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Destination Unknown - The Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru



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Gale M res.jpgI pulled into the parking lot of the museum.  The place felt like an old deserted western town, but here I was in Nazca, Peru.  The museum was a monument devoted to Maria Reiche.  This woman, almost single handedly, put the town of Nazca on the map.  The Nazca lines are enormous symbols that are carved into limestone and they date back to about 300 A.D.  Ms. Reiche devoted her entire adult life to documenting these ancient lines and bringing them to the attention of the rest of the world.  She was born is 1903, moved to Nazca as a young woman and lived there until her death in 1998.  The whole town celebrates her life with portraits, busts and memorials dedicated to her.  Her home is now the site of the museum.  She lived quite simply, there is a garden where she grew some of her own food and some stray cats no doubt descendents of her many house cats.  It was a lovely place, perhaps a little lonely, but I got the sense Maria was just fine on her own and with the quiet.  The views were wide with broad skies and dry desert air.
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Photo Right - Maria Reiche (1903-1998)
Moxy Woman Extraordinaire 

There are only two millimeters of rain here each year and so her kitchen and bathroom were located outdoors; surrounded by a small courtyard bounded by flowers and clouds of blue and yellow butterflies.  Inside her one room house stood a small neat bed and a cluttered desk.  She used this single room as work space and sleeping area.  The tools she used, rulers, a compass, binoculars and a ladder hung on the walls; old antiquated things laced with dust.  There was also a mannequin propped up at her desk making the experience slightly eerie.  Over about sixty years, she meticulously documented fifty-five sites; many of them as large as the small town of Nazca itself.  She observed the entire range of lines standing atop a six foot tall ladder.  Clearly, she had amazing focus.  The lines these days can be viewed via satellites.  If she'd known such technology was on the horizon, would she have spent the years of her life some other way?  We cannot know the answer to that question, but I believe a life filled with such single mindedness, devotion and passion is a blessing. 

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Photo Above: Maria's office and sleeping area.  This room measures about 15 by 13 feet. For more on Maria Reiche and the Nazca Lines visit: http://www.labyrinthina.com/mariareiche.htm

After an hour at the Reiche museum I made my way toward the airport stopping briefly at a small tower built on the side of the road.  There, I climbed about 30 feet to the top and viewed a set of lines known as The Hands.  Not as impressive as I had hoped but this was not the prime site, those would be viewed from the plane.

The plane, the plane!  I was not afraid, it didn't even occur to me to be afraid.  I had flown over Victoria Falls in Zambia in a plane that could barely even be called a plane.  There, I had sat in a sling wearing a jumpsuit and a pair of goggles I had borrowed from the pilot.  My fear of flying had been banished. 

I sat in the lounge eating Pringles and sipping coke with other tourists smugly smarting off about trying to eat as much as possible before getting on the plane.  I was so funny.  Oddly, no one was appreciating my sense of humor.  Some ofGale Plane.jpg them looked slightly apprehensive and maybe a little green around the gills.

That's me, (photo right) next to the small white winged flying metal cage.  I had wanted and waited for years to see the Nazca lines live and in person for myself.  It was about to happen.  This flight would allow me to see sixteen sets of lines.

I am sure the woman who got the front seat next to the pilot bribed him with money.  He seemed oblivious to those other people in the back of the plane that would be me and my travel buddy.  We buckled in.  I hammed it up with the worker that locked our seat belts - even though he did not respond.  He was all business.  Whatever, not everyone gets me - nor my humor.

Tooling down the black top it dawned on me that I was not going to be able to see anything but blue sky out the front window; the plane was angled up in the front.  No horizon to focus on.  That might be a problem.  Focusing on the horizon keeps me from getting nauseated.  No worries, I thought, I'll just look out the side window.

Up and away-  I began thinking how hot it was getting inside the plane,  and bouncy, too.  Sweat started forming on my upper lip andGail Peru Pilot.jpg under my arms.  I felt buckled in too tight.  The pilot announces it will be a short 30 minute flight;  I can do anything for 30 minutes.

