Whilst it had been nice to go to sleep in a tent that was level last night, instead of the listing at all angles we had the night before, we knew from Paul’s initial recce that we still had our work cut out for us today.
Between where we were on firm ground and the road that ran around the island Paul had found another 40 metres of very soft ground, softer even than that which he had dug us out of yesterday. It was worth another recce to try and find a narrower bit of soft ground before we began what would be inching our way across on our bridging ladders and anything else we could find to spread the load.
We plodded off together towards land. Where the ground softened the thin salt crust turned grey. Looking left and right there were no obviously narrower sections of grey. Maybe going carefully back the way we had come to firmer ground and finding another way on to the island might be better? Reaching the dirt track around the island we turned in the direction from which we had originally driven, looking carefully out on to the salt to test the quality. On the track itself there were several tyre marks. The track was not well used but it was certainly used by both trucks and motorbikes, and llama. After about 300 metres I came first to the shore end of the low line of rocks we had driven across two nights ago. With dismay I realised this was no ordinary line of rocks – whilst the track continued around the island it was clear that this was in fact a man made causeway going straight out to the salt flats. At the junction itself were two rocks painted with signs directing traffic to a museum and a town called Aguaquiza.
I called Paul over and showed him the junction. Together we walked down the causeway to the very end. The large rocks Paul had striven to avoid two days ago were, from this angle, obviously cairns. How on earth did we miss seeing these two huge piles of rocks and not recognise what they were? In parts the salt close to the end of the causeway was obviously soft and we were momentarily comforted when we saw that someone else had crossed the end of the causeway, narrowly missing getting bogged down as their wheels had sunk easily several inches. We wondered if or where they had got stuck and cast our eyes out to follow their tracks. Their tracks ended where the pristine white of the salt was scarred and battered by hours of digging in the mud, and realised with some incredulity that they were our own tracks; 5 metres from the cairns. Five metres of blindness had cost us two days and a lot of hard work.
We analysed how an earth we had missed seeing both the cairns, something we are normally pretty good at spotting, or the causeway and could only conclude that not only were we not expecting to see them but that from the angle of sitting in the car the causeway itself was not at all obvious.
However, we were by now much heartened. This meant that we only had to get back to the causeway over what was generally much firmer ground and not across 40 metres of soft mud. It was with a lighter step that we walked in a fairly straight line back to Landy, checking the surface for what would be the best route back to the end of the causeway and really firm ground.
Of course, our work was not yet over. We still had to dig out the rest of the recovery gear and fetch this along with the rest of the equipment and heavy goods we had unloaded at our ‘stuck’ point during our recovery efforts, get Landy reloaded, and our camp packed away. This was no mean feat in itself and the sun had already passed the midday meridian and was falling into the afternoon sky as I started the engine, slipped Landy into gear, and, with Paul spotting my route, made my way steadily towards the causeway. Looking out of the window at my tracks I could see Landy’s rear wheels sinking into the mud through the broken and breaking crust. But our route was sound and we reached the causeway where we stopped, relieved, high fived and Paul set to re-inflating our tyres before continuing along the firmer ground of the dirt track road ahead of us.