Send Lawyers, Guns, and $$$ Tour
Only once before in my life can remember ever visiting a place that compared with what one finds at Nazca in Southern Peru. Nearly thirty years ago had the opportunity to visit Balkh in Northern Afghanistan and there found the remains of Alexander the Great's Imperial Capital of the Bactrian Empire laying in total ruin at your feet. No connection to that past remained and the remains had long since been sifted for every possible article of value or utility, much of which was being offered to the unprincipled visitor.
The Nazca Culture existed during the time of Christ and disappeared into the desert region it occupied. A region that seldom if ever sees any moisture not supplied by the small river that flows down from the highlands. The people clung to subsistence as long as they could before disappearing much like the Anazasi of the American Southwest. What they left behind is amazing and in a profound way very sad.
Our trip to Nazca from Lima was aboard the Ormeño Bus Company's "Royal Class". The bus was double deck with all forty passengers sitting on the top level, while the lower level housed airplane size restrooms, the kitchen and crew quarters. It was far more comfortable than the airplane class we travel, with fully reclining seats with footrests, Sony personal televisions for the movies and gigantic windows for viewing the countryside. Rolling out of Lima you watch a panorama of poverty revealing how the vast majority of Lima residents must live. The further you travel from the city the more bleak it becomes. It was very much like some post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, with a total lack of vegetation, huts comprised of every available building materials and fires burning and producing great clouds of blowing black smoke.
Eventually this gave way to total desolation as the Pan American Highway clung to the coastline and was fronted to the East by sand dunes that were hundreds of feet high, far matching any dunes we've seen and that includes the Sahara and Great Sand Dunes Park in Colorado. Several river valleys along the coast sheltered the wine growing region of Peru, the Napa Valley or more correctly the Pisco Valley.
Once leaving the "wine country" you see nothing but monochromatic desert that matches much of the terrain of North Africa. Palm tree oasis popped up wherever some moisture was found but for miles upon miles nothing seemed to be alive. This road continues on to Chile where it crosses the Atacama Desert, renowned to be the most desolate place in the world - somewhere we most decidedly do not intend on visiting.
The town of Nazca seems to exist only to serve the tourist trade and the young men we spoke to there voiced a high degree of dispair over their prospects for the future. Our hotel was a holiday camp atmosphere that seems to cater to many Lima residents who seek a sunny getaway. There were only five of us there at the time, three Korean businessmen who are operating a petroleum venture in the Peruvian Amazon region and ourselves.
The Nazca Lines were created nearly 2,000 years ago in the desert and these huge designs have survived because no weathering seems to happen there. We boarded a six passenger small plane along with the Koreans to view the lines. We've never been in such a small plane but the pilot seemed very competent and the blue sky and total lack of air movement seemed to signal good flying.
The small airport provides flights for the tourists and the 45 minute excursion follows a strict flight pattern that the pilot might be able to do in his sleep, though he appeared awake the whole time while providing a steady commentary. There is certainly no question that the Nazca people created very clear and vivid images of animals, geometric figures and one figure that the locals refer to as the "astronaut". Prefer to think that these lines were created to communicate with the powers that the Nazca people believed controlled their lives. How they were created is unknown but too often we fail to understand the time factor involved in creating many elements of the ancient world. Years and even decades are not relevant, but one must think in at least terms of hundreds of years to bring an idea to fruition. Given our modern concept of time we may not allow for the much trial and error that went into creations we might feel sprung up overnight. The Nazca people left no record of why and how and so far no one has been able to fully understand, but "spacemen" just does not work for us.
Safe back on the ground, from what really seemed like some amusement park ride, we went to see something that we had read about but that in no way prepared us for it. The Chauchilla "Cemetery" lies fifteen miles from the small river valley where the Nazca people lived their lives. It was here that they went to spend eternity. Here were constructed adobe tombs where the mummified bodies of the Nazca were interred. These tombs were known to the people of the region but the archeologists found them far too late. The tombs have been looted over history and on a bleak desert are scattered the bones and remnants of the culture. Pot shards, llama skins and crude fabric clothing are mixed with bones of the Nazca and left in the blazing sun.
Stone lined paths have been cleared through the area so that the visitors might see, but leave as undisturbed as possible, the remains. It is such a very sad place for here you stand amidst a people that lived two thousand years ago and what is left is given no respect or for the most part recognition. The most intact mummies have been taken away for preservation but so much has been left behind. We were told that much searching continues in the area, but of course that searching is being done by the "grave robbers". One would hope that sometime in the future that Peru or some international agency may be able to restore some dignity to what remains.
We rode the BIG BUS back to Lima and have refreshed overnight and are going off to the north of Peru later this morning to visit Trujillo. Expect that the final report will come on Friday before we head of to the airport to return home. We are both doing well, though living a vegetarian diet in this part of the world is a great way to shed some of those extra pounds.
-LOIS & JOHN
© Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan
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