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California Native founder, Lee Klein, and Peruvian pilot return from another flight over the ancient Nazca lines.

In the arid desert of Peru, California Native founder, Lee Klein, and Peruvian pilot return from another flight over the ancient Nazca lines. The giant figures and geometric patterns were unknown in the modern world until they were spotted by aircraft in the 1930's.

As our Cessna again circled over the giant figures on the ground I shot the final slide on my roll of film and, leaning at a 45 degree angle, attempted to reload my camera. Another pass over a monkey larger than a football field and we headed back to the dirt landing strip on Peru’s Nazca Desert. This was my first trip to Nazca, and the year was 1979.

The Nazca Desert is a high arid plateau which stretches 37 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa in southern Peru. Hundreds of square miles of this dry, rocky plain are marked with lines, triangles and other geometric shapes, some running for more than five miles in a straight line. There are also giant drawings including a monkey, a spider, birds, reptiles, and whales.

A giant spider on the Nazca Plain

A giant spider the size of half a football field sprawls on the Nazca Plain.

The desert markings, believed to have been made thousands of years ago, made little impression on occasional travelers who viewed them from ground level, but when they were spotted by aircraft in the 1930’s they caught the world’s attention. They have since been surveyed, mapped and studied. Only two questions remain—who made them, and why?

In his 1968 book, “Chariots of the Gods,” Swiss writer Eric von Daniken suggested that the lines were built by “ancient astronauts” as a landing field. Looking at the lines from the sky they do resemble an airport, but it doesn’t seem reasonable that advanced extraterrestrial spacecraft would require landing strips. Besides, Nazca’s soft, sandy soil is hardly suitable for an airport. Forgetting the “Twilight Zone” theories, we can imagine a more down to earth explanation. We know that the region has been inhabited for thousands of years—by the Paracas, 900–200 BC, by the Nazcas, 200 BC–600 AD, and by others. The figures are generally attributed to the Nazcas since they resemble those on Nazca pottery.

From the sky, this wedged shape figure resembles a landing strip.

From the sky, this wedged shape figure at Nazca resembles a landing strip.

But why create figures which can be seen only from the sky? A reasonable explanation is that they were not intended to be viewed by humans but by gods. A local school teacher in the area explained his theory to me. The lines all point toward the Andes—the source of the water which flows into the area through underground aquifers. The figures, he believed, represent the bounty made possible by this water. The Indians probably conducted rituals on these giant drawings to thank the gods and ensure that the water would continue to flow.

They created the lines that extend for miles by placing two stakes in a row, sighting along them to place a third stake, then repeating the process. By moving the desert’s stones and scraping its surface coating, in the absence of rain, the lines have survived the centuries. Hopefully, they will survive many more centuries for future generations to marvel at.

Not far from the lines is the ancient Nazca cemetery at Chauchilla. The Nazcas buried their dead, along with many of their possessions, in underground vaults lined with mud bricks. The bodies were dressed in embroidered cotton clothes, placed in a fetal position, and coated with resin. The hot, dry climate mummified the bodies. Over the centuries the tombs were looted by huaqueros, grave robbers, who located the chambers by sticking poles into the ground.

On my first visit to the site, the scene was of a desolate desert, pockmarked with holes, and littered with human skulls and bones, broken pottery, with colored designs still vivid on their surfaces, and strands of mummy-cloth blowing in the wind. No other person was there except for the Peruvian school teacher, who was my guide, and two German tourists. While the Peruvian and I talked, the Germans were busy stuffing skulls into their backpacks for souvenirs.

Now, more than thirty years later, things are different at the ancient cemetery. The desecrated graves are roped off and trails lead to observation kiosks where mummies and artifacts are displayed. The two German tourists would no longer be able to take a long-deceased Nazcan home with them.

The mummy of Pizarro was an imposter.

At the cathedral in Lima, Peru, this mummy was mistakenly displayed for almost a century as the remains of Francisco Pizarro.

I first visited the Cathedral in Lima, Peru, in 1979, and saw the mummy of Francisco Pizarro. The mummy had been placed there back in 1891, when Peruvian officials, wanting to prominently display the “Founder of Lima,” had the body moved from the chapel in which it had lain for the previous 350 years.

But was this really Pizarro? Just prior to my visit, workers cleaning a crypt beneath the altar found two wooden boxes, one containing the bones of five people—one missing a head! The other box held a lead casket on which was inscribed in Spanish, “Here is the skull of the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro, who discovered and won Peru and placed it under the crown of Castile.”

