Nazca Lines, Pisco, and Lima, Peru - 1998
From July 8th to August 4th, 1998, truk and
Katherine traveled through various areas of central,
(NAZCA, PISCO, LIMA; written in LIMA). We got back to Arequipa in time to make the overnight bus to Nazca that evening. The bus broke down several times all night long, and each time the bus drivers got out and pretended to work on the engine while it cooled down enough for us to continue. In Nazca, we were immediately scooped up by a couple of yahoos in a 60's Ford and driven to the hostel of their choice. They also used the opportunity to sell us a tour of the Cementerio de Chauchilla and an overflight of the Nazca Lines.
There was a lot of waiting involved, but we flew over the lines about noon or so, just Stacy and I, the pilot and a guide in the backseat. The plane was a two-seater prop plane. What a ride and what sights to behold! Wow! I suppose, cognitively, I understood the presence of the lines - their shape, etc, and had read several theories about how and why they came to exist. But, I don't think I could have ever comprehended their magnitude and absurdity without seeing them.
They are rather incredible and only visible from directly overhead or within a certain circumference. As the plane comes up on them, the guide points them out and then your eyes scan the surface of the Earth, adjusting to the rapidly changing topography until their shapes come into view. The spider, the hummingbird, the monkey, the hands, the parrot, the geometric shapes, and the lines themselves - impecably straight, criss-crossing the desert and hills of the Nazca Valley. On each side of the desert of lines lies modernity - the Pan-American highway, farms, the river and above planes flying about once an hour with anxious faces peering out windows. Yet, they sit, whatever purpose they serve, however they were created, they exist in the solitude of the desert now, resisting rain and wind, decorating the valley for perhaps only angels to study and the skies to pour over in the darkness.
While I had a bit of interest in seeing the lines, nothing prepared us for the impact of seeing them from the sky. Simply put, the entire spectacle is almost beyond belief. The "Spaceman" figure really looks like a spaceman. The monkey is just like a monkey. But when you think about the fact that there is simply no way to make sense of these figures except at least a thousand feet above them, their construction seems extremely bizarre. Even more impressive, to me at least, were the perfectly straight lines that go on for ten miles or more and then suddenly intersect with other lines, which are themselves just as long. All of these lines intersect so perfectly, throughout the entire desert floor, that just the math required to pull this off would have be quite advanced Of course, while we were in Nazca, some idiotic countrymen of mine drove their van across some of the lines, causing severe damage. Considering the entire budget for protecting the lines only runs $20,000 a year and at night they are totally unsupervised, I wonder how long until they are entirely erased. After all, the Pan-American runs right by several of them.
The next day, we spent the morning at the Cementario de Chauchilla. Here, the bizarre took a turn for the truly weird. This area is awash in bones, pottery shards, long strands of hair bound in leather and cloth, and limbs with dried flesh still on them. They artifacts are just littered throughout the desert, with most of the mummies still a few feet deep inside of their tombs, still wrapped in cloths and rope. Our pictures don't do this justice. If you ever go anywhere near Nazca, definitely check this out.
The cemetery was quite incredible. It was more like a junkyard corpse dump - with tombs uncovered and mummies placed serenely inside for show - making it a cemetery. Everywhere you walked, there were pieces of bones, pottery, funeral wrappings, hair, etc. It was very strange. I'm not sure why there are so many fragments, since the mummification process usually preserves the bodies so well. There were about 15-20 actual tombs excavated and placed (perhaps found inside) were mummies of all shapes and conditions, as well as skulls. The way it was all so neatly laid out was kind of hokey, considering the large number of fragments everywhere, but I suppose it is done that way for the visitor's benefit. I'm sure there were numerous other underground tombs which had been excavated and recovered. I'm not sure how these tombs were found or why they were created in this particular spot. There are several sand dunes on two sides and all of the mummies were placed facing the sun, for ceremonial / religious reasons. I was very fascinated by the whole place.
After the cemetery, the rest of the "excursion" was a bit of a let-down. We did go to a gold extraction workshop where we got to see the process occur. Rocks from surrounding hill possess many different kinds of trace minerals - quartz, gold, iron, etc. These rocks are mined and then started through a long process to retrieve the gold. First, they are ground down to a fine powder, then they are put in water and mercury is added. After a long mixing process (almost like a huge mortal and pestal process), they mercury amalgamates the gold and out it comes in flakes. It was pretty interesting to learn about and the guide reminded us about a thousand times that "Mercury es toxivo."
Looking a bit cooler climate, we bussed on down to Pisco for a tour of the Paracas Reserve. I especially hated Pisco. I knew that we were in for trouble when we got off the bus and the first words out of some tour tout was, "We are good tour company. Number eight in your Lonely Planet." The hotels were a rip-off. The people seemed a bit surly. I couldn't wait to get out of the place. The next day, we left early for the Isla Ballestas, an island off the coast of Peru in the Pacific Ocean. The island is usually inhabited by thousands of seals and interesting birds, but the El Nino has destroyed or driven away most of their food supply, meaning that we had to make due with only a few animals. Usually, there are so many birds on these rocky islands that Peruvians commercially gather the guano every few years and sell it. On the way to the island, we passed the strange figure called the Candelabra etched into the sand on the north face of the Paracas peninsula. Not as impressive as the Nazca lines, but weird all the same.
We made it to the Islas Ballestas tour - quite lame. We were crammed into a boat with flimsy life jackets and very rough waters to see marine wildlife. I was very ill - I woke up feeling like staying in bed. I should have... We saw the Candelabra, a sand version of the Nazca lines pictures. They are not certain of the origins of it or if the Nazca people made it or what its symbolism is. We saw lots of birds and some sea lions, but mostly, we got damp with sea water and cold and squished. I threw up off the edge of the boat - I suspect more because of my stomach illness than motion sickness, but who knows? Perhaps if it had been summer or the boat was less crowded it would have been an interesting and fun excursion, but it wasn't. We got back from the tour in time to get our bags and get on a bus to Lima. Pisco was a big disappointment at the end of a pretty good trip. Perhaps a deserved disappointment...
Not content with staying another night in Pisco, we boarded a bus for Lima right after the tour. Eager to see another part of the capital other than the center and the airport, we picked a nice hotel in Miraflores, a rich section down near the ocean. The contrast with the center of town couldn't be greater. Fast food and upscale restaurants dominate Miraflores, while the center is crowded by churches, hustlers, and banks. Kath and I spent the night eating Chinese takeout, watching a hundred channels of cable, a third of which were in English. The next day, we got a room at the Hotel Belen, near the Plaza San Martin. We picked up some crafts a few miles away at a large artistic mall, and ended up buying a lot at small shop near the hotel. We drifted into a lazy lifestyle the past two days, catching a movie, eating KFC, and trying to forget Pisco. I've spent some time trying to figure out the reason for the melancholy, but all my thoughts are speeding home, wrapped around the familiar. Only now, Peru is also a part of the familiar, and I have yet to learn how to let go. I doubt I ever will.