Book Travel

Why are the Nazca lines such a big draw?

On our way to Nazca on the bus, a woman asked if she could put her bag under our seat. Steph said yes as she is so nice but I was immediately suspicious as it was a small leather bag and they had loads of much bigger granny bags (you know those multi-coloured plastic ones that look like old checked sacks and used the whole world over by grannies). 

My suspicion turned out to be correct because the bus was stopped and the police immediately headed upstairs and went through all the granny bags. They obviously had some kind of tipoff, as they didn’t search anyone else’s stuff.

One of them spied the leather bag and asked if it belonged to us, our fingers shot out in the direction of the woman and the police found what they wanted and dragged them off the bus. As gringos, the woman knew we wouldn’t get searched so in fairness it wasn’t a terrible plan to make it look like the bag was ours.

We reached Nazca at an ungodly hour in the morning and headed to the airstrip to sit in the dark with our bags until it opened. One of them let us in at about 6 and we agreed to tour with them.

If you think that you can have just about as good a time watching the Nazca Lines on Google Earth than you can from a light aircraft then you are absolutely right. You would also avoid being ripped off and getting airsick. 

There is little or no explanation for what you are seeing, and anything that is said is pretty self-explanatory as all but the most naïve of us recognise a primitive drawing of a monkey or a dog.

It is almost as if the Nazca Desert is a chalkboard that has been crayoned all over by a small child lacking in artistic panache or credibility. That is not to say they are not culturally important.

If someone told me that it was some sort of crop circlesque trick to draw in the tourists or some sort of ancient practical joke I would well believe them. I will, however, give you the history of what we do know about these geoglyphs (Latin for scribbly pictures).   

The lines are, of course, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site and they are situated on the Pampas de Jumana, between Nazca and Palpa (type that into Google Earth). They are in fact quite shallow designs, created by removing the pebbles to reveal the pale ground beneath.

The zoomorphic designs include seventy animals such as birds, fish, llamas, a jaguar, a monkey and human depictions. Plant life (phytomorphic) is represented by various trees and flowers.

Creating them was no small job as some of them are 200m across, there are various theories surrounding their purpose and the most popular amongst academics is that they have religious significance or at the very least have spiritual meaning. 

It is thought that the geometric symbols could be used to summon water and the animals could be fertility symbols, other theories are that they were used as giant calendars or for irrigation purposes. It is the continuous climate that has preserved these lines as they are, although they are occasionally affected by extreme weather changes or by travellers who have in the past years started to set up camps in the area. 

They can be seen from the surrounding hills and Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe discovered them in 1927. He gave news of their existence to fellow academics at a conference, although it is assumed that local travellers had seen them before they became public knowledge.

Scientists from American universities have discovered the wooden stakes that were used by the Nazca people to create the lines in subsequent expeditions. The Japanese research centre in the religion has uncovered over 100 more geoglyphs in total from their extensive and ongoing research. 

There are some fun theories about the reasoning behind the construction of the lines, including the astronomer Phyllis Pitluger’s idea that the lines represent the constellation of the stars of Orion.

Jim Woodmann believed they were made using a hot air balloon and my most favourite alternative theory is that of Erich von Däniken who concluded that the lines were old aeroplane runways for aliens who the Nazca people believed were their gods. 

All conjecture aside, a preservation issue that is coming to light is that climate change and deforestation in the surrounding areas are beginning to leave the geoglyphs at much greater risk of erosion. 

As we went on the flight so fucking early we then had all day to wait in the town until the night bus to Cuzco arrived. There is really nothing going on in Nazca as the lines are a big draw…….

Anyway, we chatted with a few other bored as heck tourists and found out we’d overpaid for the flight which did nothing to improve my mood. There is an Inca graveyard nearby and I wanted to go there but Steph didn’t and I couldn’t be bothered to go on my own. I wish I had as it would have been better than sitting in a cafe bored with a limp spag bol, which is what we actually did.

Eventually, we sidled to the bus station to continue the wait. The ticket woman had her toddler in a playpen next to her and Steph played with her while we waited. This was a nice thing for her to do, as the Nazca bus station is no place for anyone, let alone a baby.

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