A postcard from Nasca airport

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Nasca airport. A grey strip of concrete in a dusty, grey desert landscape. I’ve just returned from a twenty-minute flight in a tiny plane to see the Nasca lines. Staring out the window as the plane tilted dizzyingly to one side and then the other, the pilot’s crackly voice announcing which image we could see, I traced the familiar images with my eyes.

You see, I’d wanted to visit the Nasca lines since forever. When I was young, I had a book called ‘The Unexplained’ (which I read to the point of obsession). The lines were in a pseudo-archaeology section about Earth Mysteries. When I found out they were real and I could actually see them (unlike fairy paths and ley lines), I was amazed. When I decided to go to South America, I realized I actually had a chance. And so we went to Nasca and I took an expensive plane ride to see what I had already envisaged so many times before.

Despite studying archaeology at university, I don’t know much about the lines. They were created by removing rocks from the surface of the desert to reveal the different colored soil underneath. Their use is unknown: current theories suggest they’re processional paths used in water and fertility rituals. Or astronomical calendars. Or irrigation systems. You can see why they might end up in a book of The Unexplained.

I suppose my imagination tends towards grandiosity so I was surprised not at the lines themselves, but because the desert was so small. From up in the plane I could see green river valleys and irrigated farmland. I had no idea that the lines were built on a plateau. What was even more surprising is that earlier I had walked a couple of kilometers between the man-made and natural miradors and couldn’t see the curve of the road only a few kilometers ahead, let alone the edge of the desert. Walking from the hills on one side to the edge of the plateau on the other would have been hot and dusty, but looked completely doable.

I wonder how the people who made the lines viewed the landscape, how far they travelled and how regularly. Seeing the lines in situ has transformed them into something far more concrete to me than they ever were before. But they’re also now more intriguing.

I flew with Aero Paracas for $85, in July high season. Flights run from 8-11am and it’s possible to turn up and get a flight same day.

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Flying La Paz to Rurrenabaque

There are two airlines that fly the 45 minute La Paz-Rurrenabaque route. TAM is slightly cheaper than Amaszonas, but they have fewer departures. You also have to go to the military airport, which is next to the normal airport in El Alto (a 20Bs taxi ride from outside the civilian airport boundary fence or a 50Bs ride from within). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but TAM was like any other airline. Actually, it was better because we were given a sandwich and drink, which American Airlines has failed to provide on a five hour flight! The plane was small, but nothing compared to the tiny 19-seater that I returned on with Amaszonas. Before taking off, pigs had to be chased from the grass runway.

I met a guy on our jungle tour who’d had his flight turned back just before landing because of bad weather in Rurrenabaque. In his words, “it was like a cheap sight-seeing flight”. Take off begins at 4,000m and it’s all down from there. But first you have to cross the Cordillera Real and the views are spectacular. I’ve never flown at the same height as a mountain peak before!

Unfortunately my TAM plane did not look like this.

We were greeted to a rainbow after a delay due to weather conditions.

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Mount Illimani towers over El Alto, the largely indigenous town (and site of La Paz’s airport) which sits above the city on the altiplano.

For information about what we did in Rurrenabaque, see our blog post.