Ok, perhaps that headline was a little melodramatic, but I heard a lot of stories about Nazca plane crashes before I decided to put my life in the hands of a local pilot. I’d also like to ‘thank’ many of my friends for putting the fear of God into me by quoting the vast percentage of aircraft that failed their security checks in the not-too-distant past.
I’d booked the night before through my hostel, Inti Wasi, which is under new ownership and soon to change its name. Micky, the man in charge, had assured me everything was safe and sound, then plied me with rum cocktails to take my mind off it!
At about half past midnight, Micky banged on my door to tell me that a car race was taking place in the city the next day so we would have to leave at 6:30 instead of 9, for our 10 am flight.
Most of you probably know by now that I’m not a morning person, and despite the early morning, we still only got airborne at 11:30! I don’t think I’ve ever waited that long in an international airport, let alone a tiny one like Nazca!
I passed the time watching a video with information about the lines.
The Nazca civilisation had survived for nearly a millennium, but by 700AD, only the lines remained. Researchers had spent the past 20 years trying to piece together the mystery of the geoglyphs.
They found snail shells buried in the earth, which indicated that the area had once been much more fertile. This suggested that, over time, conditions had become harder as the area dried out and water was harder to come by.
Headless skeletons had also been discovered, and two theories for this had been proposed. Either rival tribes had fought each other for precious commodities, or the Nazca civilisation had believed that human sacrifice would appease the Gods and bring them what they needed.
Being on the edge of survival tends to push cultures into forming stronger relationships with the deities. Chemical tests on the bones of the decapitated skeletons showed that these people had been residents of Nazca.
In addition, they were found buried with treasures such as intricate pottery depicting new life. All of the evidence pointed towards this being a ritual in which humans and other gifts were offered to the Gods.
At the heart of the ancient civilisation was a place called Cahuachi. Here, a temple had been constructed, and many tombs have been unearthed nearby. It is thought that pilgrims came here to bury the dead and celebrate the Gods. Dozens of heads have been found here, leading researchers to believe that this was the main place for sacrificial ceremonies.
Just a few kilometres from this central location lie the greatest concentration of geoglyphs. Rock piles among the lines turned out not to be tombs, but smashed offerings and ornaments like those found in Cahuachi. This meant that perhaps the geoglyphs were open-air temples…
As we walked towards the plane, the three Spaniards I was flying with were in high spirits, imitating aeroplanes with their arms out wide (despite also being 29 years old!). The guy even hummed Apocalypse Now just before take-off in an attempt to show his macho side.
10 minutes later, as he spewed up in a plastic bag, I felt a sense of smugness mixed in with sympathy.
We buzzed noisily over each of the geoglyphs, wearing massive headphones to protect our ears. The ‘spare’ pilot shifted around in his seat so he could point out the different shapes to each of us in turn.
Although it was great to see one of the world’s greatest mysteries, they weren’t as clear and easy to spot as I had imagined. To facilitate viewing, the tiny plane would fly in spirals, first clockwise and then anticlockwise so that everyone could get a good view. We were almost sideways in the air.
I spent 35 minutes wondering why on earth, given my history of aeroplane fear, I’d thought this was a good idea. But once we landed and I could relax again, I was very glad I’d gone.
It’s important to do your own research on the history of the Nazca planes before deciding if you’d like to do it yourself. There have been a few accidents and, as far as I could tell from questioning some locals, there are still no enforced procedures in place for checking the planes are all good to fly. Some have a better reputation than others, and there are many flights every day that make it back to earth without a glitch, but, in my opinion, it’s still a gamble that shouldn’t be taken lightly – even if the odds are good.
On the plus side, if you freak out, there’s always a massage from ‘magic hands’ to help you relax and collect your nerves…
My verdict: The white horse near where I grew up in Yorkshire has a greater impact, but the Nazca lines win in terms of mystery. Some think they represent an ancient sacrificial site. Others throw about theories of alien landings. I think the Nazca people were just stuck for something to do in the desert (they didn’t have TOWIE back in 500AD). What’s your theory?