The Place To Be is the Sky

30 Dec

No one else wanted to fly with me but I hadn´t travelled all the way to Nasca to not do it. All my childhood my fascinated parents had told me of the various wonders in Perú, but flying over the Lines of Nasca had never been included in the family outings. This time, however, we were driving to Cusco by road, stopped at Nasca, and I didn´t care about the prices anymore. I felt: this is part of your Peruvian heritage, this is something you must see.

We booked into the Hostel Friends’ House on Avenida Maria Reiche, named after the German archaeologist who dedicated her life to decoding the mystery behind the Lines. We had a very good conversation with the owner of Friends’ House, Maria, who offered to organise the flight over the Lines for $95. I’m told this is quite the offer and after translating it into euros, I decided that although it was over my original limit of $75, well, how often do you fly over the Lines of Nasca?

Since no one knew what time the flight would be, Maria kindly promised to wake me. But the street did that for her. I was up as of 5 am, being blared at by taxis. By 8 am a car came by to pick me up. Accompanied by more adventurers, I was driven to the Nasca airport – a small airport in the desert which had been opened only for planes to fly over the Lines.

There was much waiting going on in this small airport. Patiently, everyone sat with the looks of people who understood that the Peruvian Patience was a unique limbo in which no amount of complaining could ever help. Things would happen… when they happened.

the Waiters Waiting

My passport information was written down, I was weighed, tapped down and my camera was closely scrutinised. I was then led to wait with three fellow Germans who expressed obvious skepsism as to just what they were doing there. They were a family: parents visiting a travelling daughter, and only the father had ever been in a small Cessna airplane. We compared all the horror stories we had ever heard on the flights over the Lines: “The wind is awful, it´s so turbulent everyone throws up on the plane”, “they fly like madmen, everyone throws up on the plane”, “the pilot just told me proudly that everything will be okay, their last accident was a whole three years ago”.

I was terribly excited. My father has a pilot license, so I have spent many childhood hours in Cessnas. I had no fear there. I just wanted to get up in the air and see these lines I had read so much about! On the drive to Nasca, we had stopped at the red-laddered watchtower, climbed it for 2 soles and seen our first two Nasca Lines: the Hands and the Tree.

HandsThe Tree and Trapezoidal Lines behind it

On the watchtower I had gotten a better idea of how the lines had actually been made: they were small, smooth trenches carved into the desert.

On that tower, I was suddenly struck by something I have found difficult to name, but in the end, I think I can only describe it as beauty. It’s one thing to hear all your life that “no one knows why the Lines were made, for ceremonial purposes or as alien landing strips; as an astrological calender mapping the stars; or perhaps as illustrations meant to complement the desert”.

It’s another thing entirely to see them. To stand on the tower and suddenly feel overwhelmed by their unexpected beauty. To let that beauty take you by the hand to a place where you find yourself asking: Where does beauty come from? Why is beauty created? These long endless lines, these pale visions from another time, what do they want to tell me?

I hadn’t expected to be moved so deeply by them. Looking at their intricate patterns, how carefully and lovingly they had been designed; diving into the movement of their patterns; seeing them lying so simply and unspectacularly in a desert where there is nothing; these lines painted a more fertile earth and perhaps want nothing other than to be seen, or are satisfied with just Being… I hadn’t expected to be moved so deeply by them.

And as with the petroglyphs of Chechta, I felt again: illustrations invok a spirit. In paintings, something is being invoked, something is being kept alive; and when we look at the illustrations, the petroglyphs and geoglyphs, we can perhaps feel something – something that the painter also felt.

The View Down: I am still very much afraid of heights and all that wind rocking the watchtower wasn't helping

Back at the airport, our plane was finally ready.

Trustworthy Cessnayes, the pilot took this picture

We climbed in, put on our headphones, and our pilot began chatting away in perfect English. He asked us if we could hear him, we said yes. He turned to his co-pilot beside him and asked: “Can you hear me?” Startled, his co-pilot shook his head: “No! I can’t!” The German passengers giggled nervously. The pilot told his co-pilot off: “Why can’t you hear me? Miguel could hear me!” We all burst out laughing.

The Cessna was a four-seater. That way, we all had our own window and everyone was a winner.

yes, the pilot took this picture

Let me take this moment to say that the pilots who flew us were one of the best I have ever flown with. The take-off was so smooth, I didn’t even realise we were flying. The landing was so gentle, it could have given Lufthansa a run for its money. The skills the pilots showed in swerving the plane vertically left and right were secure, careful, and we were asked after every swerve: “están bien?” Even my German co-passengers, who had had obvious jitters and doubts about getting into the plane, were impressed beyond belief at the security and skill of the pilots. If you, my friends, ever go to Nasca, I heartily recommend Alas Peruanas.

The flight began. The co-pilot showed us a map of the route we would be taking and what Lines we would be seeing along the way. Suddenly, he said: “And now, to the right…” – and at that, the plane swerved vertically to the earth – “we see…” and I saw:

Trapezoidal Lines

An aerial runway? Lines pointing towards the setting of stars, towards the summer solstice? Lines pointing towards the sources of water?

Perhaps meant to be seen only from the sky: for the greater audience of the gods, for a time when men have wings.

From our view in the sky, they played hide and seek with us. “Can you see it? Can you see it? There’s the Astronaut Man!”

Can you see him?

“And now, to the left… the Dog…” This time, I raised the contrast for you.

The Dog

One of my favourite Lines lay on a plateau and seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. According to Andean mythology, the Humingbird is the only creature that can cross the energy worlds and communicate with spirits in different worlds:

the Humingbird

The Pre-Columbian cultures of Perú believed in “art which complements the Earth”. Their temples fit into mountainsides, their shrines mimicked the profiles and shapes of mountains. This time, the Nasca culture used the desert as their canvas.

the Spider

We saw the watchtower from the sky…

Watchtower, Hands and Tree from the sky

I know there are sometimes complaints among tourists that the flight is too highly priced for merely half an hour. Let me say this: 30 minutes is plenty. After swerving left and right, seeing beauty and loving every second of it, you realise: “I’m good, I’m happy to go down now.”

And happy we were!

We agreed: it was worth every penny

At the risk of everyone shunning me as a hopeless romantic, I must say this: the Lines were beautiful, seeing them was incredible, and as I flew over them, I felt something new, and when we landed, I realised I felt just a little bit more Peruvian.

Why not use the world as your canvas. Regardless of if you ever see your art or not: is art even created for a viewer, or is it the process that matters? The infinity sleeping in your hours of work.

I believe the lines were created as a way of invoking fertility into a desert. If no humingsbirds, whales, or dogs can live here, why not draw them into the world? That way, they are there and the desert is somewhat less barren.

But something else made Nasca beautiful to me: my new friend from Friends’ House. Her name is Fabiana, she is 6 years old, and when she grows up she wants to be a doctor.

Fabiana and Ritti

Lovely girl, you can do anything you set your mind to. It will demand a lot of hard work, but you can do it because you are strong and intelligent. When I pass by Nasca again, I will visit you!

After Nasca, my friends, came the open road and on we travelled to Cusco. It would be three days before we reach the ancient capital of the Inka empire, and so we travelled over 4000 meters above sea level, into the clouds. With the feeling of having understood something new.

my favourite sight: the open road


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