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A Tour Etched in Heaven – Nazca, Peru

A Tour Etched in Heaven
Nazca, Peru

This was a surprise for me because after a tour of the fabled Machu Picchu, appropriately described as heavenly, another one was in the offing.

Peru’s most popular and sensational attraction came along. No best description applies to this tour than “A Tour Etched in Heaven” for there’s plenty of etchings down below and scribbles high above the sky.

Winding up my tour of disappointing Cuzco and the surrounding attractions, I was faced with the terrible prospect of entering another realm of misadventure.

The 3-Seater Scribbler Plane
The 3-Seater Scribbler Plane
My intended Peruvian itinerary after Cuzco is to explore the surrounding shore-towns of Lake Titicaca where another distinctive style of Colonial Architecture, far different from anywhere else is established. It’s where the marriage of Castilian style and the Aymarans’ indigenous skills and predisposition backed up by the legacy of Incan and Tiahuanaco culture is sown, particularly gravitating around the town of Puno and stretching all the way to the border with Bolivia.

It spans 100 plus kilometers of pure dry and high (desert and altitude) travel.

Too spiritually and physically devastated to lug on, I discontinued heading on to this swath of terrain where information is not as bountifully abundant and where the best hopes of finding hospitable colonial church caretakers are iffy, just the same, if not dim just like in Cuzco.

I have made a decision not to pursue it and instead moved on to Arequipa, nine plus hours to the south, and thus have enough lazy time to unwind and go easy in Lima afterwards.

On my return to Lima, with a surplus day or two, I decided to see the mysterious lines of Nazca.

In Lima airport, I got into another of those misadventures – a taxi driver who deliberately wanted to make a quick buck out of me by declaring midway along the trip that the fare is quoted in US dollars, not in soles. Where in Peru can you find a very mundane business of riding a cab just like buying something in a convenience store where the mode of payment acceptable is other than the native currency? If it were yen or pesos, it’s OK, but if it’s in US dollars – factored by three point two times the local, no way Jose!

I picked a spot to let him let go off me at a gas station where if the terminology is right, I was “helped” by the attendants to plug a taxi after explaining my predicament, then being asked for a tip. Asking help for one’s plight and handicap while miserably weighed down by luggage and expecting sympathy to realize that the rescuing attendants and the taxi driver are just a little shade better, is a big joke.

The new driver demanded a third of the quote of the original but dropped me three blocks short of my hostel just to avoid the traffic congestion of a holidaying Lima, while knowing that I am burdened with my belongings. I paid him based on what is stipulated on the verbal contract, while he violated his part. He didn’t want to kill his time.

I think it’s safe for me to conclude that because of the unusual climate in Peru and because of historical antecedents of being hoodwinked by politicians, people tend to be on the cold and apathetic side.

Lima’s historic center at that time was having a sort of noontime masquerade ball in the streets and semi-paralyzed by revelers.

It wasn’t the most appropriate time. Everything was closed – the travel agencies where I intend to book this day for Nazca, and the tourist information office, the one sole lifesaver – as it has always been predictably – closed. Police are not much of help.

For crying out loud, what does local holiday got to do with confused expats and tourist information offices? These offices operate the way bureaucrats deal with the locals, as if they and we have the same Peruvian biological clocks.

All I have to get by with is my 24/7 reliable guidebook and an open operating bus company to Nazca. The most devastating thing for me to happen is to be stranded. I can surrender to involuntary state of confinement in my home but not while vacationing out-of-town. So numbing myself from the frightening thought of getting nowhere rather than going nowhere within the bounds of my hotel room in a holiday-observing Lima, I hastily made a do-it-yourself risky journey to Nazca on a 5:00 p.m. bus trip where a ghostly party of none would be well wishing and welcoming me at midnight.

Nazca is about six and a half hours south of Lima.

I actually thought of the odds and consequences. First, the town is so small, and a bus terminal would be kind enough to offer its sheltering roof and fences to me while I make it through the night. But when I arrived there, just as I have not gotten off the bus, hotel attendants were earnestly awaiting for any unbooked traveler holding signs advertising their business.

I latched on immediately to one that guided me to a hostel just across the terminal.

My guidebook says that I should be up by 7:00 a.m. instructing me to proceed to the airport to book for a sightseeing plane tour for the earlier, the better to view the Lines. And by luck, there’s one tour specialist right at the hostel reception waiting for me.

Don Eduardo came to pick-up one sightseer. I was amazed by his clear Latin-accented English but I wasn’t convinced, determined to follow my plan and get a ride through the airport. I told him I do not easily commit myself to dealing with people in the streets, or along the way. He gave me his card, which declares that he is the proprietor of a tour company that covers the Nazca Lines. He mentioned his daughter who studies medicine in Florida and whose Filipina classmate came along to see Peru and the Nazca Lines, plus the fact that he is a pilot. Is he or has he been a pilot, I didn’t pick it up, I must have been distracted by his prosthetic eye, which doesn’t synchronize with the real one, but all those sealed my business with him.

