After breakfast, we were off to the Chauchilla Cemetery. We soon passed one of the world’s biggest sand dunes (over 3000 feet high), and then turned off into the desert about a half mile until we arrived at our destination. The Cemetery represents a pre-Inca civilization which mummified their dead and buried them in sitting positions. Twelve graves have been excavated. Unfortunately, long before formal excavations began, the locals discovered the site and dug up many of the graves looking for gold. In fact, this apparently still goes on at night and one can see many indentations in the sand where holes have been dug.
Next, we drove back towards town and stopped at a shop where the owner makes Nazca styled pottery patterned after ancient pottery found in the area. All the paints are made from local plants. We bought a few pieces to take home with us. The owner looks like a character out of a movie but I don’t know which one! He used to be a baker but learned the art of Nazca pottery from his wife who no longer works because of her poor eye sight.
Wanna dig for gold? Most of the local mining is done by individual prospectors using primitive tools and involving back-breaking labor. All you have to do is just hike up into the barren mountains nearby, manually dig, pick and blast out rock, put it into sacks and carry it out. Then you take the rock to one of several extracting businesses in town, pay them a fee to use the facilities and try to extract minute quantities of precious gold. The process involves crushing the rock and mixing it into slurry with mercury. Any gold combines with the mercury. This process involves standing on top of large stones shaped like rolling pins and rocking back and forth for six hours. Sound like fun? If you’re lucky, you make enough to put food on the table without developing mercury poisoning!
After lunch at the hotel, we headed over to the local airport to catch our small plane for a flight over the Nazca Lines. This is why we came to Nazca and I was looking forward to seeing what many books list as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We were not disappointed! No one really knows how the figures were actually constructed. How could such large images be made on the ground by people who did not have the perspective of viewing them from above? Thus the theory about aliens, Etc. Most current thinking centers on the belief that the figures somehow indicate sources of water in the dry God-forsaken desert. My favorite two figures were the hummingbird and spider. If you are prone to motion sickness, take something before the flight. The plane makes sharp banking turns so that the figures are visible to the passengers. Unfortunately, despite taking bonine, my wife spent most of the flight looking at the inside of a plastic bag rather than the ground.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel before being shuttled to the bus station for our all-night trip to Arequipa.