It was rainy and cloudy this morning when we got up this morning. We felt rested and ready to walk, so it was a bummer that it didn't look like the best weather. The breakfast spread was fine, but nothing to write home about. We grabbed a couple small things, ate relatively quickly, and got going. We were in a group of 8 with our guide Chino. We were with a family of three (Brian, Stacy, and their daughter Austa) among others. As we were leaving the hotel, we saw a rainbow on the other side of Lago Pehoe. We had a 30-40 minute drive northeast to the beginning of our hike, Aonikenk.

Aonikenk is a relatively easy hike (4.1 miles, 554 feet elevation gain), but we wanted to go on it for two reasons. First, there is a relatively high amount of wildlife, including the chance to see pumas. Second, there is a cave with some very old rock paintings, some of the earliest in the region. Since the weather wasn't so great, it was a good day to do the hike, since neither the wildlife nor the rock paintings are impacted by the weather. As we got out of the van, there were two guanacos mating, and Brian and Stacy playfully tried to divert Austa's attention. She said something to the effect of "I've seen mating on the Discovery Channel," which none of us were expecting to hear. Right after Chino warned us that since it was mating season, and that male guanacos were chasing each other around and we should watch out, sure enough two ran through the middle of our group and hopped a fence as though it wasn't there. A minute later, a baby guanaco got caught in the fence, but the mom did a good job of pushing the baby backwards and freeing it from the wire.

The hike was through rolling green hills with guanacos and some some rheas here and there. As we neared the cave with the rock paintings, we saw a baby fox going into its den. The rocks in the area are fascinating - thousands of small rocks all jumbled together into giant rocks. The rock paintings were pretty basic, but given that they are likely more than 5000 years old, that's not surprising. They depicted what we assume are guanacos, among other things. The paint wa smade from iron dust and animal blood, and theoretically served as a message to people hunting that there were predators (i.e., pumas) in the area. Chino vouched for this, showing a video from a month or so earlier where when he and his group came to the cave, they stumbled upon a big puma who casually walked away. The fact that Chino had a video made us think he wasn't too worried about the situation, or at least wanted to record his own death. Either way, the video was awesome and he's still with us.

The walk downhill from the caves was downhill and then flat, and we passed a couple groups walking the other way. When we got to the flat part, it strarted raining, and then really raining, and the wind was gusting as well. We trudged through the rain and wind for about an hour, with it thankfully coming from behind us rather than being in our face. It was nice having the correct clothes this time, as last time we were wet, cold, and miserable when we walked through a blizzard. At one point just off the trail we saw evidence of a fresh puma kill, but did not see the puma itself. At the very end of the hike, we saw more guanacos mating. We were happy to get to the van and get out of the wind if nothing else. On the drive to lunch, it was very hot inside the van, and everything fogged up. Justin caught a catnap on the drive.

By the time we got to the Quincho (Explora's barbecue area just outside the northeastern park boundary), there was no more rain, and lighter skies. Inside, there were two patagonian lambs on the fire, as well as steaks, sausages, and some other stuff. We got some red wine (not very good Malbec and not very good Cab, which we traded amongst ourselves), and some empanadas for an appetizer. Once the lamb was ready, we got in line to pick out our lamb portions. From being at Posada Los Alamos, we knew to ask for ribs, and Justin also got leg meat. Our finished plate looked like a churascaria plate. There were some other dishes, but that would've taken up room at the expense of good meat. Whilst eating lunch, the view to the southwest of the Towers cleared up. We got seconds, then thirds of lamb. Once stuffed, Crystal chilled with a glass of Syrah, and Justin went outside to take pictures with horses that were wandering around. It was a great shot with the Towers in the background, but the horses were eating grass and wouldn't pick up their heads.

We picked up our outer layers, now drier from being inside and near the fire, and went out for our afternoon hike. Our second excursion was also with Chino. The other guests were a couple from Costa Rica (Daniel and Rozio), and a couple from LA (Kelsey and Apurva). The La Loma was a nice walk over rolling green hills, and only 2.2 miles with just 714 feet of elevation gain. There were lots of guanacos over most of the walk. The east side of Torres del Paine has more animals than the west because it is drier, and the plants the guanacos like to eat (the low scrub) is more abundant. Besides the guanacos, it was just lots of dead trees and great views in every direction, but particularly of the Towers.

Between it being an easy walk, us having a ton of daylight left, and having consumed multiple pounds of meat at lunch, the walk had lots of stops and was at a leisurely pace. We chatted with Chino, who indicated both of his parents worked at Explora, and so he made a point to work there every holiday season so he could be with his parents. The rest of the year he independently guides all over Patagonia. He also used to live in Colorado. He told us about these odd holes we kept seeing on the ground. Apparently they are from guanacos rolling around in them to get rid of fleas. They start as minor depressions, and as more guanacos roll in them, the get deeper and more perfectly circular.

We finished right after 16:00, and saw a giant hare right at the end of the hike. It tried to hide by standing still, but with no trees, and being that big, it didn't do a very good job. It did pose, however. On the drive back, we stopped at a large waterfall, which also had a nice backdrop with the Paine Massif. The drive back to the hotel, despite being on the same roads as yesterday, was entirely different, as everything was clear. The view was still good when we got back to the hotel, so Justin took more photos immediately, not knowing if the weather would stay. He went down to the waterfall just besides the hotel, which was very powerful, showing evidence of a former hydroelectric plantbut power plant or something else right there. All the water from the mountains seems to go from lake to lake to lake, with waterfalls between each, and it is amazing that there is enough incoming water to keep the higher lakes at that level year round.

We got cleaned up, then went to happy hour, same as the day before. Whilst enjoying our drinks, we put pictures on the computer and updated the trip log. When the guides came around and told us the weather tomorrow was supposed to be not so great, we decided on French Valley for tomorrow's hike. We figured we'd "save" the hikes we really wanted to do (Ferrier, Base of the Towers) for days with better weather. Again, we ate relatively early - no lamb this time. We kept taking pictures at dinner, as the weather was still great and the colors kept changing as the sun was getting lower. We were hoping for a good sunset, and it certainly wasn't bad, but it didn't have any amazing coloration like what we'd seen in 2008. Crystal couldn't make it quite to sunset, but considering it is at 22:30, that's not a big deal. After Justin realized he wasn't going to see any great sunset, he crashed as well.

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