Today is a red letter day in bold capitals and lights. I have seen the mysterious lines drawn in the desert by the Nazca people before they were overrun by the Incas.
If you don´t know what the Nazca Lines are click here.
The hostel owner sold me the flight last night even before I had unpacked. I knew I was being given the hard sell, but advice in the guide book and in Lima was that flights are difficult to get without booking ahead. It wasn´t cheap, but I have no objection to paying enough to make sure the plane is properly maintained. And at the end of the day I got more than enough value for money.
He had me out of bed and ready to go at 7 am. He had also recruited a couple for the flight so we filled his elderly, rattly little car for the drive to the airport. There we admired a squadron of parked Cessnas and even saw one or two take off. Meanwhile Sr Entrepreneur was engaged in earnest conversation with flight operators out of our earshot. If I were a cynic I might think that he had taken our money and was only now arranging delivery of the service. But other locals arrived with prospective sightseers in tow, so maybe that´s just the way it´s always done.
After a period of this inactivity we were ushered to a neighbouring operator´s office and shown a video about the Lines. In fact, it was mostly about Maria Reiche, the German mathematician who became obsessed by the lines and spent decades mapping and interpreting them. Since it was almost all a commentary in Spanish while actors mimed various scenes from her life it was not terribly helpful.
The couple had signed up for the economy trip, but I had selected the deluxe tour of everything so we had to be separated. It was now well past 8 o´clock and I was taken to a third operator´s office; this time Condor Air, the largest and most reputable aircraft operator. I was told that I would be going on my trip with a Japanese couple and since they had paid US$100 would I please not let on that I had paid $10 less. We would go up at 9:00.
The pleasant young Japanese couple didn´t discuss money so I told no fibs. We completed forms and promptly at 9 o´clock we were told that we would take off in a quarter of an hour. We sat optimistically by the elderly turnstyle that served as the departure gate and I peered around for birdlife. Hooray, my first Peruvian hummingbird. Tick. Hopfully the bird books I have ordered to be sent to Cusco will allow firm identification.
One of the big, geometric designs.
Finally, at about 9:30, we were admitted to the plane. As the ´single´I got to sit in front by Marco, the pilot. The economy tour doesn´t even fly by all the Nazca figures. We got the full set and the three further on at Palpa. Marco flew to each major figure and circled it twice, once to give those on the right a condor´s eye view and once standing on the port wing so that the passenger behind the pilot got the photo opportunity.
The ´Spaceman´in the bottom RH corner.
Hope you can see it.
They are quite amazing. The drawings are accurate, but just not the same as the real thing. I was taking photos almost constantly. The batteries in the digital camera expired, but I was ready with replacements. It was an hour of constant wonder at the lines, geometric shapes and representations of birds and animals.
And because Marco had arrived late he donated an extra side trip to get an aerial view of Nazca township and the old wells that pre-Hispanic residents used to access an underground river.
Finally I had the rare treat of seeing the landing while looking ahead. I think the Japanese couple were amused by how thrilled I was with our tour.
Pilot Marco with a very happy customer.
From the airport I spotted two large birds circling on a thermal. No, they weren´t condors, but they reminded me of another objective of this visit to Peru.
When my head returned to Earth I was sensible enough to book my onward bus ride to Cusco before setting off to get a closer look at the Lines. There is an observation tower about 20 mins drive from Nazca; a modest 2 soles (90c) on the bus. From the top there are two glyphs clearly visible. In fact they are easy to see from the first flight of steps, but are quite invisible from the road. All the pedestrian is aware of is a rocky plain stretching away in all directions. The big rectangle can be made out, but was that because I already knew it was there?
And I had to change batteries again. That´s a pair of alkaline batteries exhausted within a morning. But what a morning.