Day 52: Flying the Nazca Lines

Thur. 4th October 2012

Nazca Lines, Flight 101, you have take off!Today is the day for our (actually my) flight to see the Nazca lines. The only way that they can be seen and appreciated (and the way that they were discovered is from the air). There is a constant buzz of small planes above the town and we have to wait for our slot, which will be sometime in the morning – probably, but if not in the afternoon (maybe).

Whilst we wait for our slot, we have a drive out to the Chauchilla Cemetery. The 40 minute drive takes us past more desert scrub land some of which is marked out by posts or by bamboo huts as people stake their claim and wait the 1 year before the government gives them title to the land.

Mummies at Chauchilla CemeteryThe cemetery is the burial ground used by the Nazca (pre-Inca) civilisations. They made the mistake of burying their dead in graves that were only half a metre underground. Whilst the combination of the mummification process they used and the dry atmosphere did a great job of preserving the bodies, most of the graves have been plundered (for jewellery and embroidered cloth) by grave robbers. The site is now preserved and archaeologists have used original artefacts (including mummies) to recreate a dozen tombs. It really was quite spooky – both seeing the mummies sat in their tombs (all facing the rising sun in the east) as well as seeing human bone fragments in the desert where they have been discarded by grave robbers.

The visit to a pottery workshop where the local artist makes copies of Nazca earthenware was unremarkable – yes it was interesting to see the artist at work, but we had no interest in buying any of the wares on display.

I think I'll take this plane!We were just about to give up and go for lunch, when the call came through that it was our slot for the flight to see the Nazca lines. Nine of the sixteen in our group signed up for the flight and that meant we were split over two planes (Cessna C207s for those interested). The pre-flight process was much like for a normal commercial flight – tickets, passport, security. Once through security, we were met by the co-pilot and marched down to the plane and strapped into our allotted seat dependent on our weight. In these small planes, everyone gets a window seat!

Trucks on the Panamerica HighwayOnce up in the air, there was a 3o minute flight that gave us a great view of the desert dotted with green cultivated fields as well as a dozen of the figures (geoglyphs) drawn into the ground. Wikipedia gives a good summary of the lines here. Typically the figures are about 100m long, though the longest (the Heron) is 300m – even so, it took a little practice to spot them even when they were being pointed out to you and it was even harder to photograph them (both to get camera pointed in the right direction and then to get sufficient contrast in the photo). In the end, I saw all of the dozen figures except for the whale and got good photos of 4 of them (need to do some photo trading later!). Below is a picture of the ‘Humming Bird’ where I have tweaked the contrast and other exposure settings to make the figure easier to spot. Humming Bird

After everyone got back from their flight, it was into town for lunch in what must have been the slowest restaurant in the universe! We are finding that the small, family run restaurants that we get taken to on this tour really struggle with a party of 16. Ordering takes ages, the  food arrives one plate at a time and typically the first person has finished whilst the last people are still waiting to be served. And then, settling la cuenta

Anyway, best just to relax and talk about the things we’ve done or the things we’re about to do. Tonight, we move on to Arequipa in the mountains. Arequipa is at 2,800m (similar to Quito) and then we have excursions from there up to around 4,900m – higher than the mountains in Quito and higher than we will be on the Inca Trail. People are starting to get nervous about the affects of altitude and the hiking ahead.

Loading up the night bus!Before all of that, however, we have the joys of the Night Bus . This is a 9 or 10 hour journey starting at 10pm. Fortunately when we get to see the bus, we find that it the most luxurious bus we have been on to date. Better than the Premier busses in Mexico and, according to our new friends, Paul and Sue, better than the Greyhound busses in the US. We settle into the reclining seats, try and tune out the bizarre Eddie Murphy film on the screens and hope that we get at least some sleep.

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