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Etch-a-Sketch Popinjay

Nazca, Peru


As soon as we got off the bus in Nazca we were confronted by hoards of touts waving leaflets at us, all desperate for our business. We hadn't seen anything like this for a while, maybe since Asia, but it soon became clear that this really is a one-trick town: all the touts seemed really surprised that we had somewhere to stay. Often they are surprised you have somewhere to stay already, but here it was at all; the representative of every company offering their flights seemed keen to emphasise that they had luggage storage. Clearly most people do not have a hostel to store their luggage in. We had been thinking about staying for two nights, just to slow down a little before Joanne left, but the presumption was already making us have second thoughts. Walking through town to our hostel made our minds up: we would only stay one night after all. It wasn't that the place was horrible; it just seemed like there wasn't much to it.

At last we were near the coast, so for lunch we went our for cebiche; or ceviche, they don't seem to be able to make their minds up, but since they are pronounced the same way in Spanish it doesn't make that much difference. I ordered mixto and Joanne ordered simple or solo pescado. They were both delicious and came with a big pile of large white corn kernels, a few slices of some unusual Andean potato a bit like a sweet potato, and garnished with seaweed. At last decent food again! They also gave us a little pile of salted maiz cancha or “corn nuts”, which is like unpopcorn. That night we drank a bottle of Peruvian wine. It was OK.

As usual we were up early, not long after seven, and Joanne realised that she had misplaced the guidebook. This wasn't too serious for her because she was going home soon, but I was going to be in trouble without any kind of guide. We asked at the hostel but, even though she was sure she had left it at the internet PC the night before, nobody had handed it in. We went all the way to the cebicheria in case we had left it there, but they had found it either. The most likely explanation remaining is that some scumbag other traveller just put it in their bag.

We couldn't investigate further because it was time for our hostel pickup to see the famous Nazca Lines. First we were taken to a hotel where we were shown an introduction video all about the Lines. But before it was finished we had to go back to reception to be whisked off to the airport, which was very small, with lots of screen all round the waiting area, showing various videos about the Nazca Lines in different languages.

Soon we were bundled into a four-seater Cessna C172, along with a Brazilian guy. It's so small that we couldn't even take our bags in with us; they had to go into a small boot under the wing. As soon as we started down the runway I remembered that I love flying (though not flights), and I particularly enjoy flying in these little planes. We climbed a bit and flew for less than five minutes, then the pilot asked me if I was ready before banking sharply to the left, while chanting under the wing, under the wing, under the wing like a mantra. In fact he kept reminding me of the hypnotist character from Little Britain, saying look into the eyes, look into the eyes, not around the eyes, except this time it was look under the wing, look under the wing, not towards the tail.

Anyway there it was. The Whale.

After circling it a couple of times at what seemed to almost ninety degrees, and checking I'd seen it, he flattened out, turned back, and went around it the other way for the other two (I was on the pilot's side). Next it was the Trapezoids.

In fact there are loads of lines, shapes, and “runways” all over this desert. The stylised animals only make up a small fraction of the marks in the desert, though the vast majority are very long, very straight lines. Next up was The Astronaut.

I thought this was a bit silly. Why isn't it just a “person”? Anyway it is quite different from the rest in that it's done on a hill, and it's much messier. Maybe the hill made the work so much harder to do, maybe it's a fake later addition, though I think the archaeologists would know about it, or maybe it was made by aliens. Stupid aliens, who can't draw neatly. It's just not up to the same standard are the rest. Then it was the very impressive Monkey.

This is particularly impressive because the nearest monkey would have been even further away than the nearest whale for these desert dwellers. Next up the Dog.

People say, yeah, but how did they make them so perfect?. Well, I think they are incredibly impressive, outstanding achievements, but perfect? Have you even seen a dog that looks like that? It's got two tails apart from anything else, but maybe that's supposed to represent it wagging. Perfect? No. Next Spider.

This one's interesting because it's the first that it is so obvious that the animal shape leads on from other more usual straight lines. One of its feet has been started at a pair of parallel lines. Next the Condor.

A bit less obvious than some of the others, but not bad considering that it is maybe more than one thousand years old. The desert gets so little rain, that even small accidental marks made on the desert stay for a very long time; tyre marks made in the vicinity of the Lines in the 20s are still visible today. The Lines however were made deliberately and are even more resilient than the tyre marks. Next up was the incredibly clear Humming Bird.

I have some doubts about the names they have give all of these. I think the design for the “humming bird” is very similar to the “condor”. Anyway, the humming bird also has obvious construction features, starting at its beak. It reminds me an awful lot of Etch-a-Sketch, where it is not possible to lift the “pen” from the “paper”, so you have to sneakily connect all shapes with construction lines. In fact I wonder if some of the less distinct faded shapes all over the desert are first attempts that have been erased, in an analogous way to Etch-a-Sketch: agitating all of those cleared rocks back where they came from, would make a reasonable job of clearing the image. Next, we passed over some marks in the desert which the pilot did not point out to us. I took photos anyway.

Then it was another short flight and we were at the parrot.

Not sure how they know what it is. Doesn't look much like a parrot to me. It was one of the most obvious images from the sky though. Next I think it must be the Alcatraz or Heron Bird, but it doesn't really look like the image on the map they gave us, and it's very hard to make out.

Then the images they call Tree and Hands.

The tree I am happy with, but I think “hands” looks like it's supposed to be some sort of other bipedal creature, probably another bird. Between the two figures, they have built a viewing tower, and isn't it remarkable luck that they could build the Transamerican Highway right through this site and only skim past a couple of images without ruining any? For good measure he took us past the parrot again.

Joanne had been looking a bit green for a while, but had not needed the sick bag in front of her. On the return flight I started feeling slightly sick, but even before we landed I was feeling better again. I think it was all the looking at the back of my camera instead of out the window. When we got out of the plane the Brazilian guy in front was grey and sat with his head between his knees for a while. Even when the bus came to take us back to our hostels he didn't seem any better. Everyone we had spoken to before this had mentioned feeling very sick, so Joanne had taken a pill for motion sickness, thankfully, whereas I thought sheer machismo and bravado would get me through.

Just to prove that we were feeling sick, we went to a much cheaper, non-touristy cebicheria for lunch. We also ordered chicha morada which I had seen on menus for a while, but it was only on the Colca Canyon tour that I realised it means purple corn. It's really niced, not too sweet, and flavoured with lots of spices.

Then we took a bus to Ica. This time I opted to pay the extra S1 for ejecutivo to avoid the misery we had suffered on the Andoriña bus on the way to Nazca.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on November 16, 2009 from Nazca, Peru
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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