Francisco Pizarro died a violent death. On June 16,1541, while he was having dinner in his governor’s palace, a group of men, led by the son of his ex-partner, Diego de Almagro, broke in and stabbed him to death. As he lay dying from multiple sword wounds, he drew a cross on the ground in his own blood, kissing it, and crying “Jesus.” In 1892, his mummy was exhumed and displayed for almost a century in the Lima, Peru Cathedral, but was discovered to be an imposter when the underground crypt was discovered.

Pizarro had lived a cruel but exciting life. Born in poverty and illiterate all of his life, he sailed with several expeditions to the Americas, including Balboa’s journey to the Pacific. After settling in Panama, he formed a partnership with Almagro, a soldier, and Hernando de Luque, a priest, to explore the territory south of Panama, they discovered the Inca Empire. Pizarro then sailed to Spain to enlist the support of Emperor Charles V, from whom he received the charter to conquer and rule Peru. The

After the bloody conquest of the Incas, where 2000 Indians were slaughtered and Emperor Atahuallpa strangled, Pizarro alienated his partner, Almagro. This eventually led to armed conflict between the former partners, and Pizarro’s brother, Hernando, having Almagro garroted.

The skull in the lead box matched the headless skeleton and, when reunited, turned out to be a man approximately the right age and height for Pizarro at the time of his death. Additionally, the skeleton showed that the man had been murdered by multiple sword thrusts, unlike the mummy which, upon reexamination, showed no wounds, leading Peruvian and American scientists to conclude that the skeleton was indeed that of Pizarro. It is now believed that the mummy who had sat in for Pizarro for so many years, was a church official. He is now retired, and the “real” Pizarro’s bones have taken his place on display.

Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Ricardo Gonzalez

Ricardo Gonzalez, great uncle of Bessie "Crickett" Quijada.

A few weeks ago we received a very interesting comment from Bessie "Crickett" Quijada regarding our article, A Visit With Mrs. Pancho Villa. I contacted her and she agreed to share some of her photos with us.

In her comment Mrs. Quijada told us “My grand mother’s brother, Ricardo Gonzales, rode with The General Pancho Villa. In the Military Classics Illustrated (News Letter) there is a photo of My great uncle Ricardo on horseback along with Pancho Villa and about 5 or 6 other riders. My uncle is to Pancho Villas left. I have a photo of my uncle with Mrs Pancho Villa (Dona Luz) taken at La Quinta Manor where she lived until her death. The Villa’s manor is a museum in Chihuahua, MX. In the Military Classics Illustrated along with the photo of my uncle with Pancho Villa there is an article titled, The Villistas: Soldiers in Sombreros and Suit Coats By Don Fuchik.”

The author she refers to, Don Fuchik, was a very close friend of mine from the time we were 13-years old until his death a few years ago. He was also a consultant for The California Native and led many of our trips through Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Pancho Villa and Luz Corral de Villa Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez
Pancho Villa and his wife, Luz Corral de Villa, in 1914. Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez in 1967.

Crickett was born in Denver, Colorado and grew up in Stockton, California. She now lives in Fresno. She describes herself as being 67 going on 12, and never wants to grow up. She has eight children, two which she adopted, and two male pet hooded rats whom she adores (she claims that rats make great pets). Her nickname is Crickett and that is what she prefers to be called.

The Sacred Well of Chichen-Itza

Maidens were sacrificed to the Rain God Chac in Chichen-Itza's Sacred Well.

My first introduction to the Mayans was in a grammar school textbook where our fourth grade class read a story titled “The Sacred Well of Chichen Itza.” I was fascinated with the tale of the young maidens being thrown into the well to be sacrificed to the Rain God Chac. This was back in the 1940’s and more than 20 years passed before I first traveled to Chichen Itza and stood before that very same well—too late to rescue a maiden but a wonderful time to conjure up visions of a past when exotic civilizations populated the Americas.

The jaguar throne of Kukulkan

In an inner chamber of Chichen-Itza's largest pyramid sits the jade-eyed jaguar throne of Kukulkan.

The Yucatan Peninsula is the homeland of the Mayan people, whose mighty empire lasted over a thousand years. Throughout the peninsula are the amazing archaeological ruins of their great cities—Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Edzna and many more—a fantastic place to take a time-traveling vacation. In addition, there are lovely colonial cities, forts designed to protect against Caribbean pirates and beautiful beaches.

