camino inca: el tercer día

And on we pressed, the last major day of hiking before our eventual arrival to Machu Picchu.
Our muscles so fatigued, our lack of sleep taking its toll.
Exhausted but remaining upbeat.
This last day spent entirely in the jungley cloud forests; the rainy season at last undeniable. Walking in the clouds, trying to take in every moment, these new friends feeling like old family.
The tour groups we'd avoided were finally making themselves known. Pockets of people and porters on the trail, some saying hello, some not. It's only been since 2001 that Camino Inca became regulated such that there is a quota on how many people can be on the trail on any given day. Stories of the uncontrolled crowds of hikers and campers prior to this rule seeming unfathomable. But equally so the fact we had been, for the most part, on this ancient path almost totally alone. 
The final campground was crowded but we'd once again secured a prime and secluded location for our tents. We'd heard that there is typically a bar and a party to be had at this final stop, but we happened to be there during the year that it's being renovated.  While we had been romanticizing all manner of modern convenience and vice for days, I wasn't actually at all disappointed to have one last night of quiet camping. We used the few bathroom stalls before the later groups started piling in. Some of us took showers, most of us didn't. Llamas kept us company all the while.
Following a brief siesta we walked a short distance to another archeological site, one that rivals Machu Picchu and would become one of the highlights of the hike. Erick's presentation was complete with a binder of visual aids and the usual unbridled narrative passion. The sun would come out and we would be surprised yet again with a box of red wine. We toasted our journey in metal cups, a small amount tipped once again for Pachamama and all that she'd given us over the last days. Darren and I maybe drank more than most while we looked down onto the ruins, across to the waterfall, down to where we'd already hiked. And I can't recall ever having been happier.
Erick would later ask where my continued energy came from. I'd tell him that nature and these incredible people could be the only explanation.
It was all winding down and I was already sad to see it go.
One last dinner, a celebratory cake.
We made a plan to quietly and efficiently wake up at 3:30am to do our very best to be at the front of the line the next morning. We were told we'd have to walk fast, to stay close to the rocks, to be careful where we stepped, to respect the trail in the darkness of the night. Avalanches and mudslides were a legitimate concern as the rain poured and poured and poured.
We said goodbye to our porters. One last night in our tents.
Only Machu Picchu left to go.