Gaucho Derby - Day 6
Words: Sam Taylor
We were up early and bizarrely were packed up pretty quickly. Simon's horse had hopped its way in its hobbles to a hill some distance away, and so he wandered off to find it while Charlotte and I tacked up ours. Today was a big push up the notorious "Plateau of Death" - an area so barren and bleak that even lichen is reluctant to live there. It is essentially thousands of acres of rock bogs, with the occasional patch of dry scree on the high ground. It was our job to find these patches - which we occasionally did.
It was sleeting and cold up there, and we were grateful for our Swazi gear. Wrapped up in a terrifying-looking balaclava, Charlotte looked less Badminton and more Belfast astride her horse. She could neither hear nor be heard, which meant that her contributions to our navigation were even more ambiguous.
As we neared the end of the plateau, all our InReach devices started beeping simultaneously. A rider ahead of us, Kristeen, had unfortunately spent a night high up in this barren wasteland, and her horse had taken off in the night. She'd walked with her tack and saddlebags to the next checkpoint, and we were asked to be on the lookout for the errant pony.
Miraculously, within minutes of receiving this message, we sighted the horse high up on the scree to our right. Antoine and Tobias trotted up to retrieve the still-hobbled horse, and we began our descent with our new passenger.
The descent was grim; we seemingly couldn't avoid the rock bogs. Every three or four minutes, one of our (admittedly quite large) group, would be sucked into the sludge, the stoney surface belying deep oozing mud beneath. We would have to do this bit on foot.
I was thrilled about this - a pipe cleaner would have been more effective as a right leg at this stage. Staggering through bogs while dragging my horse down steep slopes was about as pleasurable as ironing my scrotum.
Simon and Ciara - the "Irish bog-hopper" - led this section, and our large party painfully made its way towards the bottom of the mountain, where a tree line had come into view below the mist.
Simon took a quick moment to inform everyone that there was a high likelihood of some more Parakeet sightings. Poncho, ever the enthusiast, expressed a passable semblance of enthusiasm for this tit-bit while the rest of the group were keen to kick on and get off the mountain.
At the bottom, we arrived at the vet check and met Kirsteen, whom we reunited with her horse. We then carried on towards the estancia on the shores of Lago St. Martin, a landmark so vivid and bright with its turquoise water that even Charlotte would have been able to navigate there. After the slog on the mountain, this was plain sailing by comparison, and we reached the estancia before the six o'clock cut off. We were muddy, tired and ready for bed.
The team raised over $60,000 to support life and health insurance, emergency rations and welfare support to over 2000 rangers across Africa. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to be felt. Rangers have seen jobs lost, resources slashed, and livelihoods destroyed. All the while, they remain steadfast in protecting what is left of our wilderness. They need our help. Please support them.
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