XXX. Nazca 18-19 June

XXX. Nazca

After the Museo Regionale in Ica we make the short drive to Nazca, check into a hotel, drink some coffee in its very pleasant walled garden, then go for a drive.  Nazca itself is not terribly appealing, but the hotel is pleasant.  In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we pack all our stuff and head for the airport to fly over the Lines. 

The Nazca lines are one of the things you’re really supposed to see in Perú. As a photographer, I’m less than excited.

Since before coming to Perú I’ve heard about the lines.  Fashioned long before the Inca era, these mysterious lines have spawned various theories about their creation. Extensive line drawings of various figures, they are visible only from the sky.  Because the Nazca culture lacked airplanes, it’s interesting that whoever built the lines could envision how they’d look from a vantage point no one on earth had yet enjoyed (unless, as some have hypothesized, visitors from some other planet were involved). It’s impressive that someone imagined it, and could create the lines; and no one truly knows why someone built them. For the Gods to see, or perhaps even the Sun [the Incas’ primary deity, though the Incas did not build the lines]. They’re a legitimate mystery.

Once here, though, I might almost pass on seeing them. We won’t be able to go until mid-afternoon, which will be flat, uninteresting light. We have a long way to drive to Arequipa. And the cost seems inflated – and has certainly increased a great deal recently. At the airport, lacking reservations, we find we’ll have to wait more than an hour to fly.

Ragna waits at the airport

I’ve seen a few pictures, and our landlady in Lima had several colorful tiles on the wall with graphic reproductions of the lines on them; but from the air, flying over desert with plenty of natural patterns and lines to camouflage The Lines, it ain’t easy to spot the first one when the pilot tells you it’s down there on the right. I turn in my seat and look, and do find it, but by then we’ve almost passed it, and he’s returning to give the woman sitting on the left a better look.

Strapped in the passenger seat of a small plane, it’s a struggle to spot the figure, organize a shot, get proper focus and lighting, all the time shooting through a window that’s going to limit the quality of the shot. I’m impressed by the lines, but no more than I was by the idea of them. Struggling to take what I know will be mediocre pictures at best, I don’t get to contemplate them. It’s nice enough countryside, the lines are unusual, and flying in a small plane is generally fun, although unsettling to some stomachs.

nature added many lines to "the Lines"

one line close to the highway from Ica

 

 
As we fly back toward the airport, I’m phrasing in my mind what I want to say about this: don’t take your camera. All my life, I’ve heard the old complaint that you lose the quality of an experience by photographing it. Usually I disagree. At Nazca, that complaint has more to it.  Not because the Lines are so spectacular or moving but because the photography is so difficult, and the potential returns so limited, that even the most avid and capable photographer ought not to bother. There are undoubtedly decent pictures, perhaps excellent pictures on sale. The reasons not to shoot more yourself begin with the fact that it takes a moment or two to distinguish the figures from the natural lines and patterns left by the centuries and the occasional rains. By the time you actually spot The Lines, you may not have time to frame and focus. If you could then shoot a marvelous photo, you’d want to do it; but: (1) you’re probably not there at the ideal time of day, and thus not shooting with the most favorable light; (2) you’re shooting through a window; (3) you’re high up, at the altitude at which they normally fly tourists; and (4) the pilot’s on a bit of a schedule, and although he makes a second pass at each figure so that all the passengers on each side of the plane get a good view, and might make a third pass at one if you requested it, you don’t have a pilot who’s wholly at your command. Also, the Lines aren’t like, say the Lincoln Memorial, where you might get lucky and shoot a juxtaposition of the right person or sign or object with the Memorial itself. From so many meters up, you ain’t gonna catch a burro or a llama in front of the lines, or a live condor perched by the drawing of a condor. So why bother?

With all those impediments to making a photograph you’d even bother to print, why not leave the camera at home?  Instead of fussing with it, look at the damned lines, wonder about them, observe something of them.  Concoct your own theory on their origins. See what they make you feel.

B. Chauchilla Cemetery

    By now it’s getting late to start driving, but even so we can’t resist stopping at the Cemetario about 30 km. south of Nazca.  After a 7 km. drive off the Pan-American Highway on a fairly easy dirt road through the desert, the Cemeterio turns out to be a dozen or so of what look like cellars with no houses on top of them.  Each is a rectangular hole in the ground, with rock walls, no ceiling, and a wooden structure above to provide shade.  Each is populated by one or more mummies, often with skulls, bones, cups, and other objects surrounding them.  Glancing down, one has almost the feeling of looking through a window into a family’s living room or kitchen.   But all the folks inside died a very long time ago.   Several hundred years before the Inca’s became the big deal in western South America.  These mummies are from the Nazca times.  Grave-robbers had scattered them around while rushing off with more valuable finds, but then someone  collected them.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Rushing back along the dirt road to the paved road South, we pass a Christian cemetery we would likely have ignored, but for its contrast with where we’ve just been.

Travel Notes:
Lodging:

We stay in the Oro Viejo, at S./ 130 rather pricy for Peru, but not for Nazca. It’s a pleasant place, with a nice garden, and we’d recommend it. The S./ 130 included breakfast.

Food 
We ate at a lousy chifa, a block or two back down from the Plaza de Armas toward the hotel. Don’t.
Other Points:
Overflights of the Nazca Lines cost us U.S. $90 per person plus S./ 11.50 per person tax [ plus S./3 for parking], and involved waiting nearly two hours and flying for a half hour. 
As I recall from New Mexico, afternoon flights over this sort of country can extricate your lunch from your stomach.  Neither Ragna nor I was sick, although the thought occurred to each of us, but months later a couple of young women from Canada regaled everyone with a detailed account of how quickly and urgently they needed to use the bags provided each passenger in case of airsickness.  If you’re at all prone to that sort of thing, or haven’t flown in small planes and don’t know, consider a light lunch or none.  Or taking a pill.  The foregoing is particularly true if it’s a warm afternoon.
Unless you’re flying very early in the morning and have some special reason, don’t take your camera on the plane with you – or at least, don’t take the lens cap off. The Nazca Lines are interesting and a historical/philosophical/archeological mystery; but trying to capture a good photograph of the damn things will distract you unnecessarily from just seeing and contemplating them – all for lousy photographs. If you want photographs of the Nazca Lines, buy ‘em – unless you’re there long enough and sufficiently enamored of the lines to fly several times, at different times of day. Obviously with some knowledge of the lines and a pilot you could ask to adjust his flying to your photographic needs, you could photograph them, and maybe a plane without a window blocking your view; but if you’re just flying over them once, and you’re not getting paid for your pictures, lose the camera.
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One response to “XXX. Nazca 18-19 June

  1. Tacking Nazca off the list, but added Huanchica!! Right where too next?x

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