Pyramid El Castillo in Chichen-Itza

The El Castillo pyramid dominates the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen-Itza

After leaving the sacred well, I climbed a passageway cut into the great pyramid called “El Castillo” into an older pyramid covered by “El Castillo.” Here in an inside chamber I gazed upon Kukilkan’s red jaguar throne, its eyes and spots glittering with jade and its fangs glowing with pyrite. After exiting with the tourists I wandered alone in the ruins where I found a little entrance in the side of a pyramid and entered a narrow passage. Gradually the outside light from the entrance grew dimmer and dimmer and then my little pocket flashlight stopped working. I found myself alone in the pitch-black. Very creepy. I felt my way back up the tunnel, imagining the possibility of getting lost in an underground labyrinth and was very happy when I emerged into the sunlight—Indiana Jones would have been proud.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Onlookers move to the side as a train approaches the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

I stroll across the railway bridge whistling “Colonel Bogie’s March.” Others on the bridge give me strange looks as if thinking “Who is this weird man?” But I feel good and my whistling is appropriate, for this is the famous “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Most of us first heard about the bridge through the 1957 film, based on Pierre Boulle’s French novel. Set in a World War II Japanese POW camp in Burma, it is a fictional account of a battle of wills between a harrassed Japanese camp commander and a doggedly-stubborn British colonel. The story climaxes when allied commandos blow up the bridge.

Prisoners build Bridge on the River Kwai.

More than 300,000 Allied and Asian war prisoners were forced to build the railroad bridge over the River Kwai.

The true story is different. During the Second World War, the Japanese planned a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon to shorten the distance between Japan and Burma by 1,300 miles. The railway would cross some of the wettest and most inhospitable terrain in Southeast Asia and require the construction of 688 bridges, but they considered it critical to the war effort.

For labor they used 250,000 Asian forced-laborers, mostly Thai, and more than 60,000 Allied prisoners—30,000 British, 18,000 Dutch, 13,000 Australians, and 700 Americans. Estimated to take five or six years to build, the project, which began on September 16, 1942, was completed after only 16 months, and cost the lives of 16,000 POWs and 75,000 Asian workers. The deaths from cholera, beri beri, malaria, typhoid, exhaustion and malnourishment, earned the railroad the name, “The Death Railway.”

Allied war prisoners in barracks at Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Allied war prisoners in barracks during construction of Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Japanese actually constructed two parallel bridges across the River Kwai, just outside of the Thai town of Kanchanaburi—the first made entirely of wood, the second made of steel and concrete. The Allies destroyed both on February 13, 1945.

In the film the commandos detonated explosive charges fastened to the bridge’s supports. The real bridge was bombed. Failing to destroy the bridges with conventional bombs (some hitting POW camps) the American flyers brought in a new weapon, the AZON (Azimuth Only) bomb. The precursor of today’s “smart” bombs, it had a radio-controlled tail and ten times the accuracy of a conventional bomb.

After the war, engineers repaired the steel bridge over the River Kwai. It is still in use. Visitors to Kanchanaburi, Thailand, now walk across the bridge (the fortunate ones having the opportunity to witness me whistling the theme from the movie), and visit the Allied war cemetery and a museum run by Buddhist monks, featuring a reconstruction of a prisoner of war camp. The monks built the museum “not for the maintenance of hatred among human beings but to warn and teach us the lesson of how terrible war is.”

Bangkok, Thailand, is the cross roads of Southeast Asia. Most passengers traveling to our California Native destinations of Myanmar (Burma) and Bhutan stop in Bangkok before resuming their journeys, and it is well worth spending an additional day to visit Kanchanaburi with its memorials and famous bridge.

Toucan in Costa Rica rain forest.
Oxcart in Costa Rica.

We are offering a $100 discount for each person joining our Costa Rica Nature Explorer trips. All you have to do is mention this offer when you phone us and sign up before July 31, 2009. This offer is valid for departures on any day through December 31, 2010.

Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise. Unlike most tropical rainforests, where you can only view animals at a distance, in Costa Rica they are right up close. Sloths hang from trees, monkeys scamper through the canopy, basilisks (Jesus Christ lizards) run across the streams (they actually walk on water), and crocodiles sun themselves on river banks.

Did you know that Costa Rica has more species of butterflies than the entire continent of Africa, and more bird species than in all of North America?

