When I was a 19 year old missionary in Peru I lived for 6 months in a desert town called Nazca, world famous for the Nazca Lines. Nazca is very hot and dry, so water is at a premium. The ancient inhabitants built several spiral aqueducts in the area to access underground water. Many of the aqueducts are still accessible today. I was reminded of this when I ran across a Motherboard article about it.
These aqueducts can be found in several places in the area and have helped the region actually sustain agriculture. As you drive into the valley where Nazca sits from the northwest you will see green farmland running the entire length of the valley to your left, much of it the previous property of a wealthy aristocratic family whose hacienda lies in ruins against the mountainside, occupied by several families. The property was seized by the government in the 70s and redistributed to the poor who had been working the land. The irony of this redistribution is there were so many families that the plots are often too small to sustain anything above sustenance living.
I spent a lot of time visiting people in the fields of this northern edge of the valley. This is where I first saw the aqueducts. They are run down and poorly preserved, but they still work. These spiral structures were dug several in a row, each connected by small rock lined tunnels. These tiny passages allow the air to push the water along.1 Families still wash their clothing in the below ground streams and those without plumbing in their homes retrieve water for cooking and bathing.2
My memories of Nazca are so full. It was the first place I felt weather hot enough to make it difficult to breath. It is where I became more confident in my Spanish speaking. I remember the rotisserie chicken place off of the main street into town. My Grandfather died while I was in Nazca. I also remember a man showing me his prized fighting roosters in their cages on his roof.
Memory is a funny, wonderful thing.
As young men, we missionaries sometimes had foolish ideas. Upon reflection, one of our worst had to be crawling through one of those tunnels connecting aqueducts. I never thought of myself as claustrophobic before I crawled through on hands and knees in pitch black with 6-12 inches of flowing water, having to squeeze through spaces that were too small for me. The near panic I remember from those short minutes underground have dissuaded me from ever attempting cave spelunking. ↩︎
If you find yourself in Nazca there is a park along the southern edge of the valley, with a line of well preserved (maybe restored?) spiral aqueducts, complete with tour guides who can explain them to you. ↩︎