Nazca Lines: The Mysterious Markings in the Peruvian Desert

Nazca Lines: The Mysterious Markings in the Peruvian Desert

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A model of some of the Nazca Lines Or how I paid $85 to vomit over a UNESCO World Heritage site!

I was excited about Nazca. I didn’t know much about the ancient civilization that gave the town its name, except that they had left the famous ‘Nazca Lines’ in the desert, deep in Southern Peru.  I was hoping to learn more about them, and understand why they drew the lines in the sand that could only be appreciated from the air.

There was a group of 4 of us who ‘hopped off’ our Peru Hop bus at Nazca. The company had booked our flight for the morning after we arrived in this dusty town, pretty much in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by bleak desert. That evenin I made my way to the Nazca Lines Hotel, where every evening a friendly astrologer gives talks about the possible origins of the lines and points out the stars and planets visible in the sky that night. The main presentation is pre-recorded, and has sessions in French at 6pm, English at 7pm, and Spanish at 8pm, although make sure you check in advance at the hotel front desk to confirm. That night we peered through the telescope to see Saturn.  To me it looked like a bright white circle with the rings around it; and although it looked fake, I was still impressed after my first peek through a telescope!

The Mysteries of the Nazca Lines Remain Unsolved

Nazca Lines: a model of the monkey bioglyph
Nazca Lines: a model of the monkey bioglyph

The presentation about the lines was as informative as it could be.  No-one really knows the true meaning behind the lines, although there are plenty of theories that try to explain why the Nazca people created thousands of geoglyphs in the desert sand. Some lines seem to point towards water sources, others to constellations or the exact point on the horizon where the sun rises & sets on the summer solstice. Other shapes & drawings represent animals, like the monkey, hummingbird, condor & spider. Other theories claim aliens were involved. Yet no theory satisfactorily explains all of these possibilities. As new technology develops, more lines are being discovered, but instead of helping to solve the mystery, they just add to its complexity!

Nazca Lines - The monkey
the best shot I got of the monkey – spot the difference??

The most famous investigator who dedicated 40 years of her life to the lines is Maria Reich, who laboriously documented, cleaned and tried to understand the lines. After 30 years in the desert sun she started to go blind, and suffered from skin cancer, spending the last 10 years of her life living in the hotel which now houses the little planetarium where we were.  It was fascinating to hear about her and her obsession with the mysterious lines.  After the talk I spent the rest of the evening in my hostel, Hostal Buen Pastor (I had booked a private room to treat myself) and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull – surprised to find Indy travelling to Nazca, just like me!  Of course the film is terrible, but I recognised it & even dubbed in Spanish it was the best thing on TV.

The Flight over the Nazca Lines

Finally ready for the flight ove the Nazca Lines!
Finally ready for the flight ove the Nazca Lines!

The following morning we were picked up from our respective hostels at 8am, and were driven to the airport around 10 minutes away to take our flight. When we arrived at the airport we were told we would have to wait an hour or so before we could fly, so we settled down one the plastic seats to watch a national geographic programme on the lines. An hour later, still no news, so we went to ask. Maybe around 11am they said, maybe not. Great. So we went back to watching the video for the 3rd time. The documentary did have some interesting points, mixed with terrible recreations of how the Nazca lived and possibly disposed of a headless corpse on investigator had found. Tired of the awful acting, and frustrated at the wait I was thrilled when they finally called us up!

Our plane flies over the 'Spaceman' line on the rock
Our plane flies over the ‘Spaceman’ line on the rock

We were led out onto the tarmac where rows of tiny planes waited. We all took our photos next to our plane, were given a somewhat premature certificate to say we had taken the flight, and boarded according to weight in the plane. I was crammed into the back left seat; my knees pressed up against the seat in front. Not the most comfortable position I’ve ever been in, but I was too excited to care! We finally took off and I was amazed that the little plane made it off the ground. We flew for a couple of minutes then the co-pilot talked us through what we were seeing. First came the whale, on the right side, followed by a stomach churning turn to see it on the left side too. I didn’t like the sensation but kept looking at the horizon to try and keep my balance.

Travel Sickness Over the Nazca Lines

Starting to feel queasy.....This continued for another couple of shapes, with the plane performing aerobatic manoeuvres to allow both sides to see the lines below. The last line I remember seeing before I vomited was the monkey (only fourth on the list), then I spent the rest of the flight peering out of the window from the top of my sick bag, and returning to empty my guts once again. I saw the hummingbird & the condor, and have vague memories of the spider before it got too much and I didn’t even bother to look out of the window any more. Thankfully it was a short flight; perhaps 15 – 20 minutes, and it was soon over. I felt too ill to be disappointed. Weeks of anticipation, 3 hours in the airport, $85 for 5 minutes and a whole day of feeling rough as arse. Excuse the expression, but I really felt awful!

I wouldn’t want to tell anyone not to follow their dream and take the flight, but if you are remotely prone to motion sickness I really don’t recommend the flight. I had taken all the precautions I could; 2 travel sickness pills (3 hours earlier when my flight was due to leave), my pressure point wrist bands, polo mints, but those lurches to the left and right were all too much. Even those in our group with stronger stomachs said they felt nauseous, so it all depends on you & your disposition. I am glad I tried, but certainly won’t be repeating the experience.

I flew over the Nazca Lines and all I got was this lousy certificate
I flew over the Nazca Lines and all I got was this lousy certificate

I also didn’t have time to be underwhelmed by the lines themselves; some said they were smaller than they expected, less photogenic than they’d hoped. However this isn’t about taking photos, it is about the experience. And at least for me it was more worthwhile attending the talk at the planetarium to learn more about the lines, and seeing a diagram from solid ground was more rewarding and enjoyable than that awful flight. Each to their own though, and it still boggles my mind how and why the Nazca people created those lines in the desert stretching over hundreds of square miles, when only their gods could see them from above.

I left Nazca with mixed feelings, of mystery, disappointment and nausea!  Hopefully my next stop in Huacachina would be better.

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8 thoughts on “Nazca Lines: The Mysterious Markings in the Peruvian Desert

  1. Oh no how terrible. Nothing worse than an experience being dampened by feeling unwell. The day I visited the killing fields I was really ill and had to keep running to the bathroom to throw up . Nevertheless I was not going to miss it

  2. Oh no! I’m so sensitive to movement, even stop and go traffic makes me ill. It would be a dream but I really appreciate the warning. Sorry to hear you got so sick love. But it seems amazing otherwise and I think definitely worth it! 😀

  3. Great post – I have it on my list to write basically exactly the same thing. I hate that I have to say this, because I’ve always been a big advocate for seeing the world yourself instead of settling for the version we read about in books. But I was so sick on this flight that I would absolutely recommend people just look at the photos of the lines in their books. I didn’t even get any decent photos because the plane was shifting so violently from side to side to let passengars on each side of the plane get a view. While I didn’t actually throw, up, my god I came close lol!!

  4. I have never heard of this and it was so interesting to read about it. It’s amazing how Maria Reich spent 40 years of her life dedicated to this! I am like you and would have probably taken all the precautions and still would have wound up sick. I am highly prone to motion sickness 🙁

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