We saw the lines at Nasca.

We have been on the spectacular road from Nasca to Cusco for two and a half days and don't expect to reach Cusco till late afternoon tomorrow. The bus does the trip in sixteen hours. Don't take the bus.

Since leaving Lima we have seen lots of birds, discovered the secret of the long sheds in the desert, seen the worlds highest sand dune, marveled at the Nasca lines and learned to tell one camelid from another.

The Reserva Nacional Paracas 20km South of Pisco (where the famous Pisco Sour comes from) is a days drive (for us) from Lima so we decided to camp there. The road between Pisco and Paracas is probably the most foul smelling stretch of road we have so far encountered, and this smell is related to the secret of the long sheds in the desert.

Much of Peru North and South of Lima is sand desert. Scattered about the desert are clusters of long low sheds. Each shed is about one hundred metres long and three metres wide, with a concrete base, a corrugated iron roof and no walls. Most of them appear to be empty and abandoned. Nothing seems to be grown in or near the sheds, and the only thing each cluster of sheds has in common is that they are well isolated from each other and from human habitation.

To solve the mystery of the sheds and the foul smell, hover your cursor over here.

The Reserva Nacional Paracas is mostly sand desert and sea shore.

There is a small visitor centre, a viewing tower (to see the flamingos) and lots of dirt tracks. We drove to an area of small cliffs and spent a very pleasant night listening to the sea (S 13.916088 W 76.336270). In the morning we saw sea lions and birds (I am reliably informed that there are several types of "birds" and that it is possible and even pleasurable to identify them, some are not very intelligent and have blue feet).

The lines at Nasca are said to be between 500 and 2500 years old and are a mixture of very large geometric shapes (mostly trapezoids) and images (mostly of animals). The shapes are kilometers long and very straight, the animals are typically 100 metres in length. They can only be really appreciated from the air.

The lines are:

  • running tracks.
  • symbolic irrigation maps.
  • shaman trance images.
  • alien landing strips.
  • none of the above.

The left photograph (above) taken from under the wing of a six seater plane, banked heavily to the right, shows some of the lines and figures in true colour and contrast. The diagonal line at the top is the modern highway. All the other markings are ancient. The centre photograph, which shows the lines more clearly has been enhanced. The right photograph is an enlarged portion of the centre photograph and shows "the tree" near a viewing platform beside the road.

The photograph to the right shows "the humming bird" and is about 150 metres long.

The entire economy of the town of Nasca is based on tourists flying over the lines in four and six seater planes. Because you need to be low to see the figures and you want to look directly down on them the planes have to bank hard (45 degrees?). Because there are passengers on both sides of the plane you have bank alternately left and right. Nearly everybody who takes a flight over the lines feels sick. Many people are sick. It took some of us 24 hours to fully recover from the the flight.

The road from Nasca to Cusco has several passes above 4000 metres with spectacular scenery and many places to camp. You can see three of the four types of South American camelids by the road side, some wild, some domesticated. (Alpaca, vicuna, llama. The fourth camelid is the guanaco.)

Stephen Stewart.

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