|We left Auckland and NZ behind yesterday, February 1 at 5:30 p.m., making our way across the Pacific and crossing the International Date Line once more, on our way to Santiago, Chile, touching down on February 1 at 12:45 p.m., arriving earlier than when we had left NZ...a month ago we were not even sure that we were going to make it here to Chile since there were supposedly problems with Qantas/LAN and no seats available for our class of ticket...every time we checked with them we were told that we continued to be wait-listed and when we arrived in Auckland and checked with Qantas on-line we noted that they had cancelled our wait-listed flight. The local Qantas office in Auckland just happened to be close to the YHA hostel we were staying at and so I quickly made my way over there and sat down with an agent and within thirty seconds she had us back on the flight and confirmed....we couldn't understand what the issue was during the previous three weeks as to why they couldn't confirm us on the flight, but we were happy that it was all sorted out...the only problem now was that we were unable to make any advance travel plans for South America....we will be making arrangements as we go again, just like in Europe, flying by the seat of our pants. Chile is a long narrow country that stretches some 4300 kilometres from Peru in the north to the Straits of Magellan in the south with the Pacific Ocean its border all along one side and the Andes Mountains the border almost all down the other...it is also home to the most arrid desert in the world and the second highest mountain peak and second largest lake in South America and has a population of around 16 million people. We made our way into Santiago's city centre with the Andes Mountains visible in the distance...it is quite a modern city of some six million people and has a strong European and US influence...glass and steel skyscrapers that tower above colonial buildings, sidewalk cafes and fastfood outlets that line the city streets...we are staying at the El Presidente in the Providencia area, an upscale section of Santiago with cafes and bars...the city has 32 "comunas" or districts, each with it's own mayor...the Rio Mapocho River runs thru the city and Cerro San Cristobal is home to Parque Metropolitano, a park area high on the hill to the northeast, above the city. We joined a bus tour today which took us past Mercado Central(the city central market)and past a statue of a horse done by Fernando Botea on our way to Cerro Santa Lucia, the spot where Santiago was founded by the Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia in 1541 (after he left Peru). Cerro Santa Lucia has a large fountain, "Terraza Neptuno" and while we visited the park, local actors re-enacted the founding of the city. Our next stop was the Plaza de Armas where the Cathedral is located....it was rebuilt five times, with the latest reincarnation dating back to 1899...it has a small side altar made of solid silver and a chapel near the rear of the Cathedral from where a mass was being sung that morning....as we left the Cathedral I was blessed.....by a pigeon who thought I would look good in green....nice!! We continued on our way to the Government House area and the Presidential Palace where cannons dating from 1772 are on display and along nearby Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins is a statue of San Martin holding a spear fashioned with a small replica of the Statue of Liberty at its point....we ended our tour with a visit to a handicraft store called "Faba" where we were treated to a "Pisco Sour", a traditional Chilean drink and had a chance to peruse the local crafts available for sale including those made from lapislazuli or bluestone which is only found in two locations on this earth, Afghanistan and of course, Chile.