Drawing a line in Nazca

Nazca and its alien spaceport – called the Nazca lines – was a fun experience. Not that I honestly would believe in the alien theory. But there are so many explanations as to why these lines exist, that I just randomly picked one that I liked most. Being a series of geoglyphs, the creation of the lines is believed to have happened between 200 BC and 700 AD. The lines represent a lot of different individual figures, such as hummingbirds, monkeys, fish, spiders and more. Some of other lines are simple geometric figures.

Nazca Lines near the visitors tower and the Panamericana highway

They are best visible from the air, although a small visitors tower outside of Nazca allows to view parts of the figures at a cheaper cost than an airplane ride. Being of shallow design, the lines were created by removing pebble stones from the ground – which then reveals the white colored earth underneath. Since the Nazca desert, where these lines are located, is one of the driest places on Earth, the temperature remains at a constant level all year round. There is no wind that would jeopardize the artistic work.

Although the whole area is about 500 square kilometers big, most of the figures are smaller than I expected. Actually, the biggest figure is “only” around 250 meters large. But that implies, that tourist airplanes have to fly at a low altitude to permit better visibility. Never having flown on a small airplane in my entire life, shelling out 60 US dollars for a 35 minute flight over the Nazca lines was a no-brainer. Anywhere else in the world, this would cost me more, with less spectacular views.

What no-one tells prior to booking these sightseeing plane trips: They really, really have to fly quite low and they will turn in “S”-shaped curves around all of the figures along the route – to permit passengers sitting on both sides to get a good picture. This results in a feeling close to a roller-coaster ride. To me, this just added to the fun, but the Canadian guy sitting next to me was apparently not enjoying this. When I looked at him after a couple of minutes, I was startled to see his entire face and t-shirt soaking wet. He was sweating like I haven’t seen anyone before. Coming back to the hostel, I met an Italian couple who also made the flight. Same there: The wife did not enjoy the ride at all. And he was also looking a bit shaky. Seems that I have a strong stomach or a naive trust in aerodynamics.

Nazca Lines

The exact reason to draw these figures in the desert remains a mystery. Which – obviously – makes me like this place even more. The most prominent theory comes from Maria Reiche, a German mathematician and archaeologist who discovered the lines during her work as assistant. She dedicated her life trying to solve the mystery and published theories in the book The Mystery of the Desert. The profits of this book went into the preservation of the area, hiring guards. If the lines of Nazca are still visible for tourists today, it is in large parts due to the neverending efforts of Maria Reiche, who succeeded to convince the Peruvian government in protecting the desert from public access. In 1995, the area became a UNESCO world heritage site. No wonder, she is respected like a hero among the locals, who are – ten years after her death – are still preserving her work in a museum.

Religious motivation is the base theory of Maria Reiche. The Nazca people would draw images for the goods to see them in the sky. They were supposed to point to distant places and celestial bodies. Other archeologists concluded, that there wasn’t evidence to support this theory. Another theory, of archeologist Johan Reinhard, interpretes the lines as being used as sacred paths leading to places where deities were worshiped. Another researcher found the patterns of the Nazca lines on ancient textiles wrapping the mummies of the Paracas culture. Some scientists speculate, that the lines altogether are an indication of Nazca-era hot air balloon capabilities, since the figures obviously can only be truly appreciated from the air.

Pharmacy store downtown Nazca

The best answer comes from Switzerland: Our famous “mad scientist”, Erich von Daeniken, saw the larger drawings as signals for alien space ships. And the longer, wider lines were meant to be landing strips for these vessels. Apparently, Maria Reiche did make a comment to this theory, by outlining that the imagined runways were indeed clear of stones with a soft underlying ground. She is being quoted with the words “I’m afraid that the spacemen would have gotten stuck”. But then again, we all love the outer-space theory, don’t we?

As if the Swiss “scientists” didn’t already stir enough possums in Nazca, I did draw some meaningless Nazca lines next to the parking lot of the airport. Hopefully, some archeologist will discover them in a couple of hundred years from now – and go absolutely mad by trying to figure out who made them and what their purpose would be. But then again, maybe that is the best explanation about how the original Nazca lines were created?

Standing in the shadow of the famous lines, the Nazca aqueducts are an equally interesting visit. Created about 1600 years ago by the same Nazca people, these aqueducts used ground water to irrigate the fields. 30 of these ancient structures are still working to form this clever water channeling, irrigation and storage system. Being for the most part underground – to prevent evaporation – “S”-shape curves in the channels slow down the flow to prevent erosion. The whole system needs only once per year maintenance by the local farmers. It is absolutely amazing to see such a massively ancient technology still in use.

Did I already mention that I liked this place a lot?