The mysterious Nazca Lines

1 Nov

The mysterious Nazca Lines are spread over 500 square kilometres in a dusty, desert landscape in the South of Peru. The lines were first discovered in 1927 when a Peruvian archeologist, Toribio Mejia Xesspe, spotted them whilst walking in the nearby foothills, however, they were largely ignored by the outside world. In 1939, a historian from Long Island University in the United States took a flight over the area and upon seeing these giant lines and figures etched into the ground, he made it his duty to inform the world about them. Every year since, more formations have been discovered and there is presently a striking network of over 80 lines, 300 geometric figures and around 70 animals. In 1994 the site was honoured with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Historians and scientists generally agree that the lines were made by placing heat-resistant stones in patterns on the pale earth which were only removed when the intense heat from the sun had darkened the soil around, thus acting like a giant stencil. What nobody is sure about is who put them there and why. Were they giant sports tracks? Were they recordings of a Shamen’s drug induced hallucinogenic prophecies? Or were they ritualistic offerings to appease a fierce and unforgiving sun? By far our favourite theory is that they were created by aliens and used as markers for landing their spacecrafts! This theory carries further weight when you realise that the lines can only truly be appreciated from the sky above them and when we saw the figure of an astronaut clearly burnt into a nearby mountainside, we were almost convinced. We decided that we had to see the lines with our own eyes to find out what all the hype was about so we headed to Nazca’s airport to take an overflight.

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When we arrived at the small private airport at 7.15am there were already several tourists milling about. There are around a dozen airlines offering overflights and prices vary between 80 – 120 USD. Each company offered the same amount of time in the air and similar routes so we went for the cheapest and most professional at the check-in desk which, for us, was Air Majoro. There is no need to book flights in advance with hotels or tour agencies unless you’re on a very tight timescale, as they will usually add-on commission.

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Before flights commenced, it was necessary for all planes to receive clearance from the tower who check for visibility and, once this is given, the various companies have a pre-determined sequence for take off which rotates daily.

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Before we knew it our small 6 seater plane was hurtling along the runway and we looked like pilots from an old war movie with our headsets on – “Chocks Away Chaps!”

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The take off was so smooth we barely noticed the wheels had left the ground. We climbed higher and circled around the dry and dusty town of Nazca which looked like a cluster of sand castles from above.

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The pilot tested his microphone and we could all hear him through our headsets above the engine noise, albeit with a slight crackle and a Spanish accent. The desert stretched without end with several steep, stone littered summits surrounding the area and bringing the ground closer to our tiny plane. We pressed our noses against the side windows and scanned the ground looking for the treasure we’d come to find. Initially we saw nothing and wondered if it was all one giant hoax but before long huge lines and geometric figures started to come into view.

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Their sheer scale was mind-blowing and it was very hard to comprehend how a civilisation with no heavy machinery or electronic technology could make something so precise and grand.

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As we twisted and turned in the air to ensure both sides of the small plane got a good view of the lines, we started to feel a little bit nauseous. We’d read one lady’s account who said she’d felt so sick during her flight that the only way to prevent herself from throwing up on the person in front was to shut her eyes for the entire journey! We certainly weren’t feeling that bad but we had to talk seriously to our stomachs to get them to settle down as we performed figures of eight in the sky.

We were soon distracted with the wonderful outlines of animals below us. The ‘Monkey’ is 93 metres in length and has a very curvy body and a spiral tail. This was Dan’s favourite of all the animal lines because of its quirky features and he’s even talked about having a small tattoo of the design done since!!

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The ‘Spider’, 46 metres in length, is an intricate design with lines twisting back and forth to make up the head, body and eight legs. Arachnophobics beware!

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The ‘Condor’ was one of the largest animal designs we saw at 135 metres in length. It was a symbol of great power and royalty for the Nazcas and we observed each wing and tail feather which had been crafted to perfection.

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As the name suggests, it’s thought that the vast majority of the lines were created by the Nazcas, who lived from 1 AD to 800 AD. They were skilled craftsmen and produced complex textiles, ceramics and underground aqueducts, known as ‘puquios’, that still work today.

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500 AD saw the start of the decline of the Nazca empire and by 800 AD they completely disappeared due to an El Nino which caused widespread and devastating flooding across the region.

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When we saw a 65 metre whale outlined below us we thought it was a strange animal to find here in the desert, hundreds of kilometres away from the sea. However, our pilot explained his theory about the lines and it all became clear. He believed that many of the animals and plant drawings such as the whale, the humming-bird and the tree with deep reaching roots, were all closely linked to water, the vital life-giver in this desert environment, and that the Nazcas created the lines as offerings to the gods to ask for what was most needed at the time in the Nazca community. Knowing how hard it was just to eek out a living here in these barren badlands, we could understand why the Nazcas would try anything to survive.

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We flew over the viewing tower on the Pan American Highway which is a good spot for travellers who have a smaller budget or who suffer from motion sickness but would still like a glimpse of the lines.

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From here it’s possible to see ‘The Tree’, with it’s deep roots, and ‘The Hands’.

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As one of the driest deserts on Earth, maintaining a very consistent and windless climate, the Nazca Lines have been preserved extraordinarily well. The temperature maintains an average 25 degrees centigrade all year around and clear skies make for ideal flying conditions. However, the lines are in effect only 10 to 30 centimetres deep and many locals and researchers are concerned about climate change. It hardly ever rains in Nazca and when it does it’s usually just a few spots but if the area were ever to receive prolonged heavy rain, the lines would undoubtedly be damaged and some may be completely destroyed forever.

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Our 40 minute flight was over all too quickly. As we cruised back towards the airport we reflected on what a marvellous sight the lines are, especially considering that our friends from out of space probably hadn’t really had anything to do with them! The lines have been preserved perfectly for hundreds of years and we’d been thrilled to share in such rich and visually spectacular history.

2 Responses to “The mysterious Nazca Lines”

  1. tina stevenson December 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    It truly is a wonder. I was captivated to see it thanks to your good selves;realy enjoyed all the information. Just Great Tina.

    • latinchattin December 9, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      It’s a very special place. We were nearly put off by the price tag for the flight over the lines but it was worth every penny. Pleased we could share the experience.

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