Mystery of the Nasca Lines
THE curtains in my Lima hostel room were cluttered with the mysterious shapes which draw thousands of people to the Nasca Lines every year.
On entry to the hotel there were little boy and girl mannequins dressed in traditional clothes.
This all signalled how close I was to the Peruvian countryside I had longed to see since I was a child.
First stop was Pisco on the way south.
Where better to have my first Pisco Sour, Peru's national drink made with fluffy egg whites. And my second, third, fourth .... You get the picture.
Then south to Huacachina, also known as the Oasis because the town and its gorgeous pools sprang up around the enormous sand dunes.
I hit the Arabic-like mountains in a dune-buggy which was a little like a rollercoaster ride as we soared up vertical sand cliffs and straight down the other side.
When we stopped for some sandboarding, I thought they were joking.
"Aren't we going to do a practice run first," I inquired as I stared down a sheer cliff of sand.
"This IS the practice run," I was informed.
I declared there was no way I was sliding head first down that slope, although there was barely an incline to call a slope, on something akin to a snow board.
But after four people slid down and with peer pressure mounting, the guide dragged me to a board and sent me sailing down.
It was over in a matter of seconds but I had filled my pockets with sand along the way.
Next stop they made me slide down on my back, still head first. I don't think I can quantify how much sand ended up in my ears and mouth after a close shave during a wobble at the end.
The final slope, a good 100m, was by far the longest and I was going so fast I thought I would never stop.
Despite my participation under duress, it was loads of fun.
I rinsed off in one of the crystal blue pools in the town but I was cleaning sand out of my ears for days.
Finally, I headed south towards the mysterious lines I had yearned to see.
I stopped enroute to climb a tower to view the candelabra and the hands.
A great first taste but I was looking forward to my flight the next day.
Although there are many travel warnings from embassies around the world, I was willing to take the risk.
Plus my tour guide told me there had been vast improvements since a spate of crashes in recent years.
He said the dodgy companies which had sprung up had been driven away and there were now only four operators who were heavily regulated for safety procedures.
Other tour guides still advise against it.
I jumped in a tiny plane with a pilot, guide and three other passengers.
Some believe the Nasca lines form an astronomical map but one of the most common theories in Peru is that they form an outdoor temple.
The Nasca people live in a fierce desert environment and the relationship of the designs with rituals and ceremonies of water is strong.
Within minutes of taking to the skies you can see distinct lines heading in various directions.
Those and the harder to spot animals were formed by tying rope to strategically placed wooden sticks.
The Nasca people would then scrape out the first layer of heavy rock and sand to reveal a different colour on the second layer.
Although they are believed to have been created in the 600s, or close to, they have preserved well thanks to a trick of nature.
The lower level of the desert is hot so when the wind crashes into the lower atmosphere it is simply reflected away.
The dugout lines, some less than 30m deep, remain cleared for this reason.
The first animal I spotted was a whale but it was tricky to see.
The plane does a circle to the left and right so all the passengers can get a good view and take photos.
It is really important to listen to the guide's instructions on which lines to follow to find some animals.
I thought they would be bigger and therefore easier to spot but it does take some patience.
My favourites were the monkey, hummingbird, condor and spider.
But it was a dream come true to finally see these lines.
There are many theories about how they could have made such designs only appreciable from the sky.
Some have suggested the Nasca people had some sort of flying contraption and others say they built ramps to view them from above.
But no one really know how or why they were created.
It's like a film without a definitive ending. You must come to your own conclusion.
It pays to read all the theories before going.
That way you can decide on an informed opinion.
I still haven't made up my mind.
A Latin Affair is a travel column written by Rae Wilson.