Cover photo: PBS
While Macchu Pichu is the more obvious attraction in Peru (and rightly so), I’ve always leaned toward forgoing the trek to the city in the clouds for an actual flight above the World Heritage-listed rectangles, triangles and swirls. And no, my fascination with this site does not involve a belief in the popular lore that these shapes somehow relate to alien life. I think it’s more amazing that human beings were able to accomplish this extraordinary feat.
The gargantuan symbols and figures (read: 1,000-foot pelican) were made by the Nazca people, who inhabited the area from around A.D. 1 to 700. These ancient people created their designs by removing the top few inches of rock to reveal the lighter-colored sand below. They likely began with small-scale models and carefully increased the models’ proportions to create the large designs. And because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 2,000 years.
Serendipity or a Sign?
I spent the evening looking at my calendar and my budget, writing down a few notes in my notebook among the doodles of the Nazca Lines. I researched flights to Lima and hotels that were highly-rated. Then I looked at transportation options to the beachside town of Paracas, which is closest to the Pisco Airport where I would be able to hop on a tiny (emphasis on tiny) plane over the infamous lines. In the margins I wrote the names of the strongest anti-nausea medication available, all in the hopes that it will come in handy when I would one day be able to fly over the Nazca Lines.
The next morning, I opened my New York Times app to find the news that a team of researchers identified more than 100 new Nazca Lines. They used satellite photography, 3D imaging, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find more ancient geoglyphs.
Was this the universe’s way of telling me I should go to Peru? Were the aliens sending me a direct message?
Preparing for Take-off
There is so much preparation that goes into an adventure of this import – or any independent travel, really. Among the most important things I’ve learned in my planning, are:
While the Nazca lines will be impressive at any time of day, fellow travelers let me know that visibility is better and turbulence lower if you take the first morning flights out, anytime between 7 a.m. and 10.30 a.m.
My dreams of posting aerial photos of the lines on Instagram were quashed. Unless I was willing to purchase a professional-grade zoom lens to pop-on my DSLR, my photos would most likely not be great. So, while I plan on snapping a few photos before and after the experience, I know to take mental images the moment I’m able to see the Nazca Lines through the window.
While my goal is to fly over the Nazca Lines, it was nice to discover that there are other alternatives in case, for whatever reason, I was unable to make it up there. If weather keeps me grounded, I can see a handful of the designs from El Mirador, a viewing platform next to the Pan American Highway.
Between the more perfunctory to-dos of pre-travel, I like to squeeze in the fun stuff, like watching a film or reading a book related to the city or destination I’m setting out to explore. Below I share the music, books, movies and podcasts I dove into to be able to fully appreciate my time in Peru:
My knowledge of Peruvian music was limited to the traditional songs that featured pan-flutes and tiny charango guitars, until I became interested in the cajón. This percussion instrument is, as its name suggests, a box and its sound that is synonymous with a genre called “Festejo” (from the Spanish word ‘fiesta’). For a taste of this sound, listen to Eva Ayllon and Lucila Campos.
On my nightstand is Peruvian-born Nobel Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral. This beautifully-written story takes place in 1950s Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odría.
On my desk is The Peru Reader by Orin Starn. This book offers a really great overview of the history, culture and politics of Peru. Although you can sit down and read it cover-to-cover, I use it as a reference book, hopping around the different sections.
Andres Ruzo’s TED Talk, “The Boiling River of the Amazon” that took place at TED Global. It’s a fascinating story and a really personalized glimpse into Peruvian culture.
Asu Mare, a romantic comedy starring Peruvian stand-up comedian Carlos Alcántara. Although there are some wonderful documentaries out there, I enjoy watching a silly movie that helps me pick up words and phrases that help me better communicate in Peruvian Spanish.
Drew Vahrenkamp hosts the podcast, Wonders of the World. Find “The Nazca Lines” episode for a refreshingly authentic and straight-forward take on Lima and the Nazca Lines.
Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey host the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class. Their episode “Nazca Lines” offers a well-rounded introduction and historical timeline about the destination.
Ready to Go
If I were to be as bold as to amend Lao Tzu’s famous quote to say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with researching and learning about the people and places you’re about to visit.” As someone who is lucky enough to travel a few times a year, I find that the anticipation of it all is just as thrilling as the actual experience. The excitement of planning and dreaming of what will be is a lot of fun, plus immersing yourself in the culture brings a whole new layer of excitement.