Travels with V
Peru & Ecuador
The illustrated desert
Paracas - Nazca
It’s a four hour bus ride along the coast down to Paracas, but the bus is comfortable and food and drinks are served on board, so it’s a relaxing journey. V sleeps away most of it. I look at the passing landscape, which is mostly dry lifeless desert. But here and there there’s patches of green, farming and trees.
Now and then we pass ramshackle settlements with houses made of board and corrugated metal. The streets are just muddy pathways and the surrounding walls are often carrying painted slogans for political parties, many with pictures of heavy men in cowboy hats.
We drive along by the sea for the first hour, but then head off into the desert and the mountains. And after a while we see the resemblance of another familiar landscape, from a different part of the world. It looks very much like what we saw in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. Ridgy sterile mountain sides, narrow green valleys with a trickle of water in a mostly dry riverbed. Enough for farming, small-scale.
Finally we arrive at a huge flat plateau, without any bushes or trees. This is where the Nazca 2 000 years ago, and probably hundreds of years before that the Paracas Indian cultures created the illustrated desert, what is commonly called the Nazca lines.
In the town of Nazca the taxi takes us to a tiny airport right by the desert, and we have to smile when we get to the “departure hall”. It’s like a normal living room in size, with two doors, or “gates”. We embark through Gate 2 and there’s the little Cessna with six seats that will take us and two fellow passengers on a 30 minute flight over the mysterious lines, geometrical figures and depictions of animals.
Brace yourselves! Time for lift-off!
Because that’s how they are best viewed, from above. On the ground it’s hard to grasp the full impact of these huge creations, the scientific name is “geoglyphs”. But 300 meters up in the air you see a ground cross-crossed with lines and parallelograms. And here and there are distinctive figures, the monkey, the parrot, the hummingbird and others.
There’s also a depiction of a man, but not at all in the stringent style of the other figures. It’s called “the astronaut”, and is not placed on the gravel ground but on a mountain slope. I guess this is from the earlier Paracas culture, recently other geoglyphs have been found on mountains that resembles this one.
The Cessna pilot twists and turns, banking hard left and right so that all passengers can get a good view of the glyphs. We have anticipated this and V who is sensitive to motion sickness has taken a double dose of medicine against it. But after 20 minutes of hard banking her face turns white and I fear the worst. Luckily that’s when we head home again.
Our South American journey is drawing near the end, just one chapter remains. We’re going back to Lima to see “the wall of shame”.