sense.

So how do we know so much about the Nazca lines? A German woman named Maria Reiche came to Peru to research and preserve the Nazca lines.  She dedicated 40 years of her life to their research and preservation, walking there and hitchiking each day.  Eventually the Nazca Lines Hotel (which at the time was owned by the Peruvian government) offered her a free hotel room there due to her dedication to the cause, and she stayed in that room for 25 years.  Maria lived to be 95 years old, and she passed away in 1998.  The room isn`t available for guests to stay in, but people on the tour are allowed inside.  Inside there were two beds (one for Maria and another for her nurse), an armchair that she sat in much of her time there, and some pictures up on the wall of her at various times of her life.  It was really amazing to see how she dedicated so much of her life to a cause that she believed in, and if it weren´t for her perhaps we wouldn´t know as much as we do about the Nazca lines.

 Even after the show it was still too cloudy to do any stargazing, but I didn´t mind.  I found the Nazca lines and information about Maria Reiche fascinating and was satisfied with that.
After catching dinner with some fellow travelers from the hostel it was time for bed.  I wanted to be rested for the seven and a half hour bus ride back to Lima.  

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