Nazca (2/3) – The ground around the lines

Still seething about the slimy swindler we checked-in and grabbed some dinner.

The surrounding area of Nazca has a lot to offer aside from its wide range of restaurants, with day excursions out to the famous lines (on ground level and in the air), cemeteries with ancient mummified remains, museums detailing the Nazca people and their designs as well as a planetarium, other activities include sand surfing and the chance to explore the desert in a dune buggy.

After dinner we headed to the Maria Reiche Planetarium which is located in the heart of the city at the Hotel Nazca Lines. The planetarium is named after the German mathematician and archaeologist who devoted her life to the research and preservation of the lines. Working for some forty years with virtually no funding, the lines were finally recognised by UNESCO and became a World Heritage Site in 1994, four years later she died, after committing a remarkable 52 years to them.

The Maria Reiche Planetarium

The planetarium came equipped with its own passionate astronomer who guided us into a small dome-shaped room. Once inside and seated, it lit up with the familiar stars and constellations we see in the night sky, a voice over amplified around the room making assumptive connections between the stars and the lines that the Nazca may have made centuries before. After the short presentation we stepped outside into the courtyard for the chance to peer through the lens of a telescope at the rings of Saturn and the craters on the moon.

Heading back to our hostel we popped into a few tour agencies on the main strip to see what they had to offer. All of them were providing similar day excursions at similar prices but something that caught our eye was a tour to see the lines from the ground. The cheapest package we could find was $40 per person that included all the transport to two observatory towers, the Maria Reiche museum and a guide. Not really wanting to spend that sort of money we decided to do the trip ourselves.

Stronger than it looks, the tower gives a different slant from the ground and air

However, the following day as we were making our way to the bus stop we were ambushed by one of the sales reps from the previous night. It seemed he had been unable to fulfil his quota for the day’s trip to the lines and offered for us to join at a fraction of the price. Eagerly we agreed, having the benefit of a tour guide and all our transport covered to and from the lines and the museum. We shook hands and jumped into his car where he drove us mid-way into the desert to catch up with the waiting group. The group had three members; two Slovakian ex-pats now living in Australia and our native guide.

Our first destination was one of the two old rickety observation towers, not for the faint-hearted in high winds, it overlooked La Familia Paracas. Part of the Palpa Lines (getting its name from the nearby town), the family of Paracas is one of ten designs in the surrounding area. After taking a few pictures we headed down to a small shack of a museum next to the three-storied structure that detailed the Palpas’ work.

The family of Paracas, part of the Palpa lines

Driving onto the Maria Reiche museum we heard a conspiracy theory from one of the skeptical Slovakians who denied the age of the lines stating it was nothing more than a tourist gimmick. Attempting to change the subject and strike up a conversation with our driver led to confusion. Although well versed in certain facts about the lines he was unable to answer simple questions about his personal favourite ‘What is your favourite shape?’ or ‘What. Line. You. Like. Monkey. Bird. Spider?’ The best answer we got was a full list of the designs the Nazca produced.

One of the many artefacts in the Maria Reiche museum

The museum was full of sketches done by Maria Reiche, she had spent a large amount of her time there and her living quarters had been preserved/recreated with a manikin dressed in her attire. A collection of pottery and artefacts also filled the museum, with information about the lines and the mummified remains of a Nazca  found in a nearby tomb. Patrolling the area were a pair of playful young kittens who seemed content to distract us and other visitors from the exhibits.

The mummified remains on display in the Maria Reiche museum

The final observatory stood adjacent to the Pan-American highway, it was more exposed to the elements. Standing atop the tower you could feel the full force of the winds as they battered the thin metallic structure. Being high up you could get a sense of the scale of the lines as we viewed a pair of gigantic hands up close.

At this point we were grateful to be headed back to Nazca, our guide was now on a loop, recycling his script for a third time. We said our goodbyes after they dropped us off and made our way back to the hostel.

The following afternoon we arranged a half-day of sand-surfing and some time in a dune buggy. We made it all the way to the dunes we were going to surf down but sadly high winds made visibility poor and the sand whipped us viciously. Demanding a full refund we put our money towards a flight over the Nazca lines the next day.

© John Brownlie 2012

  • Entrance to the observatory towers is s./3 ($1) each.
  • The Maria Reiche planetarium is open in the evenings. Admission is s./10 ($4)
  • The Maria Reiche museum is s./5 ($2)
  • The dune buggy and sand surfing experience cost us around s./210 ($80)
  • We were fortunate enough to get the day trip out to the lines for s./25 ($10) it really wasn’t worth more than that. But I’m sure if you went with a reputable company you would get a better experience.

Nazca (1/3) – The city where everything is not quite as straight as its lines

Pulling into Nazca’s main terminal we could already see the natives circling our bus. Disembarking we quickly grabbed our bags only to be bombarded with all manner of touts and taxi drivers. This time however we were grateful for the abundance of transport after twenty hours of sitting on buses along the west coast. However, when we spoke of our hostel to one of them he shook his head and pointed in the direction of the setting sun. Irritated and somewhat confused we tried the next car along only to be given the same treatment, this interaction continued down the line of drivers until finally one of them explained our accommodation was just around the corner. Relieved by the news, we were about to go at it alone when an unlikely saviour came to our help.

Of average height but not of weight, he had a slight waddle as he walked, greasy hand smudges dirtied his shirt which did little to hide the fat hanging over the top of his jeans, his face was red and blotchy with an untidy bushy slug for a moustache, in his sausage fingered hands he held a black ratty file folder. Speaking to us like a concerned friend, the fat man asked if he could help, telling him our situation, he then introduced himself as our hostel representative. As he continued to speak in broken English he opened the folder that was sandwiched in his chubby hand, pulling out his credentials he directed us to the hostel.

Although his instructions differed from that of the taxi drivers we had no reason to doubt him. Yet it soon became clear that his route had led us into unfamiliar territory as we stood in front of an unknown hostel. The nearest person was a shopkeeper a couple of blocks down. Her home doubled as a playroom for her toddler with a tiny living area and kitchen for her family, the exterior had thick iron bars preventing the outside from getting in. Through the metal we handed her a piece of paper with our hostel jotted down, she shrugged her shoulders and giving it back to us.

With a slim chance that the hostel had recently changed names we retraced our steps to the unknown accommodation. Stepping inside, the familiar fat man was dealing with two disgruntled guests, he took one look at us and ushered us into a six-bed dorm room. Moments later he waddled back and tried to sell the room to us. Becoming increasingly annoyed with him we slowly explained we had put a deposit down on a double room and showed him our email confirmation. It was then he unapologetically came clean and gave us directions to our actual hostel. Fed up and fuming we stormed off until several blocks later we arrived at our destination.

© John Brownlie 2012