Yesterday we went on a flight over the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Nazca lines, 400 km south of Lima. It was advertised as every person gets a window seat. Yes, that’s because there are only twelve seats in the entire plane. They had to weigh each of the passengers before we boarded so that they could distribute us evenly. Don’t worry, we were told, we won’t tell anybody, your weight will be like the secret of the ancient Nazca lines themselves. Well thanks.
The Nazca lines were amazing. Enormous, distinct, intricate, mysterious. But what really made our day was our *pilot, Carlos.
Now I’m sure that Carlos flies this little tourist route at least three times a day, seven days a week. But he is not bored with his job, oh no siree. He is loving his job.
After taking off we fly for 30 minutes before descending towards Nazca.
“Now, the first picture we’ll see is the whale,” Carlos announces before suddenly banking.
“Can you see it, can you see it, can you see it?” he squeals excitedly through the intercom, “can you see the whale?”
The plane is now banked at an alarming near 90 degrees, with everybody on the left side of the plane facing the earth. We’re circling downwards towards the desert sands, and I am not looking for any drawing of a whale, I’m clutching either side of my seat and praying that we don’t tilt any further.
It becomes apparent that Carlos will continue to circle sideways until he is assured that all six people on the left side of the plane have seen the whale. He’s paying no attention to the controls, rather he is facing back to us, grinning and waving his hands.
“Can you see it?” he asks again. And at the last minute I spot it, the perfect drawing of a whale.
“Sí, sí, sí!” six of us yell over the noise of the engine.
Carlos gives us the thumbs up, pleased.
“Ok, and now for the right side,” and suddenly the plane circles in a figure of eight and I am sideways again but looking at clear blue sky while Don is now below me staring down at the sand. Carlos repeats the routine with these right side passengers until all have confirmed seeing the whale, and we straighten up and head towards the next design.
“And now the astronaut,” announces Carlos, “he is special because he is the only one on the side of a mountain.”
And thus we begin circling sideways and downwards, in our little tin can plane, towards the side of a mountain.
“Do you see him? Do you see the astronaut?”
“Sí, sí,” yell just five people on my side of the plane, as one lady is now quite green and unable to yell anything, “please stop plummeting towards the mountain!”
Ok, so none of us actually yell this last bit, but you can’t tell me we weren’t all thinking it. Especially the lady who is green.
And now it’s Don’s turn to face the mountain.
Through the sky we fly for the next 30 minutes, Carlos banking, circling and plummeting as though he’s piloting a remote controlled aircraft, and all of his passengers yelling sí, sí at the tops of our voices and holding our thumbs up the second we recognise the monkey, the parrot, the hummingbird and the rest of the patterns.
It’s a good thing these ancient lines are so fascinating. Once I start focusing on looking for the patterns, I forget I’m on a roller coaster ride and the only thing holding me in place is a flimsy seatbelt.
Although Carlos isn’t helping. He’s delighted at every tilt and turn and every design, laughing with us (or perhaps at us), and finding the Nazca lines and his passengers much more entertaining than the actual controls of his aeroplane. It’s like this is his very first time flying.
Although thank-you God that I’m only thinking this right now.