Category: Chauchilla

The ancient and surreal mysteries of Nazca

Thursday morning Mario headed with me to the bus station. I was heading to Nazca to meet my friend Caroline. She was my French teacher at Berry, and we’ve been great friends ever since. Anyway, while I’m quite confident in my ability to navigate a Spanish speaking country, Lima was loud and chaotic and enormous and dangerous, and I was very glad for Mario’s guidance. I tried to take the same bus Caro had taken to Nazca, Suarez Peru, but apparently that bus doesn’t exist. No one had ever heard of it, lol. (Actually I asked her about that when I finally met up with her, and she was confident in the name of the company; I guess there are just too many bus companies even for Peruvians to keep straight! :]) So I took a different bus line, and arrived in the transit city of Ica about 5 hours later. I had to find a different bus company to go from Ica to Nazca, a journey of another 4 hours, but I finally got there. I’m glad that I actually ended up going to Nazca, because I had a brain fart and was originally trying to go to Cusco. Whoops. I didn’t even have any jet lag to blame that on, lol.

Exhausted and with a blazing headache from not having eaten all day, I just wanted to go to sleep. But when I got to the hostel, I was told that Caro had the only key, and she had gone out to look for me. Dang. I waited for her for a while, but then decided to venture out and see if I could find her.  As I was walking through the tiny town, a Peruvian man started talking to me. At first I thought it was just normal street vendors trying to hawk their wares, but for whatever reason this time I decided to engage him in conversation, rather than ignore him.  All in Spanish, I told him that I was an American who had just arrived and was looking for my friend. “Is your friend French?” he asked me. I’m sure my look of confusion was strikingly evident. “Yeah, her name’s Caroline, right? I know where she is. Wait here and I’ll bring her to you.”

I was somewhat skeptical, but true to his word, he arrived a few minutes later with Caro in tow. She had gotten to Nazca 3 days before me and had apparently made friends with the entire town. On at least four or five other occasions, people walked up to me already knowing who I was because they’d met Caro. It was somewhat bizarre, a bit unsettling, and also completely hilarious. She was a total celebrity :-).

Anyway, I was only in Nazca for about a day, so the first thing on the agenda the next day was definitely seeing the lines of Nazca.  The Nazca lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs stretching nearly 50 miles across the dry, arid plains of the Nazca region in southern Peru.  They were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.  Although they are believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD, no one really knows their purpose.  Theories range from religious rituals to giant astronomical calendars to irrigation schemes.  Created by removing the pebbles that litter the ground to reveal the whitish-gray ground beneath, they range from simple geometric designs to stylized animals such as hummingbirds, monkeys, sharks, and orcas, and can sometimes stretch over 650 feet across.  It’s incredible to me that with such simple construction techniques, they’re still around after all this time – the arid and windless climate of Nazca has ensured that the lines have remained relatively intact.

Since the lines are so enormous, it’s best to see the lines from the air.  We actually got to see the lines of both Nazca and a nearby region called Palpa, as well as ancient aqueducts that had been constructed by the inhabitants of Nazca. It was really quite terrific. I love the mystery behind the lines. Thousands and thousands of intricate pictures and geometric designs large enough to be seen from the sky, preserved for hundreds and hundreds of years in the arid climate, and still no one knows why they are there. It was worth the money and the hassle to go there, but I must admit I was very glad when the plane ride ended – the choppy turbulence in the tiny 4-seater Cesna and the dipping and swooping of the pilot so that we could better see the lines was really wreaking havoc on my poor stomach.

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Here’s an aerial video of us flying over the lines:

After a short rest from seeing the lines, we ventured out again, this time with a tour company called Enigma Nazca tours. If you are ever in Nazca, I highly recommend them. They took us first to see a burial ground called Chauchilla. Like the lines, it was a somewhat eerie experience. The climate is so hot and dry in Nazca that the bodies had been mummified almost instantly – many of them still had skin on their frames, and almost all of them still had hair. It was fascinating, but somewhat unsettling at the same time. The bodies were in open-air holes, so really the only thing separating us from them was a thin cord.

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After Chauchilla, we headed over to an ancient ceremonial temple called Cahuachi. Believed to be a ceremonial and pilgrimage site, the over 40 pre-Incan adobe structures span over 1.5 kilometers squared.  There were very clear markers as to where we were allowed to go, but because we were the only ones there, our guide Cristian let us go past them and explore the entire site. He was pretty cool :-). He also apparently danced bachata, and I was seriously soooo close to asking them to pull over on the side of the road so we could dance a song together. It’s been ages since I’ve danced bachata. But alas, I didn’t ask…maybe next time ;-).

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Apparently the Enigma tour guides also enjoyed their time with us, because at the end of the day they took a video of us and promoted it on their website.  You can check it out here (although it’s all in Spanish): Enigma Tours video.  There were also a few pictures of us that they uploaded; the caption said, “we’re so happy to have met such charismatic tourists!” :).

Our last stop in Nazca was at the workshop of a traditional pottery maker named Toby. What a character. He gave us a fascinating demonstration of how he makes the pottery, and once he found out where Caro and I were from he kept throwing in random French and English words, too. I wish we had had time to stay longer – I really enjoyed the time spent there. But alas, we had to catch an overnight bus to Cuzco – more on that in the next entry!!

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