After picking up two more passengers, we arrived on a long strip of tour plane companies, much like an aircraft’s version of a car dealership row. At the back of this parked series of planes is a long stretch of airstrip shared by these companies. Doing the usual rounds of photo-op, we then were lead to the office to see a National Geographic-type documentary of the Nazca Lines before we boarded.

Condor's eye view of the oasis of Nazca
Condor’s eye view of the oasis of Nazca
But I was the odd one out or the even one out for I didn’t fit in the three-passenger quota ride. It was a bit a limbo-like state of waiting when I have not booked previously and they need to fill in a three-seat quota in advance, or if by luck, there’s one empty seat, I’m the first in line.

But the business didn’t pick up easily during the early morning. I lost count of all the planes from other companies that have taken off, and lost count of the vendors as well that paid respect and supplicated on my knees, showing their souvenir items. But Don Eduardo assured me; he said that there was an unusual clogging in the airlanes, and that the airport control tower has to give him a clearance first. All crew seemed to be busy walking back and forth with their matching hand held CBs for effect.

Finally, after three hours of waiting, a couple showed-up and the crew hauled me up on the front seat next to the pilot.

The smartly uniformed pilot, dressed in his immaculate white shirt with rank lines on both his short sleeves, introduced himself. He is capable of explaining a smattering of English alternately switching to Castellano courtesy, for the other co-sightseer couple as well. But because of the loud roar of the plane engine, I couldn’t ask him to explain his big slash scar under his chin.

Call it surreal, but the proprietor has a missing eye and the pilot has a big scar under his chin, and they are in this accident-prone business.

Seatbelts fastened, door lock latched, cameras ready, I am ready, and most importantly pilot and engine ready – lights, camera, and action!

It was an exhilarating and quite dizzying ride, my first time to be on the cockpit. The front row-seat could have been more defining, frontal visual display of maneuverings was more intensely vivid. I admit it knocked me off my senses a little bit. There’s one puke bag ready to be pulled-out whenever I need it.

The pilot commenced the rounds as soon as the plane is lifted up 500 feet up in the air. “In two minutes you will see the astronaut…In three minutes, you will see the hummingbird…In two minutes, you will see the whale…In two minutes you will see the monkey…etc, etc.” He said, “Look to your right”, as he guided us with another hand pointing, and another on the plane’s steer and made loop-the-loops. Overall, there were twelve graffiti sightings, compressed into US$35 worth of 30 minutes aerial flyovers.

Everything went smoothly and safely, I went down happy, satisfied, and a little bit disoriented.

The Nazca Lines are truly amazing. I’m not to believe the extra terrestrial aspect of its story but I’m more likely to believe that they were done by humans. From the documentary, it is suggested that these miles-long straight Lines, which coincidentally point to a mountain where there is a source of water, or the path of the sun are “open two-dimensional temples” – no columns, walls, nor roof, just as what an anthropologist describes. The Line is the nave, and the mountain or the sun’s location in the horizon is the altar. It’s a kind of worshipping tool to guide the natives as they make a direct ceremonial contact with their divine benefactor bringing along their offerings. Sensibly, they’re not sensational airstrips for a visiting alien from outer space.

The Lines orient like needles to a magnet in a certain direction, the tail end flaring while the converging end, narrow. They are generously long and straight, the vastness and flatness of the plane has made that all possible. What do you do if a teacher hands you an enormously large piece of blackboard as far as the eye can see, a ton of chalk, and deprived you of water for days? You would scribble all over “Please give me water” in any language communicably understandable.

As for the zoomorphic forms, the obviously vast and flat space makes so much room for creativity and these graphic images are so fittingly appropriate for an endless canvas, beyond anyone’s perception scale. There’s just no surprise that these seemingly simple lines but revealing from the air are actually etched lines. They are so hard to visualize from a man’s eye view, plowed and removed of its top surface to reveal a tone discoloration in the ground. A pamphlet I bought augmenting the bird’s eye view explanation of the tour says it all.

Two-Dimensional Temples - More simple than Zen worship
Two-Dimensional Temples – More simple than Zen worship
The ancient graffitists who inspired the nasty writings scattered all over the mountains around Cuzco nowadays by modern day vandals might have something to do also with Incan cities laid-out inconceivably incomprehensibly on the ground but revealed shapes from the sky’s point of view, something hard to believe. I stumbled on this revelation while in the National Museum in Peru and still couldn’t believe how the Incas seemed to be predisposed to symbolically laying-out their cities such as Cuzco in the form of a jaguar and Machu Picchu in the form of a vulture.

Now it dawned on me, that somehow, the culture of the Nazcas was passed around to succeeding others, the Inca for one, and just now to this new generation, practically every mountain range around Cuzco is littered by their unsightly markings.

I returned to Lima midday and the trip enabled me to see the countryside of Peru, which is pervasively an endless void of fine sand dunes. I missed the cemetery attraction, my time eaten by the three-hours of wait at the Nazca tour. But the barren highway landscape offered an alternative curiosity. The highway stretch was sparsely dotted with small altars bedecked with flowers and candles, probably a marked accident spot.

In Lima terminal, just before I got off the bus, I scribbled these in the glass window: Arrived safe and sound!

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