I am now in Peru's capital, and it is hard to believe I am still in the same country. I got a bus on Friday from Cusco, arriving at the desert town of Nazca on Saturday morning. I flew over the famous lines in a small plane, which was exciting and had fantastic views. The lines are impressive, and very difficult to understand - how and why would a civilization a thousand years ago make these huge drawings in the sand, which you can only see from the air? Inevitably there have been stacks of conspiracy theories, mostly involving aliens (very Indiana Jones).
The drive from there to Lima was pure desert, towns made of adobe with reed roofs and huge sand dunes. The political graffiti changes here - there is far more in support of Fujimori and his daughter Keiko, who is planning to run for president in 2011.
Lima itself is colossal, a city of 8 or 9 million people. Arriving in the centre and being confronted by huge commercial buildings and global brands was something of a shock after three months in Pisac. My hostel (Loki, part of a great chain in Peru) is opposite an enormous McDonald's. In Lima you have to stick to the right neighbourhoods at the right times, but if you do that there is little to deserve its terrible reputation from what I have seen so far. The upper-class coastal suburbs of Miraflores and Barranco have beautiful sea views, and remind me a lot of Spanish cities like Barcelona or Madrid. There are houses with electric fences, walls and private security, and the people look very different - essentially, because a lot of them are white. Miraflores also has a shopping centre called LarcoMar, which is built into the seafront cliffs - a stunning location, even if it's not exactly a hot cultural destination. It was there that I went to the cinema last night, which felt like a novel experience after three months.
The historic centre is beautiful but crumbling, kind of like how I imagine old Havana. Yesterday I saw the changing of the guard at the presidential palace, and had a wander through the old streets. I am spending two more days here, probably leaving on Tuesday night for Trujillo.