Lines in the sand
22 Sep 2005
|Well, what a fun time I am having here! I got here late last night, after driving through hundreds of miles of sand dunes and scrubby desert, though luckily no bingo this time. I think I forgot to mention that not only do you have to show your passport to buy bus tickets, but you get filmed as you board the bus and then again before the bus leaves. Years of armed conflict have made them a bit security conscious here.
Anyway, this morning I got up and booked myself on to a flight over the Nazca lines tomorrow morning. All todays flights were sold out. You definitely need to fly over them, as I noticed when driving through them this afternoon, they cannot be appreciated at all from ground level, which is why they were only discovered so recently. For those who are not familiar with the Nazca lines, these are enormous pictures and lines made on the desert, kilometres long in some cases, and thought by some to be either made by or for spacepeople. Hmmm...
Anyway, while I was booking my flight, I was looking at this picture of this sand dune - Cerro Blanco - that is 2600 metres high, and claims to be the biggest in the world. So I say to the bloke, where is that, and can I go there now! And he says we leave at 4.30 a.m. for that one, as it is so damn hot toiling up it, which I am sure all those of you who have walked up even small sand dunes can testify. Can you imagine! Anyway, not one to be put off by minor details, I still wanted to know where it was, thinking I can get there myself. So he took me outside and pointed to this mountain on the edge of town, except it was not a mountain, it was a sand dune, and it was 40 kms away. It was very big. Unfortunately also hard to get to without getting badly lost in the desert too.
So off I went to Ica, which if I had been a bit better organised I would have stayed in last night anyway, rather than going 200 kms back towards Lima again. The collectivos round here are huge Dodge Sedans - like the ones they have in Syria - and after much waiting round in the searing heat, we zoom off to Ica, across the Nazca Desert and through the lines. The signs, incidentally, say this is a Zona Intangible, whatever the hell that is. So I get to Ica and get a little tuktuk thing to Huacachina, which is this desert oasis surrounded by huge dunes for miles and miles. My intention is to go sandboarding, having heard it is easier than snowboarding or skiing, neither of which I have ever done. However, watching people struggle up the dunes in the blazing heat for at least thirty minutes for one minute of sliding down while I sipped my papaya juice in the shade, put me off that idea. No ski lifts here.
So instead, I joined a group of seven Hungarians, and we hired a dune buggy and driver and a bunch of sand boards. Christ, it was fun! It was like a white-knuckle theme park ride for hours rather than minutes. We roared around the desert, zooming up hills and down cliffs - particularly compelling - and whizzing along slopes and then turning down into them just before we rolled, and so on...you get the idea. It was fantastic! And we would stop occasionallly at the tops of near cliffs - some hundreds of metres high - so me and three of the Hungarians could board. By about the fourth cliff I had stopped falling down and could get a respectable line and turn of speed. I have discovered something else I would like to do more of! And I seem to have sand everywhere now.
And then an icecream, bye to the Hungarians, and back to Ica, which involved an hour waiting around to get the necessary seven people to fill up the Dodge, and then a two hour drive. And I wish the driver would not cross himself every time he saw another vehicle. And as a lot of the people in this part of Peru are descended from African slaves, some nice Criolla scoff for tea, including potatoes in cheese and chili sauce. Yum!
Sep 23: Should probably have made two seperate entries, but too late now. Anyway, this morning up to fly over the Nazca lines. A Dutch girl, a Norwegian guy and me in a little four seat Cessna. We were not up for much over half an hour, which frankly was a good job as I was going to be sick if it was much longer. Apparently about 50% of people are. This is not just because of turbulence off the desert, but all the sharp banking involved in letting both sides of the plane take good pics. I still feel a bit funny now, about eight hours later.
Anyway, it was well interesting, actually quite amazing. Hundreds of square miles of desert where it has not rained since the last Ice Age, watered slightly by rivers down from the Andes. And this desert plain near Nazca is covered in enormous pictures, patterns and lines, some several miles long. They can only be seen from the air, and were not discovered until pilots said about them in the 20s. They are quite hard to see nevertheless, as you can tell from my pics. The animals are cool, but personally I found the lines and blocks more impressive, some of which went on for miles, over hills, etc. These came later than the pictures, and sometimes over them. The most plausible theory appears to be that they were for sacred purposes, probably people walking the lines and pictures, you may be able to see that the pictures are single lines. Myself, I was brought up to believe it was a spaceport for UFOs, which a few people round here still think.
So after watching an interesting BBC documentary on the lines in the airport, back to town. After (another criolla) lunch, etc, we three hired a taxi to take us out to this pre-Inca cemetery, where we took photos of dead people in the burning sun. Then we parted ways, I visited a local archeological museum to further improve my understanding of the Nazca civilisation, and in a few hours I leave for Cusco to meet Erica. I have a day there in which to find a suitable hotel, wish me luck! As well as seeing Erica, I also can not wait to be back at altitude as it is so damn hot and dusty here, and I can not seem to get all the sand out of my ears.