From Paracas we took a long bus ride south for a short stop in Nasca. Set in the Nasca Desert, the town is a hot, dry place. It is, in fact, one of the driest places on earth; it averages just 4 millimeters of rain a year, or well under a quarter of an inch. Why go there? For the Nasca Lines, a series of ancient mysterious geoglyphs (there’s that word again!) that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Built by the Nasca people between 500 BC and 500 AD, they’re essentially huge drawings in the desert, created by removing the reddish rocks on the surface and thus exposing the whiter ground beneath. They’re only four to six inches deep, but because of their isolation and the dry, windless environment, they have survived all these centuries.
Over the many years the Nasca people inhabited the area, they constructed an untold number of these “drawings” in the desert plateau. Archeologists believe that they have religious significance, but my experience is that archeologists always assume religious significance if they don’t have any other explanation. All we know for a fact is that they run the gamut from simple geometric figures – lines – to more remarkable pictures of birds, snakes, monkeys, and people.
The figures can be huge, with the largest approaching 700 feet in width. While they can apparently be seen from the foothills that surround them, the best way to see the Lines is from the air. So there is a steady stream of small planes taking off from and landing in Nasca’s small airport, shuttling tourists up for a 30-minute tour. While you’re up there looking down, it’s pretty impressive to imagine them doing this large-scale artwork without the benefit of air travel to check on how it all looks.
Warning to the wise, though: If you don’t like heights, or get motion sickness, don’t do the tour. It’s a tiny plane taking you up, and the pilot banks and swerves and turns and angles so everyone can see the artwork below. By the end of 30 minutes I was more than ready to get my feet on solid ground again.
So that was Nasca. In one day in the early afternoon and out the next night on an overnight bus to Arequipa, Peru’s second city. Just long enough to do the tour, see this 2,000-year-old mystery, and get back on the road. Oh, and have a couple Pisco Sours, Peru’s national drink. We try to avoid sugary drinks, but we knew we were going to have them just one night. Why not do it, then, in a town that’s otherwise pretty grim?
On to Arequipa!