The scenery is fantastic—volcanoes, rain forests, cloud forests, mountains and beaches. The country is peaceful, friendly and safe.

Now is the time to plan your Costa Rica vacation and save an extra $100 per person.

(This offer cannot be combined with any other offer.)

We received this letter from Robert Bolton, a photographer from Wellsville, Utah, who was delighted with his trip and the photographic opportunities in Copper Canyon.

Dear California Native,

Respecting my recent trip to Copper Canyon with your company, to begin Rob was an outstanding tour guide in all respects. He is highly competent, knows his facts and he was a pleasure to be with. Rob worked diligently to meet the various requests of tour participants. In summary, I count Rob as a new friend.

In regards to the trip itself, it was a thorough adventure. It seemed in some ways as though I was stepping back in time one hundred and fifty years – except for the modern amenities. I particularly enjoyed the cultural aspects of the sojourn, dealing with remote peoples and villages.

Batopilas was exceptional, and in my view the high point of the trip, although there were many other singular experiences as well. This remote village was a joy to visit, and, as I am a serious photographer, a pictorial feast. I spent the first afternoon there making pictures of the town and colorful facades. I would have enjoyed spending an additional day in Batopilas. Another aspect of this particular experience was observing the village inhabitants interacting with one another. They take time to enjoy one another’s company, something that is disappearing in western culture.

Further, this is the first time I have ridden a train since I was a child, other than a brief experience in Europe this past September. I thoroughly enjoyed the train and the various cultural experiences along the rails.

Our first nights stay at Torres Del Fuerte in El Fuerte was a special treat. The old world charm at this hotel was particularly memorable. I would have enjoyed spending a bit more time at this venue.

Throughout our travels the food was great. In particular, the cooking at the restaurant in Batopilas and at Diego’s – Paraiso del Oso – was outstanding. One other note: I had some of the best guacamole of my life at a small restaurant in Creel that Rob took us to.

To conclude, I’ll not soon forget this outstanding travel experience. Thank you for a wonderful adventure.
Sincerely,

Robert Bolton
Wellsville, UT

Thank you Mr. Bolton. And we invite others to share their impressions, photographs, and videos of their California Native trips.
Lee Klein

With the economy being at its lowest point since the Great Depression, our government is trying to give it a jump-start with a number of stimulus packages. We at California Native are announcing our own stimulus package:
In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a young Tarahumara weaver modestly smiles.
We are giving a $100 discount to each person signing up for any of our trips to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This offer applies to each person that you sign up, and you can join a small group tour or enjoy one of our independent adventures.

To qualify all you have to do is mention this offer at the time you sign up. Hurry, our stimulus package is valid only until April 15, 2009, but you can travel at any time. Yes You Can!

Traveling around the world, an important part of the experience is tasting the local cuisine. From Mexico to China, from Hungary to Bhutan, no trip is complete without sampling the regional specialties.

But on a long trip, after days or weeks of eating the local dishes, I always develop a craving for the universal comfort food—pizza. And so, I make it a part of each of my journeys to try the local pizza, the one food, besides a ham-and-cheese sandwich, that can be found almost everywhere.

In Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), we found excellent pizza at the Rudyard Kipling Bar & Grill. In LeJiang, Yunnan Province, China, after many days of Chinese banquets for lunch and dinner, in spite of protests by our Chinese host, we headed for the nearest pizza parlor and enjoyed our pizza and beer feast.

Traveling through Thailand, we discovered excellent pizza was at the Slow Food Italian Restaurant in Chang Mei, where the proprietor, an Italian expat in a wheelchair, greeted each guest. All of his staff were also wheelchair bound or disabled.

On a dark and stormy night, in a remote corner of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains, Doug Rhodes, the owner of the Paraiso del Oso Lodge, outside of the little village of Cerocahui, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, proudly served us what he declared was the “best pizza in Northern Mexico.” Kerosene lanterns lighted the dining room and the pizza was covered in generous portions of olives, which my wife, Ellen, hates, and had great difficulty trying to remove in the dim light. I, however, tended to agree with Doug’s assessment.

Last year, while visiting Budapest, Hungary, we enjoyed the pizza at Al Capone’s, a chain of pizza parlors in Eastern and Western Europe, which is now owned by Australian pizza giant Domino’s Pizza.

Wherever in the world we go we are not that far from home when we can take a break from the ethnic food and enjoy a great pizza. My favorite toppings are ham, pineapple, mushrooms and olives. What are yours?