Soundscape: The Nazca Desert

In the Nazca desert between Paracas and Punta San Juan, close to the site of the infamous Nazca lines, we stopped to venture out across the desert landscape to take 15-20 minutes to stop and listen.The soundscape was greatly influenced by my visual surroundings, and although the focus of the activity was to listen, the sights accompanying the sounds were very powerful and one would not be the same without the other. This soundscape also had a profound nostalgic effect on me because it brought me back to a time when I called Doha, Qatar my home.

It was high noon when we each set off to find our place of listening, and the giver of life beamed down hard against the vast expanse. As I walked along an invisible path on my way to wherever, I noticed that the rocks were all different colors, from the richest burgundy to light off-white quartz, to dark mafic and rusty orange. I found rough, angular rocks and unbelievably smooth rounded rocks side by side. The diversity and uniqueness of the rocks put me in a transient mindset and led me to wonder, as I walked into nowhereland, how the landscape had been changed over time. In the very same place that I sat and put my hand to the scorching sand was once an ocean teeming with marine life during the Cretaceous period some 60-90 million years ago when there were no ice caps and sea level was close to 300 ft. higher than it is today. I sat in a break between the rocks on the top of the slope of a long broad streak of fine sand. This formation of sand was peculiar yet commonly seen in this landscape and was without a doubt created by the winds of time.

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The highway from Paracas to Punta San Juan

The dominant sounds in the desert were vehicles on the road some 500 yards away from where I was listening. The rubber on asphalt sounded like waves crashing into rocks and spilling onto shore. There were points in my listening that no cars were in passing, and the wind was down. The exterior silence left me to “hear” only the ringing of my ears. This is a constant yet unnoticed noise within my head, surely from years of killing my hearing cells through drumming, attending concerts, and listening to music unnecessarily loud. I could hear the wind echoing around in my ear canals but beyond that the wind bellowed long notes through the crevices in the small hills and dunes nearby. Strong gusts sent loose sand flying into rocks which I thought sounded light rain cascading down the thick broad leaves of a magnolia tree. I had no shadow because the sun was hiding directly above me, and I wondered if the fact that it was dominating the sky at its highest point caused the winds to blow stronger and more sporadically. Not a cloud was present and the air was dry. Which led my thoughts to the immense importance of water. I wondered how people living in this desert, that receives maybe a few millimeters of rain per year, get the potable water they need to survive. Access? Sustainability? Codependency?

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Tree of Life, Nazca Lines

The loneliness of the desert brought me back to Qatar and the many times I had spent with the desert there. I used to lay under the same sun on the other side of the world from Nazca and listen to the heartbeat of the Earth, feeling blessed to have given the landscape some company even if only for a short time. The soundscape in Nazca had a nostalgic effect on me; I reminisced of the powerful dunes and peaceful warm waters of the Gulf Peninsula. The desert speaks volumes, and all you have to do is listen.

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