We didn't sleep particularly well, waking up too early. Breakfast was the same old same old, except for strawberries today. Our first excursion was to Pingo, in the south part of the park, away from all the areas that burned in 2011-2012. The hike is 5.2 miles long, with only 157 feet of elevation gain. We were with Dennis and the Persian family from New York, who was running a little late. We'd seen them at dinner the night before, and they were celebrating a wedding anniversary. The parents were in their late 40s or early 50s, with a son in his mid 20s and three daughters aged 18-25. Despite leaving a little late, our driver Oscar made up most of that time on the drive to Pingo.

Once on the trail, it was clear that Dennis and the family were in a much bigger hurry than us. The family was a cast of characters. In the first hour we saw two of the kids racing one another, them practicing heavy squats, and them constantly playing pranks on one another. For example, when we got to an abandoned shack on the trail, the oldest sister told the son to go in and check it out, and when he stepped in the youngest sister jumped out and scared him.

The trail was basically on the bank of the Pingo river, below the Ferrier lookout. There was a light drizzle, but it was much better than what the weather report had indicated. We had pretty decent views to the north, making us yearn for a clear Ferrier day. We made it to the turnaround spot, a nice waterfall, in just over an hour. In fact, we actually caught the group that left the hotel 30 minutes ahead of us. It was a pretty cool waterfall, and we hung around for a bit to take some photos and have a small snack.

The walk back was the way we came, so basically had the same views, with the same weather. Near the end of the hike there were some cool striated rock formations on the side of the mountain. The forest had a lot of blooming embothriums. We'd like to grow them in San Diego, but it's too warm for them there. At one point Dennis hung back, and apologized for the speed of the hike. We talked to him about his background and his travels. As with Erica, he is very interested in the new El Chalten property and what opportunities might be available. He was also finishing up 26 straight days working - this was his last excursion - so we could understand why he'd be in a hurry.

We finished the hike at noon, and the drive back was 30 minutes - at least with Oscar driving. When we arrived back at the hotel, we saw Soledad, a lone female Huemul that frequents the area. Huemuls, or Andean deer, are very endanagered, and very hard to see, so this was quite a sighting. No one is sure what happened to the rest of Soledad's herd, perhaps they died or ran away in the fire years ago. The park tried to relocate her to an area where other Huemuls were, but she eventually worked her way back to the area near Explora.

Lunch was pretty quiet, as people were either on all day hikes or weren't back from their morning hikes. We enjoyed some Calafate sours with our lunch, but kept it to one since we had an excursion in the afternoon. We had time for a quick nap after lunch, and took advantage of it. Our afternoon excursion was to Lago Sarmiento, 2.7 miles with 154 feet of elevation gain. We were with Isadora, just back from her days off. The normal schedule at Explora is to work for 11 days, then have 4 days off. Dennis had worked two straight shifts, so he had 11+4+11 days in a row. There are about 22 guides, with 1/3 being off at any given time, and today was the day where 1/3 left (including Dennis) and 1/3 came back (including Isadora).

Our hike was with a family of 5 from Florida. There were quite a bit more families than we remembered in 2008. Usually it is a lot of couples, and hardly any children, but over the holidays there are a lot more families, including some large groups. To get to the beginning of the Sarmiento hike, we took a short drive to east. The plants were very different than at Pingo, with our walk being among low scrub, the plant called "mother-in-law seat." The lake itself wasn't near as bright as when we drove in a few days earlier, as there was no sun out. Instead of being bright blue, it was just a grayish color. The reason for this hike was to see the thrombolites. They are formations created by cyanobacteria, which create tiny sediments that get larger and larger over the millenia. Hundreds of millions of years ago the ancestors of thrombolites (and stromatolites) produced the oxygen in the atmosphere that is required for life as we know it. Now they look like swiss cheese rocks near the edge of a lake in Patagonia. There are only a handful of places in the world to see these. We wouldn't recommend coming to Torres del Paine to see these, but since we were already here, they were interesting.

The hike had a couple ups and downs, but was mostly flat, and required no real exertion. We were saving our energy for the next day, whether to the Base of the Towers or Ferrier (we hoped). We finished the hike right at 17:00, and came back and got cleaned up. The weather had cleared up a bit, with even some sun here and there. Tomorrow supposed to be sunny, fingers crossed. There was more of a vibe in the common area tonight, perhaps because it was Christmas eve. People were putting out decorations for dinner. Unlike the previous days, people were coming around with appetizers and finger foods in the common area - lamb, beef, and shrimp. The lamb was particularly good, and we had several. We were chatting with Daniel and Rozio, who had been with us for a couple hikes so far.

Justin signed up for a hike to the Base of the Towers, and Crystal signed up for Cornisas and Mirador Toro. Crystal wasn't a huge fan of the hike to the Towers, and didn't have much desire to go again, even if the weather was bad the last time. Justin wanted to see what they actually looked like, long hike or no long hike. After we signed up, we ran into Brian, who told us about going to Ferrier since the weather was supposed to be good. They had changed the "menu" to add Ferrier at Brian's behest, so we reconsidered what we wanted to do. First Crystal switched to add Ferrier, and then Justin did as well. Now both of us were scheduled to go to Nordenskjold in the morning and Ferrier in the afternoon, with hopefully the Towers the following day.

Dinner was different, with a set menu of 5 courses. Justin got just 2.5 (since he doesn't eat seafood), and he wasn't given any replacements either. He considered saying something, but then remembered all the beef and lamb he had for appetizers, and that he didn't need (or particularly want) any additional food. After dinner we hung out in the bar area, chatting with guides and the other guests. Justin got a picture with the guides, and we chatted with two of them, Jackie and Erica. Same as all the other days, we had zero luck with the internet - it was basically mid 1990s 56k modem speed, and would just stop altogether frequently. Yet somehow, we saw people on Facetime talking to their kids or other family members for Christmas. We wondered how exactly this was possible. But, in any event, it was kind of nice having no real internet, as we seemed even more off the grid. We grabbed a couple more drinks, then headed to bed around midnight.

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