Photo Right- My view, if you can call it that.

The plane dips and drops.  My travel buddy grabs my hand.  When I ask if she is worried she says no and looks away.  The plane drops again and again.  I am beginning to realize the plane flies this way.  Up a little down a lot.  Suddenly we turn violently to the right and zip across the mountains sideways.  The pilot is showing us the first of 16 sites.  I point my camera out the window and snap it.  When I look at the image my stomach rolls.  No problem, I'll just look at them later.  For now I point and shoot.

Gale Spider res.jpg The pilot, considerate soul that he is, rolls the plane around so we can see the site from the other direction.  Lurching, rolling, none of this is good for keeping the Pringles inside my body.  It occurs to me that if I puke the vomit could go anywhere; if I vomit when we are dropping it could hit the ceiling or worse, hit my face. 

Photo Right- Site known as the Spider






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Photo Below and Right- the Astronaut. (Approximately 300 yards long)  The figure is waving with the right hand.  Some speculate that this figure is signaling beings from another planet. Others believe that this is an image of beings that visited the area and helped to create the symbols.

Why am I thinking about vomiting?  Stop it.  My friend's eyes are clamped shut and her fingers are crossed.  When I ask her if she is okay she tells me to leave her alone and stop talking to her.  She's normally so much fun; this is not a good sign.  

What if my vomit hits the pilot in the face?  I don't know if this is possible since he is sitting in front of me and the plane is flying basically forward.  I don't have enough flying experience to reach a reassuring conclusion but the magic bullet theory flashes through my brain.  If my vomit is projectile in nature will it fly to the front of the plane and then hit the pilot in the face?  If it does will he be able to land the plane successfully?

Why am I thinking of puking again.  I am not going to think about that anymore.  I look at my watch three minutes have passed, only twenty-seven more to go.

The woman in the front seat who has the pilot in her back pocket, is video taping the Nazca lines, oblivious to the peril of puke developing in the rear seats.  She has a view out the front wind shield and the side window.  She did not smile at me when I said hello.  I decide she is to blame for this whole mess.  She is clearly not thinking about puke.

I don't know what point I gave up on taking pictures.  It was right after I realized that I was not cut out for flying in small, hot metal boxes over dry godforsaken deserts and sometime after I had lost all fascination in the Nazca lines.  All I wanted, all I had ever really wanted in life was to feel the ground beneath my feet and see the horizon as a fixed line in the distance.  But part of any good vacation is reassessing one's values.

Finally we landed.  I sort of poured myself out of the plane like a half melted jelly mold.  I slid around the side of the plane leaned against it on shaking legs.  The sun was brutal hot and my head was spinning.  Someone led me to the lounge.  My eyes were watering, my hands were trembling.  I threw water on my face and neck and sank into a chair. 

I had not puked.  I was victorious.  Um, and sobbing uncontrollably in front of thirty strangers in the airport lounge.  A nurse from the infirmary was brought to assess me.  There's an onsite infirmary?  That should have been a clue, but it was stashed away out of view, where naive tourists won't notice.  I was taken to a bed to lie down.  It should be noted that I walked there on my own two feet, not like the total loser from the other flight, who was wheeled there in a chair.

No worries though, after fifteen minutes I was released, my blood pressure almost back to normal and my limbs steady.  The horizon was once again a dependable part of my world. 

I walked away in control of my stomach contents and therefore boasting a victorious tourist experience over the Nazca Lines.  I have three and a half pictures to prove it. 

Lesson learned? Sometimes a postcard is sufficient.

My next installment will be titled, "The Dogs of Peru."-  A story about risking life and limb for a photograph.  Check back soon!

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About Gale

Gale Massey is an author, world traveler and owner of  a company called Help with Grief .  Her book- Grief...reminders for healing  offers help to bereaved families, spouses and hospice workers dealing with the universal experience of grief.  

To learn more about her book or to contact Gale visit her website-  Grief Minders



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