Good morning from New Zealand, which is a whopping 13 hours ahead of the UK. Currently 8am here, which means its 7pm the previous day in England, and I'm already on the Internet. Reason being I'm having some difficulty adjusting to the time difference, which is 16 hours ahead of Chilean time (so its 4pm yesterday afternoon in Santiago!). I have at least now made it past the longest flight of my world trip, a crazy 12.75 hours from runway to runway , but my journey wasn't that striaghtforward. My attempts to use public transport to get to Santiago airport went horrifically wrong. First, when I got down to the subway station at 7pm I found the platform 2 deep in commuters, and every train, which was one every 1-2 minutes, was absolutely rammed from front to back. About 1 person was managing to squeeze in each set of doors. I waited 7 trains but there was clearly no way I was going to get on with my huge backpack, so I left and got a cab to the bus station where I was told by the hostel receptionist that the airport bus left from. Only when I got there nobody seemed to know about this airport bus! I asked numerous ticket staff there and had a walk around all the public bus stops on the road nearby and could find nothing about this bus. So yet again I was forced into getting a cab, which I got very cheap because I told the cab driver I was very short on money before getting in! In the end I made it in plenty of time.
Before boarding the plane I found myself tempted by the black Colo Colo (the football team I saw win last time I was in Santiago) away shirts in the Chile shop, which were about the same price as football shirts back home and only slightly pricier than those in shops in the centre of Santiago. I was determined to leave South America with more football merchandise than just my Boca Juniors shirt and Universidad de Chile cap, so seconds before the shop closed I rushed in and bought it on impulse, which I don't regret! It was cheap compared to the 65 pound shirts in Brazil!
The flight itself with Chilean airline LAN went pretty smoothly. It was easily the best plane I have ever been on. The staff were excellent, the food wasn't bad for an airline, and best of all we had personal TV's with remote controls that doubled as gamepads, allowing you to play games like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and even learn a language. There was also a good choice of films and TV shows on demand and over 200 CDs. We flew through the night but I was unable to get any sleep as the seat was so much more cramped than the bus seats I have got used to. When the time came to get off the plane at 4am I was absolutely exhausted and in no mood to wait till 5.30am for the first bus, so got a cab to my hostel. I hadn't booked in for that night but thankfully the guy on reception took pity on me and allowed me to check in to my private room ahead of schedule for no extra cost, and I slept till 11.30am. This was the second friendly Kiwi I had met. Even the guy on customs at the airport was a joker, and he amusingly reeled off a list of Lincolnshire towns whilst spraying my shoes (New Zealand have strict biosecurity) with disinfectant stuff.
When I got up I immediately went next door to a sports bar and rewarded myself with an absolutely massive fry up whilst watching a replay of the Arsenal champions league game. It was the first time I'd seen baked beans and proper bacon in over 2 months and was one of the most satisfying moments of my tour! The weather was drizzling and about 18C so I had no desire to do much in the afternoon other than shop for essentials. It proved pretty stressful as I didn't know what any of the shops were. For instance I had to ask someone where to find a digital watch (to replace my lost alarm) as I could not find one anywhere. They pointed me in the right direction to a TK Maxx like store in an obscure location, where I got a cheap, crappy one. Its so hard to shop when you're abroad!
I also paid a visit to an optometrist to see about the black spot/clear strands that have blighted the vision on my right eye for the last month. He gave me a thorough eye test, which I passed with flying colours, and then dilated my pupils and had a good insepction of my eyes. He confirmed what I thought I had and said I had a floater (debris floating within my eye), and it wasn't dangerous (they can be a sign of a serious problem in rare cases). He said he could see it on my eye and could see why it would it would annoy me as it was in the centre of my vision, but there is nothing that can be done about it. In time it may move or go, but it could also be there for life. At least I can only see it against plain and bright backgrounds, and I've kind of got used to it and don't notice it anymore.
The next morning I woke up wide awake at 5am for some crazy reason and laid there until 7 before going out. The weather was much better and I had a wander about Auckland in the sun. I was repeatedly frustrated by how long it took to cross roads. In the Americas road system you can walk out in front of turning traffic so rarely have to stop at junctions, but here they have a British road system (they even drive on the left) so you have to wait ages. I took a harbour cruise out for views of the skyline and on the boat recognised a Chilean girl from the row in front of me on the plane. She spoke perfect English as she'd lived in America as a kid and she worked on the check in desks for LAN, so had got a return flight to Auckland for just $65 (to the paying customer it would cost nearer $2000). We got off at the same stop, and I went round an aquarium with her, which even had a load of penguins in. We then had a subway lunch before we went our seperate ways for the afternoon. I went up the Sky Tower, which is an observation tower here in Auckland and the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. Unusually its also a building you can throw youself off on a kind of bungee jump thing (a controlled fall where you don't bounce), and it was fun watching people do that. The general view was pretty nice too - Auckland is a very green city.
Last night after tea I was bored so decided to go to the cinema, where the only thing I was vaguely interested in was the new Michael Moore film about capitalism. It was pretty interesting viewing, and showed how Washington under the Bush administration was actually run by people from Goldman Sachs.
At 1pm I meet my new tour group at the hostel and we are heading straight up north to the Bay of Islands. It will be a very different tour with us having our own tour coach. There are also 36 people on this tour as opposed to 15 on my last 1s. But my first impressions of New Zealand are good. The people are incredibly friendly. Everyone I've met in shops and places are so so nice and it really makes a difference to how a place feels. Its nice to be somewhere that speaks English again though there are also a lot of people with obvious Maori heritage about, and an awful lot of Japanese/Chinese, whose English is not so good. But Kiwis so far have made a very positive impression on me, and I'm really looking forward to my 15 day tour.