“Safety checks complete. Ready for take-off.”, the co-pilot’s voice crackled in my headset. He turned around and gave us the thumbs up. Grinning, we returned the signal. A-ok. Clutching our maps, cameras poised, we bumped along the runway in our tiny six-seater plane, ready to fly over the famous Nazca lines.
We had never planned on coming to Nazca. But as we’ve found along the way, many plans go out the window and many more come flying in. To say that these charter flights have a dubious safety record is an understatement. After a number of fatalities in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the government started a investigation into safety of the airlines. 68% failed the tests. However, that was four years ago and standards have greatly improved since. We hoped. From Huacachina, we were a mere couple of hours away and we had a day to fill before our night bus to Arequipa. Which is how we found ourselves in the small ‘Panoramic’, headsets clamped over our ears, gazing down at the myriad of twists and turns in the sand below, trying to make out the monkey, the hummingbird and the whale. It’s far easier to wait until the pilot points it out. Unlike star gazing, where the shapes are vague and ambiguous (a slight note of bitterness perhaps creeping through here, as I’ve only ever been able to make out the saucepan), the animals and other figures engraved in the desert are clear and easy to photograph.
We followed the route plotted on our maps, banking alternately left and right past the whale, the monkey, the astronaut, the condor, the dog, octopus, hummingbird, parrot, the tree, hands and the spider. While the majority are drawn on an immense scale in the sand, some, like the astronaut and the baby condor are sketched into the rock face. Although the designs are simple, and from the ground would look no different to car tracks across the plains, it is incredible that a design of that scale can still resemble its original intention at altitude.
As we glided over the desert, the heat of the day shimmered across the skyline. The mountains grew hazy and were then thrown into sharp relief as we veered back on ourselves. The ground is brown, arid and inconsequential – there are few landmarks, just plain after plain of dust, the Panamerican Highway cutting a straight line of pale grey through the monotony of colour. It is little wander that the Nazca Lines were discovered by complete accident.
I am so glad that we flew over the lines in the end – they were an amazing sight and it was a wonderful first experience in a small plane. For a few minutes, I contemplated learning to fly. Perhaps one day… Although the accidents that occured a few years ago had made us a little nervous, the research that we did before choosing an airline considerably calmed us. Ultimately however, we just took a deep breath and clambered aboard – a climb of faith. For what’s life and travel without a little adventure, as the saying goes?