The lovely staff at the Hostal Tambo Colorado in Pisco, not only organized our tours while we were there but they also took care of our transfer to the bus station and our tickets to Nasca which was the next destination on our itinerary.
Accommodations in Nasca, from everything we had heard, were very basic so we decided to create a short list and take our chances. It is a small town and we figured it would be easy to walk from one to the other once we got there. We let our guard down a bit and were not prepared for the swarm of hotel reps and cab drivers that met our bus.
Out of the din of cab drivers calling out their fares, came a voice in perfect English. We looked in that direction and met for the first time, Juan Carlos (Carlos for short), a very kind and helpful man who took great care of us for our two days in Nasca. We also had the good luck to find a last minute deal on expedia for the only decent hotel in town, Casa Andina. So in quick order, we were settled and getting organized for yet another unique Peruvian experience.
The town of Nasca is unremarkable in every way. But the surrounding area is remarkable in EVERY way. Everywhere you move some dirt or sand around within 15 or 20 km in this desert landscape, you will either come up with 1000-year-old ruins of the Nascan civilization, or completely preserved mummies with hair teeth and skin in place. And if you fly over the area you will see the famous Nasca lines that archeologists have been trying to figure out since they were first discovered by the Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe in 1927.
For most, a visit to Nasca includes a flight over the lines and a quick exit out of town. Since we have nothing but time, we decided to stay two days and see what we could see. We spent our first afternoon and evening visiting several tour companies and figuring out a game plan.
First problem when we woke up the next morning was that Nasca was fogged in. Hum, we thought. Good thing we have two days. No use taking a flight over the lines if we couldn’t see anything. So we headed back in the direction of the tour companies and the bus station. That’s when we bumped into Carlos again. He took us over to his office and within a few minutes we had a whole day planned.
Getting to know Carlos that day was as interesting as the places he took us to and the amazing things we saw. He had done so many things in his life and worked so many different jobs, and lived in so many places that he had a depth of knowledge that was astounding. And, lucky for us, he had spent several years in the US and could share it with us in almost perfect English.
We first went to the Cahuachi Pyramids archeological site, which was a major ceremonial center of the Nasca civilization from approximately 1-500 AD. The construction of the pyramids was all adobe bricks which have withstood the test of time. There are dozens of pyramids throughout the site, but only one has been completely uncovered and reassembled. A second pyramid is being uncovered now by an archeological team from Italy. From the discoveries here and in other sites nearby, archeologists and historians believe that it was the Nasca civilization that created the figures etched into the flat desert landscape not too far away, known as the Nasca Lines. Designs on pottery and woven cloth found in excavations resemble those found etched into the ground. But how did they create them and why? Who were they creating them for since they can only be seen from the sky? There are many theories, and I will let you read more about it here.
Carlos then took us to the Chauchilla Cemetery, a very eerie place that we still can’t get our heads around. The Nasca people, like the Egyptians, buried their dead after preserving them in mummy form. The dead were cleaned and placed in a fetal position, wrapped in cotton and cloth and buried facing east to be able to see their sun god in the next life. They were buried with beautifully painted pottery and other artifacts from life. Due to the desert climate and their methods of preservation, many mummies have been found completely intact. We visited a cemetery where several mummies are still (supposedly) exactly where they have been since Nasca times. These photos are not for the weak of heart. I am still having nightmares!
(We later visited the Museo Antonini that further documents all this with beautiful pottery and additional mummies that have been set up in the museum and in the beautiful garden in the back of the museum.)
On the way back to Nasca, Carlos stopped at a field of cacti to show us something we had never seen before. The cacti had a white powdery fungus growing on them. Ends up, under this fungus is an insect called cochineal from which the red coloured dye carmine is derived. He pressed some of the insect eggs between his fingers and instantly they were red in colour. This natural dye historically used to colour fabrics is now used for cosmetics amongst other things.
When Carlos discovered that we had not yet organized a flight over the lines, he called his contact at the airport to be sure we got seats in the smallest plane. Just Marc and I and two pilots. He said it would be easier for us to see the lines and to hear the pilots as they described what we were seeing.
A taxi picked us up at 7:25 AM the next morning and we made our way to the airport. Shortly after 9:00 am we were in the air. Or at least our bodies were in the air. If you ask Marc, he would say his stomach was still on the ground. The plane was very small and we were doing loops so that both of us could see the ancient geoglyphs below us. Both of us were trying to take photos, see what was going on, and concentrate on not losing our cookies in the process. I did better than Marc, but we were both glad to be on terra firma again 30 minutes later.
Truth be told, they are quite hard to see, and in the few seconds you have to figure out what you are seeing and then take a picture of it without barfing, our photographic results are not stellar. But I have found some images on the internet along with the best of our shots to give you an idea of what the lines look like if you are looking down upon them from above. We can tell you first hand that they do exist. What we cannot verify is who or how they were made, or how they still exist after so many centuries. It is a mystery, which made the experience that much more exciting.
Carlos picked us up at the airport and brought us back to our hotel and we saw him a couple more times before we left. He came to see us at our hotel to bid us a final goodbye and to pass on information for our stay in Arequipa. He even arranged for someone to be at the bus station in Arequipa to guide us to a safe taxi. We felt like we had really made a friend, and I guess the best way we can thank him is to let you know that there is an amazing tour guide named Carlos in Nasca who will show you an amazing time. Juan Carlos Rojas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.