The Nazca Desert on a high Peruvian plateau is an isolated, dry and windless place, that scientists believe once was rich and fertile. The Nasca people destroyed their fertile forest biosphere 2,500 years ago to plant huge swathes of maize and cotton. An extreme El Niño event caused an immense flood that swept everything before it, before the ancient civilisation vanished in unforgiving sand where bodies linger on forever.
Nazca Desert Near Huacachina, Peru
Travellers overnighting in Huacachina accommodation would deserve forgiveness for thinking the only markings in the Nazca Desert sands are tyre tracks they leave behind as they labour up and down the giant dunes. In 1553, the explorer Pedro Cieza de León noticed a series of small trenches he mistook for trail markers. It was only after humankind invented airplanes, that a pilot casually looked down and discovered a secret lying forgotten for 2,500 years.
Sunrise at Huacachina
The pilot had stumbled over a variety of huge curvilinear drawings spanning hundreds of meters each, that the Nasca people created by digging shallow trenches ten to fifteen centimetres down. These revealed underlying lighter-coloured clay providing images of mythical hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, and lizards etched below, but only visible from the sky.
The Monkey in the Nazca Desert
Opinions divide sharply concerning why the industrious Nazca people created such strange images apparently intended to be visible only from the sky. Much of their art depicts mythical monster gods they believed controlled their lives. Perhaps these images are still praying for them.
Some believe their drawings are calling out to flying saucers. Modern scientists are more pragmatic, thinking the lines are pathways for meditation. I think the mystery lingers on, and challenges our sense of what is real.