Where am I?
Throughout my brief stay in Peru's capital of 8 million, I had flashes of the Mexico City I came to know during a 5-week stay last autumn.
Historically speaking, it's natural that Lima should bear a likeness to the D.F. After all, these two metropolises were the centers of Spanish colonialism in the new world for centuries after the conquest, anchoring the viceroyalties of Perú and New Spain, respectively.
But the similarities transcend history. Both cities are surrounded by mountains, dark, hulking forms whose silhouettes can just be glimpsed through the haze and smog of the urban jungle.
And, as anyone who's researched these destinations can attest, both have been dubbed "dangerous" by guidebooks and popular opinion. Crime is indeed a problem in Lima; one has only to listen to the symphony of overly sensitive car alarms in the posh districts of San Isidro and Miraflores to grasp the locals' concern over the issue.
All this being said, however, Lima is a completely distinct locale in many respects. Take, for example, the carpets of deep green that coat city parks and boulevard medians. Here, in a region where it famously never rains, lies a city in which palms tower, mysterious tropical flowers bloom, and the air is always humid.
Mexico City had its share of green spaces as well, but, in the throes of the dry season, the shades there tended more towards a dusty olive, and the dry air/pollution cocktail sucked the moisture from my skin.
Lima owes its balminess to its coastal location, another feature setting it apart from Mexico's inland capital. Down in the ultra-swank, cliff-side shopping complex of LarcoMar, you have a 50/50 chance of stumbling into a surf shop or a beach-ware store. This imbues the city with something of a tropical party atmosphere (at least in the coastal sections of Miraflores) that cannot be found in Mexico City.
But the time for comparisons is over. I'm in South America now, and will be for some time. As I venture deep into the Andes highlands, I expect to encounter scenes that in no way resemble Mexico, or anywhere else I've been.
I can't wait.