Nasca – Cradle of the Bizarre

Nasca is yet another Peruvian desert town, you may have heard of this one though. Named for the Nasca culture and famous for trippy lines in the desert that have been interpreted in a huge variety of ways. The road into Nasca is long and straight.

Ever since I read a great seventies conspiracy theory book (The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz) I’ve known about the Nasca lines and wanted to see them. It seems like most people breeze through Nasca in one day to see them, not even staying the night. Mistake. We stayed two nights and to be honest there was much more we could have seen. So we’ve already covered the Moche, the Chimu and now we have the Nasca another talented pre-Incan bunch that built some bat-shit crazy stuff in the desert. First let’s talk lines and for that we’ll need a small plane.

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The Nasca Lines

Let me point out that the only way in which my wife resembles B.A. Baracus is in her dislike of small planes. Only after using my best Murdoch like persuasion tactics did we sign up.

7:30 am ready for action. Early flight then back to our hostel by 9am (super place by the way) for breakfast and a read of the morning paper whilst smoking my pipe.

8:00 am waiting in airport, watched Nat Geo video on lines first time.

9:00 am waiting in airport, watched Nat Geo video on lines three times.

10:00 am waiting in airport, watched video six times and now reciting it word for word.

11:00 am plane cleared for take-off.

12:00 pm back on terra firma, one very green wife in tow.

So after a long delay waiting for morning haze to clear, we were off. The flight is 30 mins and makes a lot of people sick. To let everyone see the lines on both sides of the planes requires a lot of very steep turns and a fair few people chunder. Not us hardy souls, although Alison clearly didn’t feel great.

The flight only takes in the head-liners (whale, monkey, astronaut, hummingbird, spider, dog, hands, parrot, tree etc.) in sequence; but the whole desert floor is littered with them. At first they’re hard to spot. We kicked off with the whale and it’s smaller than expected and took some finding even given the co-pilots guidance. They’re also quite low contrast, a bit of desert that’s a bit cleaner than the surrounding bit of desert. For a moment we wonder if we’ve paid for a flight where we’ll see nothing but pretend we did at the end.

Whale

They are amazing, more so than the animals which are undoubtedly cool, I found the huge trapezoids and triangles incredible. They go on for kilometres. There is a viewing tower but if you are going to visit here…take a flight.

After 30 minutes of lines and incredible desert meets mountain scenery, the flight was over: all too soon for me (it’s a dream of mine to fly small planes) and far too late for Alison.

The current theory (as I understand it) is that they were constructed for worship or god appeasement: laid out by surveyors using posts and string and then cleared of small stones either side to create the lines, with the displaced stones forming small walls. The dry air, small walls and thermal barrier effect on the ground have prevented their erosion over thousands of years.

The alternate theory is they are a landing strip for aliens and it must be true because they carved a bloody great astronaut (or owl perhaps) on the side of a mountain.

The Necropolis of Chauchilla

Now, what can top mad geoglyphs in the Atacama desert designed to lure aliens. A clue you say… well try to think of similarities between here and Egypt. We’ve already covered pyramids. Wait for it.

Mummies, MUMMIES!! A thousand years old and still sitting quietly in the desert in open tombs.

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This has to be one of my favourite tours ever. Twelve open tombs in the desert in an old Nasca cemetery. The cemetery has been tomb-robbed over the years with depressions marking the tombs and 1000 year old human bones strewn across the desert floor by the looters. Imagine Alison’s face when she found one bone sticking out of the sand with what looks like flesh still attached.

The intact tombs are brick lined holes in the ground that would have been covered over. The mummification process and dry desert has preserved the mummies for over 1000 years.

Inside the tombs, mummies sit in the foetal position, clothed and with long hair intact but exposed skin decayed to leave a blanched skull. Surrounded by offerings of corn, jars and even a mummified guinea pig. They don’t look real and I had to be convinced by our guide and the archaeologists working on one tomb of their authenticity. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

After an hour or so, back in a little boy’s storybook world of mummies and tombs I realised that the whole time we were also in an incredibly beautiful setting. Desert around us. Mountains to the north of us and an oasis to our left. A truly magical afternoon!

That’s Nasca, cradle of a civilisation, home of alien conspiracy theories and worth more than a flying visit. And I spell it with an ‘S’ because that’s the Peruvian way 😉

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