The last big event of our 11-month round-the-world tour was to view the Nazca lines in western Peru. We took an overnight bus to descend the mountains surrounding Cusco to the small coastal town that flanks the mysterious formations. The bus is notorious for inducing nausea so four of the Six took dramamine as we pulled out of the Cusco station on our double decker Flores fiesta on wheels. Ironically and perhaps amusingly to some, the little pink pills knocked 200+-pound Tom out while they had little to no effect on 30-pound Asher and 45-pound Kieran. This wasn’t the result I had hoped for, but it proved viable since as usual the steward fired up the DVD player. His first choice, a 1970’s Hong Kong-Van Damme flick, fortunately didn’t work well and the kids quickly volunteered to provide him with an alternate choice. So for the next hour and a half the entire bus got to take in the glory that is John Tucker Must Die courtesy of the Andrus clan. Fearing food poisoning in our last few days, we avoided the chicken and rice in Tupperware meal and dozed off to sleep.
We woke 8 hours later to yet another unearthly landscape. With only an hour left to go, we managed to keep the contents of our stomachs down…no small feat since the ride was one long series of switchbacks. Our bus was greeted by a select few touts who offered to whisk us away to the airfield nearby for a quick pass over the lines. Seizing this rare opportunity for efficiency in Peruvian travel, we accepted a ride from one and within minutes were signed up for our final big adventure. We watched a video about the Nazca lines and learned that while some think they’re the product of aliens, most believe they had something to do with an ancient agricultural calendar. Whatever their origin, we were excited to see them from above.
Our plane was a small Cessna that seated 6. Tom sat in the co-pilot’s seat. As usual, his tall frame rendered him exempt from kid duty in the back. (There are a select few drawbacks to being 5’2″–low ranking in the seating hierarchy is one of them.) Asher sat on my lap, while the boys each got their own seat. Kieran and Mac occupied the back row, which was about 3 feet wide, but this proved a mistake. As soon as we took off, Kieran began screaming that he couldn’t see. The pilot spoke to us through a microphone wired to our headphones and his speech was difficult to decipher over the din of the engine. By the time Kieran figured out he should be looking for the whale, the whale was long gone. He burst into tears and we promised him we would make sure he didn’t miss anything else.
For the next 30 minutes we banked and circled in a series dizzying of maneuvers that gave us a first rate view of all of the famous figures–the astronaut, the hummingbird, the dog, and my personal favorite, the monkey. Other travelers had warned us that the lines were underwhelming, but we felt quite the opposite. While the figures are smaller than many people expect, they are nonetheless a feat of artistry and engineering that defy logic and baffle the mind. Staring up from the arid, rocky plain, they challenge viewers to come up with their own theories of why they exist and what they mean. More amazing to me than their intended message is their continued existence. The lines remain just as their creators left them over 1400 years ago owing to the unique climate and topography of the Nazca Desert. The plain receives less than 1 inch of rain per year and the surface is protected from potentially damaging winds by a rocky covering. The ancient artisans left their mark by simply pushing the iron-coated rocks to the side and exposing the lighter colored ground beneath. With nothing to erase them, the lines have endured, though global warming, grave robbers, and overzealous developers all pose modern risks to these ancient treasures.
After our little plane landed, we all agreed we were glad we had spent the money to see what is certainly one of the world’s most intriguing manmade wonders. We parted with our tout, who had engaged in a little trickery when it came to the matter of the airport tax, and rode back to town in a 1970’s-era Dodge Charger with a lovely old Peruvian gentleman. (Can you say “sweet ride”?) We watched the tired old SUTEP protestors march from the second floor of a restaurant on the main square and were thankful that their chanting might well be the last we would hear before leaving the country.
At 2:40 pm we boarded the last bus of our 320-day trip, a Cruz del Sur luxury liner to Lima. As if the ancient Nazcan water gods knew our time on the road was coming to an end, the first movie of the ride was She’s the Man, a family favorite, and I won the on-board Bingo tournament. Woo hoo! My reward was a souvenir bottle of Pisco Sour, which, since we don’t drink, was destined to become a tip for the maid at the Lima Sheraton. Even with all the good bus karma, the ride was bittersweet. With every kilometer that passed, Tom and I realized we were that much closer to Atlanta and what we thought would be the end of our adventure and the beginning of life as usual. Little did we know things would turn upside down once we got home…