One Christmas, many years ago when I was about 12 years old or so, my parents gave me a three-book collection of those Time Life books that you used to see advertised on TV all the time. The three volumes were “Mysterious Creatures”, “The UFO Phenomenon”, and “Mystic Places”. The first two were interesting enough, but in the end they were about things that couldn’t really be seen or touched, much less even proven to be real. I was more interested instead in the third, because it at least dealt with tangible places. Whether or not you agreed with how “mystic” the place was, it was still a real place you could go to and examine for yourself, contrary to say Bigfoot or a UFO. One of the subjects the book investigated was the Nazca lines, and suffice to say my 12-year-old brain was captivated. Beginning around 1500 years ago, a strange and mysterious culture had carved these fantastic lines and images onto the desert floor. I knew then that someday I would see them, and 25 years later the payoff finally arrived.
Yet another bus ride brought us to the town of Nazca, a bustling, dusty little town in the desert. For the first time in the trip there was absolutely no doubt we were firmly on the “Gringo Trail” as the place fairly crawled with tourists from all corners of the globe. We set up shop in a simple hotel and secured arrangements for a flight over the lines, quickly discovering that the price we’d been told to expect has recently doubled. And for good reason, too. You see, up until some months ago, any local with a plane and the undocumented ability to fly it could set up shop at the airport and pimp flights to any tourist with the requisite funds. This was all fun and games until planes started falling out of the sky due to lack of maintenance and/or gross negligence. The authorities finally had enough of this and, no doubt wanting to secure what is surely the primary source of income in this backwater burg, stepped in and dropped the hammer. Upon doing so two things happened. The first is that half of the companies doing flights were permanently shut down. The second is that the remaining half immediately doubled their prices. More than willing to accept the reasonable exchange of money for safety, we showed up at the airport ready for our flight.
After waiting for the morning fog to clear, we finally boarded the little plane that would take us on a 35 minute flight to view the lines. We were joined by two other tourists (the plane only held four passengers total) and led by two pilots who were noticeably younger than me. My first impression was that it was like two kids who had been given the keys to dad’s car, but in the end they proved to be both professional and skillful. The flight was fantastic, taking us over what must have been hundreds of lines and about a dozen zoomorphic shapes. The co-pilot would call out what image we were approaching while the pilot manned the controls and kept a keen eye out for other traffic. They would fly over each site twice, once for each side of the plane to see it, banking the plane quite sharply each time to offer the best view. “Okay, now we’re coming up on the spider”. WHAM, 60-degree bank. “Okay, amigos, now for the other side”. WHAM, 60-degree bank the other way. Those with weak stomachs (a.k.a. Kelly) found such actions a bit disturbing, but I was too busy mentally salivating to be bothered. Although it seemed like only five minutes, half an hour later we were safely back on terra firma, and I had managed to cross another item off the bucket list.
After years of study and speculation, the Nazca lines still present more questions than answers. The night before our flight we took part in a very interesting presentation at the local planetarium that detailed the lines and the most prevalent current theories about their purpose. Some say they were created for ceremonial reasons, sort of a religious tool for a belief system centered around pleasing the gods enough to bring water to an area that receives only millimeters of rain each year. Others believe they are celestial markers that aided their creators in marking important dates. Indeed, some of lines do seem to align with significant days like the summer solstice. On the other hand, if you draw a thousand lines in the desert, a few of them are going to line up with something. In the end their exact purpose is still unknown, and the lines themselves remain mystic places.