June 2, 2012
DAY 4 - SATURDAY
Observing the Nasca Lines and the Chauchilla Cemetary
Although we could sleep-in today, Dick and I both rose early to walk around the hotel prior to 10 am scheduled fly over of the Nasca Lines. Again, a delicious breakfast was served with plates and baskets of bread covered by tiny linen napkins. The history of the current Hotel Majora can be traced to 1698 when the 100 hectares property was given to the Saint Augustin Convent. In 1910 it became a private property run by an aristocratic family who Iater remodeled the old convent into a Casa Hacienda and in 1980 into the current Hotel Majora. Hotel furnishings included original paintings from well-known Peruvian artists, old woven tapestries or pre-Columbian textiles, and furniture from the Colonial and Republican era. Gardens lush with poinsettia, bougainvillea, bird of paradise, lantas, begonias, pentas, and orange and lemon trees also featured fountains, pools, statuary, llamas, and peacocks.
The town and drawings are names for the Nasca culture that dominated this area along the southern desert coast from 300 B.C. - A.D. 700. The Nasca area is renowned for exquisite stylized pottery as well as the stone aqueducts that allowed agriculture to flourish in the harsh desert. The town was devastated by an earthquake in 1996 and is slowly rebuilding. The Nasca Lines consist of massive mysterious drawings etched into the sands of the pampas or the sides of mountains during pre-Columbian times. The vast tapestry of geoglyphs include trapezoids, triangles, 70 animal and plant figures, and more than 10,000 lines. With some figures reaching nearly 1,000 feet in size, they could only be appreciated from the air.
Although extremely apprehension, I boarded the 6-seat Cessna 172 style plane for a 40-minute flyover of the famous Nasca Lines. Flying at 3200 feet, the flight path allowed us to view thirteen of the famous symbols etched on the plateaus or sides of the mountains (whale, trapezoids/triangles, astronaut, monkey, dog, condor, spider, bird, hummingbird, Alcatraz, parrot, tree, and hands). In order for every passenger to experience optimal visual impact, the pilot would dip the right wing of the aircraft, point out the symbol below, level, circle, and then dip the left wing of the aircraft to repeat the procedure. Thank goodness for Dramamine. The terrain was a wide expanse of craggy, dusty, origami-like folds in the sand, while the irrigated land closer to the town was a lush agricultural area.
Dating back to the Inca-Chincha period of 1000-1400 A.D. the Chauchilla Cemetery has only been open to the public since 1997. The very dry condition of the desert helped preserve the mummies over the centuries. Fragments of textiles, feathers, and bones scattered about the site were clues to the cemetery's discovery by grave robbers. Only in the past few years were the tombs covered with thatch roofs, thus the skulls appear whitewashed from the blazing sun. The restoration of the cemetery remains severely underfunded.
Following a large lunch featuring Lomo Saltado and pisco sours in the town of Nasca, we started our tour of the Chauchilla Cemetery with a knowledgeable local guide. Following a dirt road approximately 5 miles off the paved highway, we came upon an immense flat and arid landscape surrounded by towering hills doted with small silver mining shacks. In this land of absolute solitude and desolation, we came upon a small building housing the local cemetery guard and his family, as well as a one-room museum. Following our guide down a path we reached the first open tomb. Imagine our surprise to view three mummies wrapped in cotton, clothed and bound with cord, seated in a fetal position facing east, along with a pile of white femurs wrapped in cloth, as well as three skulls. The cemetery contained twelve such tombs, each covered by a wood supported thatch roof and approximately 5x5x5 feet in size. Numerous depressions and mounds in the area indicated the work of grave robbers. Small fragments of bones and pottery remained scattered above ground. Unnerving, to say the least.
Returning to Nasca, we stopped at the home of a local pottery maker followed by another visit to the home of a miner and jewelry maker for a demonstration of Peruvian gold mining in Nasca. We then returned to the Hotel Mayora to relax, collect our luggage prior to 10 pm departure by bus to Arequipa. Although the ride followed the Pan American Highway, it was long, curvy and bumpy and at times uncomfortable. However, the stretch of highway along the coastline was magnificent as a full moon shone over the waves crashing on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.