Ever since reading Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? as a child, I’ve been enchanted by the mysterious travel wonders of the Nazca Lines. Though, even as a child, I have never entertained the notion that this was used as an airport for alien spacecraft, the idea that a past culture etched super-sized motifs of animals, birds and sea-life into this harsh desert landscape struck me as truly bizarre.
Evidence that this ramshackle unattractive town once attracted an advanced culture is not only evident in the world-famous lines but also in a mesmerising aqueduct system that supplied water for farming the parched soils of this unforgiving desolate area.
The geography of this area ensures that the lines created a couple of thousand years ago still exist. Each line and image is created as a single continuous line, clearing the thin layer of darker metallic soil and unveiling the pale coloured sandy ground below. Completely devoid of vegetation and with virtually no recorded rainfall and unchanging windless conditions, these small furrows etched into the soil have survived the ravages of time. Hundreds of lines and trapezoidal shapes, kilometres long, crisscross this huge arid expanse, combined with roughly seventy stylized animal figures or geoglyphs, many over 100 metres across.
The only way to properly appreciate the sight is from the air. Not for those with weak stomachs, light aircraft take visitors on thirty to forty minute morning flights traversing the desert area and tipping the plane from side to side like a carnival ride to offer everyone good views of the most significant figures.
The spider has a special story. One theory is that it is a diagram of the sacred Orion constellation. Another details that it is a particular rare giant spider only found deep in the Amazon valley, many thousand of miles away. The male of this spider has its reproductive organ at the tail end of one of its legs (visible only under microscope) and this appendage is clear in photos of the Nazca image (it is the bottom left leg in the photo).
A monkey with a spiral tail, a hummingbird, a killer whale, a condor, a strange astronaut figure, a huge lizard (cut in two by the highway, built before the figures were apparent), a dog, a spider, a flamingo (which is over 300 metres long) and other animal figures litter the landscape like a whimsical zoo, no geoglyph being repeated.
With the spiral shape being an ancient symbol for water, a commodity more valuable than gold in this dusty parched environment, claims that the area represents a water ceremony for the gods may make more sense than some of the far-fetched theories espoused by supposed scientists. Whether this large Peruvian pampas was an extraterrestrial landing strip, an advanced astronomical and agricultural calendar, exotic ancient art or something completely different, we are unlikely to ever truly know. Being halfway between the capital, Lima, and the stunning colonial city of Arequipa, it is well worth a stop to view and wonder about these unforgettable desert markings, along with the ingenious aqueduct system and ancient burial grounds in the same area.
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Top Ten Travel Wonders of South America