They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Travel diary (08 out of 28): Nazca lines

Travel diary (08 out of 28): Nazca lines

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

I cannot remember if we ever slept that night, sat in those awful seats on the "Ormeño" bus that slowly took us to Lima. Should I have to believe Sara's first statement in the morning (her words were: "How lucky you are! You slept like a log!"), I was in Morfeo's arms the whole night. However, I am still thinking of it, I can hardly imagine myself dozing during a journey that was really a nightmare.

Whatever happened, at dawn we could not identify the sensation felt in our bodies (in the part that still we recognized at that very moment), but I would assure that was similar to the one experienced by those invited to spend a night inside Torquemada's dungeons. Something like a mixture (neither healthy nor funny) of cramp, bruising, break and cells' disappearing. The WC of the bus and the sewers of New York during the rush hour had slight difference (if any at all) and, if anyone had had the idea of lighting a match there, Chernobyl's disaster would have been nothing compared with the violent bursting that might have happened in that stuffy atmosphere. If by now, you have managed to imagine our physical-mental state, I can tell you then that the sun was bright that morning, and the southern part of Peru we were crossing was a long area of beaches and beaches extending their shore as far as our sight could reach. Most of them were surrounded by fields of dunes whose surface was absolutely surprising. We still were in the middle of a desert, but we did not pay attention to the dust, we were fully concentrated on the beauty created by the blue and white colors of the sea, on its waves, on the sea birds touching the foam that the breaking waves left on the beach, and soaring up into the air (gulls, "pardelas", "rabiahorcados", cormorants). Not that far in the course of history, the excretions of those birds (the "guano", a word that comes from Quechua "wano", animal excretion) gradually accumulated, layer after layer, on the surface of small islands and coastal cliffs during decades, had been an excellent source of rich organic compounds for improving the soil, and became very important for the wealth of the country. When phosphate mines were discovered in Northern Chile, and trade companies became aware that chemical fertilizers had a stronger power (and mines would take much more time in being exhausted than the sea birds excretion) the trade of "guano" was in decline. Nonetheless, till that very moment, a genuine "guano aristocracy" had been born, the same as in Manaos (Brasil) was the rubber one, in Argentina the one of meat and leather, in Chile the copper one and in Colombia the one of coffee.

The coast line continued having no end. Here and there, stony grounds limited large sandy bays; in some of the promontories we could see a quay and, near them, dozens of fishing boats. Sea currents (if I am not mistaken, the most important one in this area is Humboldt Current, very cold and rich in nutrients) give rise to an extraordinary explosion of life that is quite unusual in other parts of the planet. Communities on the coast depend on fishing for their livelihood. These communities group together in very small settlements that, in many cases, have only two or three huts. Here the type of house we could see was very peculiar. It had its four walls made of reed (the stems of the plant are flattened in first place and twisted later, employing a very simple technique of weaving). Those walls encircled a space not bigger than three square meters, which was covered by a corrugated iron roof. Such houses (without electricity, drains, WC or gas) rose in the middle of that brownish land. It was almost a surrealistic view when we found a woman sweeping at the entrance door of her hut, completely surrounded by sand and dust.

Many times that door was only a curtain, and the grounds where the huts were placed, though thirsty and desolated, had a few "cardones" (cactus) scattered here and there. This was another curious thing: in Argentina and Bolivia I had seen stone fences between two areas of land; however, we smiled to each other when we saw that in the north of Chile and in the south of Peru, those fences were made sometimes with lots of "cardones" placed one next to the other in a line. Huts can be made of stone, concrete, "adobe" (mud dried in the sun, and mixed with straw) or reed, depending on the resources of their owners and the local building habits. In whatever way, landscapes and human settlements were so intimately woven that shapes, colors, and materials used by human beings were only different pieces of the same natural frame, and the scenery that they drew in front of us was very attractive to look at.

We crossed Ica when the sun was very high in the sky. It is quite a big village, and possesses something very peculiar that maybe you already know: The Stones Museum, a private institution placed in the Central Square. This Museum includes a collection of hundreds of polished pebbles of diverse sizes, supposedly prehistoric, engraved with scenes very different from each other, which go from dinosaurs to very complex surgical operations, transplants, flying objects, weapons, means of transport and detailed maps of this and other planets. Obviously, any historian's first reaction is to talk of fake objects, fraud and forgery. However, what seems to be true is the "layer of antiquity" that lies over their surface. Anyway, this is another mystery very well hidden throughout history, which would not differ very much from the one we came across a bit further, in Nazca. There, though only from the air, you can observe a series of astonishing geoglyphs.

We went on crossing the coastal desert, a sandy brownish solitude, only broken by short and stony rivers in the middle of miraculously irrigated valleys, where one can see small cotton plantations and orchards with different fruit trees.

