Teenager stranded 7,500 miles away by virus starts epic journey home on horseback

  • A teenager stranded thousands of miles away by the coronavirus lockdown headed for home on horseback.

    Annabel Symes, from Eastbourne, had been working on the isolated 100,000-acre Estancia Ranquilco ranch, in the foothills of the Andes in Argentine Patagonia.

    The 19-year-old had been due to come home at the end of the summer season in early April but the Argentinean government introduced major travel restrictions and her flight home was cancelled.

    A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Having received a call for help from Annabel, the Foreign Office organised a rescue plan involving a half-day’s horseback ride to the nearest road, a nine-hour taxi journey to the nearest town and finally a 17-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires airport.”

    Annabel was growing “increasingly anxious” about getting home as winter was coming and heavy snowfall would have meant she was unable to leave the ranch, and she had only packed summer clothes.

    “Once I realised I was stranded, I registered with the British Embassy,” she said.

    “Communication was made challenging as the estancia only had patchy internet access via satellite which meant lots of cold WhatsApp conversations sitting on a tree stump in the middle of a field.”

    Annabel and her American partner left the ranch on horses, with mules carrying their bags, in the dark, using the moonlight to find their way to the road. There, they took a taxi, which was sprayed with disinfectant at checkpoints at which temperature checks were also in place.

    At the airport, Annabel joined 200 other British travellers from Argentina on a flight home. British Embassy staff also had to negotiate travel permits with local authorities from the different regions so they could organise bus travel, book taxis and facilitate cross-country travelling.

    Annabel arrived at Gatwick on 8 May – five weeks and a national lockdown later than planned – where she was reunited with her family and border terrier Sidney.

    Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Annabel get back home.

    “Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Foreign Office has been working with airlines and governments to keep vital routes open, helping more than 1.3m travellers return to the UK on commercial flights.

    “We also made £75m available for special return flights, so far bringing home more than 33,000 people from countries without commercial options.”

    Annabel has secured a place to study natural horsemanship at the University of Montana Western from September.

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    “Carolina and Beatriz at the embassy really looked after me,” she said.

    “They were so organised; coordinating hundreds of British nationals from all over Argentina’s provinces in really extreme circumstances.”

    Mark Kent, the British ambassador to Argentina, added that more than 400 people had been able to come home from Argentina on two flights organised by the Foreign Office.

    “There were some epic journeys for people to get to Buenos Aires to make their flights,” he said. “Annabel’s was a particularly long and arduous trip from an extremely remote part of Patagonia, and I pay tribute to her resilience and patience. I’m glad we were able to help her get back home safely.”

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