Nazca (or Nasca, we do not know yet which is the right spelling) welcomed us very gently with the proper calm of those big villages that turn into small towns. Maybe it had not much to show, or there was not too much to be seen in the town. However, once you pass it, a few kilometers straight to the north, a plain ground spreads over the horizon, where curious and very big silhouettes have been drawn: of a monkey, of a sea bird, of a hummingbird, of a spider, of fish and of lines pointing to the places where sun rises and goes down in different moments of the year. Archaeologists, astonished by the excellent work done by the authors of this prehispanic monument, cannot find its meaning. Should it be a work of art? Who knows. In that case its meaning would not go further than the art as such. Should it be a sort of calendar? Nobody knows, but its forms would not seem to be very useful for the matter. Should it be any kind of welcome message to "the space brothers"? Well, this last theory, irrational though it may seem, has been the one keeping most people's attention, letting their imagination run. Many are the ones visiting this place year after year. Those who have enough money can see Nazca lines from the air (there are a good number of light aircrafts waiting for them at Nazca aerodrome); the ones without it can try gazing a fine brush stroke of the entire picture from the side of the road (as we did), or maybe they could find one or two whole figures climbing the small hills surrounding the coast line. Those who are not going to come near this area in the future may try using the software Google Earth. Sure they can enjoy not only their findings but also the fact of seeking such enormous glyphs, a disappeared culture's creations that are still a great unknown.

We continued crossing more and more inhabited places as time was slowly passing. It was afternoon when we arrived in Lima, but long before we started admiring the gorgeous beaches, one after the other, that some of our Peruvian friends had announced to us. There were bays, fishing grounds and coves; there were houses for spending the weekend or for holidays; there were kilometers of straight beaches, sandy shores and buildings of many different types scattered in the horizon. We were not able to see it, but someone has told us that most of those beaches are private areas. This is something that did not surprise us at all, since it happens the same in Argentina: the landowners buy thousands and thousands of hectares and the State looks to the other side and does not want to ask them for the rivers, streams, lakes and seas that belong to everybody according to the law.

Anyway, we were in Lima finally. We had left behind more than 30 km of impoverished areas surrounding the city; sandy hills and large groups of unfinished houses covered in dust and mud. One of them really made a strong impression on both of us: there were more than a hundred "huts" (small and simple shelters) placed over a concrete plant, they could not be considered humble because they did not even have either electricity, gas or water, they were miserable and depressing buildings made of reed, calamine and less more. There were no streets, no overhead wires, no sewers. It was a human settlement with no living conditions. Though surprised, we were not strangers to this reality that shamefully is the only one for a great deal of Latin American people: wherever country you visit in this land, you will find many scenes like the one described a few lines above. I always tell about these horrible situations because I want them to be listened and read by those arrogant urban colleagues who (maybe because of their ignorance, maybe because of their ingeniousness) believe that their reality is the reality of everybody in every place in their city, in their province, even in the whole country. I wonder how they dare to talk me about digital libraries as the model to be followed, when in their own land, very near to their house, there is still people (potential library services users, with more needs than anybody else) living in miserable conditions, there is people suffering... Suffering from poverty, hunger and illness, from the lack of education, from sadness, from the loss of hope. People with no illusions, without smile, almost without tears in this part of the story. I do not know how to call those regrettable attitudes of my colleagues, I do not know if they are blind by proud or by stupidity, or maybe by both of them at the same time. What I really know is that our profession feels the effects of those ignorant that do not seem to see the real state of things, those who live in their ivory towers surrounded by welfare and wealth, not even knowing that their rules and norms do not have value behind the doors they lock every day. I say this, because those unable to see what is in front of them, most of the times are the ones in charge of our teams, organizations and institutions, they are managers, directors, leaders... They are the ones making decisions and telling us how to put them into practice. Perhaps, a bit of fieldwork is exactly what they need most. However, I absolutely doubt that they want to put aside their smart suit, their comfortable chair and their fashionable laptop, and let their nails to be broken and their hands to be dirty in a depressing urban settlement or a rural area (far from their catalogues and managing positions). For all of them, I want to publicly manifest my repudiation.

Lima welcomed us with open arms. Nobody was waiting for us, we did not know the city, neither we had made a hotel reservation in advance. We were exhausted and our backpacks were heavy enough to make us decide (first of all and with no delay) where to spend the following nights. We had not very good references about this city. Our Peruvian friends had qualified it as "terribly dangerous", so we did not know whether start walking or better take a taxi. Well, we did one thing after the other. First we walked a bit and asked for cheap places to sleep, not far from the "New" National Library. Then we took a taxi and in less than an hour we were in the room of a small hotel placed in San Borja district. People in the street were very kind and we did not have a single problem during our stay in Lima. The following day, Monday 13th of November, the International Congress on Librarianship would start and I would have to present my conference in the afternoon. I was going to talk about Open Access, but about the Congress, the conference and the city I will let you know more in the following post.

From this side of the world, a big hug for all of you...