Two kids under the age of three didn’t stop Angelika and Mo from planning their dream trek through Patagonia, South America on horseback. “The only thing our kids miss out on in comparison to other kids is their time sitting on a couch and watching TV.”
Author: S. D.
I’ve spoken to some pretty gutsy horse people during the last two decades or so.
There’s my friend Joan, who started riding in her forties and now teaches dressage out of her backyard (which has since been modified to include a regulation-size dressage ring).
There are, of course, the Stevensons, who regularly ride 100-mile endurance races over the mountains in the worst weather conditions imaginable (Old Dominion, I’m talking about you). If not for them, I never would have found endurance riding, which saved me!
And Clare Dyson, who borrowed a Fell Pony, trained her and rode her around the Lake District in England for a month, was absolutely an inspiration to talk to.
But Angelika Milli and Mo Abdoulvahab blew my mind. They’re trekking Patagonia in South America on horseback, and they’re doing it with their toddlers.
I first heard from Angelika about two months ago, when I was still living in Spain and searching for interesting stories for EQA. We met through a Facebook group called “Saddle Tramping UK”—neither of us is British, but who wouldn’t want to go “saddle tramping,” right?
But I digress. Below is a version (edited for length and clarity) of the email Angelika sent me, followed by a phone interview we had when I was in Spain and Angelika was back in Poland.
“We are a French-Polish couple traveling on horseback since July 2018 with our two infants as a part of a project to travel from Argentina to Mexico with horses. So far, we’ve covered more than 1000 km with our three horses and two dogs.”
“When we started the expedition, our daughter was only nine months old and our son had just turned two. The only thing our kids miss out on in comparison to other kids is their time sitting on a couch and watching TV. They get to play with other kids from time to time, have their set of toys, lots of love and lots of quality time with both of their parents. In our opinion, both our kids have a great sense of care for animals in terms of feeding, watering and playing with them. They get to be dirty and explore the world as it is, they have developed a good immunity, and have only been sick once from sunburn.”
Diving into the Culture – South America on Horseback
“Horses have been a mode of transportation since the dawn of time and they are the most authentic travel companions. The people do not see us as another tourist passing by, but are interested in our motives. They lend their time, mate (Argentinian version of tea) and chit-chat, giving us in-depth knowledge of the country. We have learned a lot about horses and how to treat them fairly.”
“We’ve ridden through big towns, tiny villages, national highways, national parks, abandoned roads, private lands and mountains. We have ridden at sunrise and sunset, through sandy dunes, deep waters, jungles, deserts, meadows, dirt road and asphalt roads. We’ve stayed with ranch owners, Argentinian gauchos, by the side of the road, free and paid organized campsites, cabañas and hotels. We have seen so much wildlife: more than 40 different wild birds, herds of deer, coyotes, rabbits, llamas, emus, lizards, salamanders, armadillos and only the footprints of a puma.”
Question: What inspired you to do this trip?
[The inspiration] started before I met my partner. We both travelled a lot before we met. I met him when he came back from Mexico, where he’d bought a stallion and travelled on horseback for four months. Horses and travelling connected us: I’d been riding horses since I was a child and then I met Mo, who has travelled on horseback, so we decided to combine our experiences. He never had any professional experience in horseback riding—he was more of a self-learner, and I did have professional experience with horses. I had been studying horse breeding at my university.
So, gathering all our experiences, we started to plan this trip, and in the meantime the kids came, unexpectedly, so our plans moved, and we had to wait two or three years before we were able to start. We’ve been living in the UK and trying to save up money for this trip.
To ride from Argentina to Mexico is…well, Argentina is a land of horses and horses are deep inside Argentinean culture. We both were reading about South America because we’d been to many continents, but we hadn’t been to South America yet. So we really wanted to go there; we thought that’d be a great starting point. And Mexico as a finish line because Mo finished his trip in Mexico. But if we don’t get to Mexico it’s ok; wherever we get with our trip, it’s fine.
Q: So you’re doing your journey in stages?
Yes, we’re going in stages because it’s very expensive to do an expedition. Argentina is crazily expensive—when we came, we didn’t expect these prices. I don’t know why people think South America is cheap. Maybe some countries like Bolivia or Peru, but Argentina is crazy expensive. I would compare it to England. We were quite surprised over there. So that’s why right now the plan is to work five months and then go back to Argentina when the winter finishes over there, which would be around October. And because also in winter, it would be really impossible to do it with the kids—you know, camping out.
Q: Do you keep horses over there?
We found a ranch and a gaucho who’s taking care of our horses. And of course we have to pay for that but at least we know they safe and they will have some food over the winter.
Q: Mo is from France and you’re from Poland—how did you meet?
I met him in Paris, actually, on Couchsurfing. I did couchsurfing a lot. I’ve met really, really amazing people.
Q: What are your kids’ names?
Ingis is 1½, she’s the youngest team member of our expedition, and then we have Iyan, he’s 2 ½.
Q: How do you plan your route?
We use an app called “Maps.me.” It’s a bit better than Google Maps—on Google Maps, we were finding that Google showed some roads that didn’t exist. We are planning about 500 kilometers in advance. Along the roads, of course, there are some changes. We are following rivers, mostly, because water is most important, and we spent a long time in the desert, where we were struggling with water a lot, especially in the summer. Most of the rivers and lakes that are marked on the maps are just dried up.
Q: Do you pack your own water with you?
In the most recent months, we’ve had a van as a support vehicle. We started the expedition with a pack horse and a motorbike, so one person would go on the motorbike. We also had a little trailer where we packed some of our stuff. We had two riding horses and one pack horse and then we changed. Let’s say, in the morning, I drive the motorbike and Mo goes on horseback, and then in the afternoon, we change. But it was too difficult in the Patagonian weather—the wind was so strong and we had many troubles with the pack horse because the baggage constantly was sliding if you tried to go a little bit faster. After every trot, you would have to get down and re-pack, like re-tie the whole pack saddle, so it was really slow, and we’ve been constantly trying to make some improvements.
First, we were trying to build a caravan, so maybe we would have one horse pulling the caravan, and two riding horses, but it didn’t work out, so later we bought a van and now most of our stuff is in the van and we don’t have a pack horse anymore, we have just three riding horses. Then we can swap around—like one horse works one day, the next works another day, and we also have volunteers with us. So one person would go on horseback and one person would go in the car. And we change with Mo. Like half a day, I drive the van, and half a day, he drives the van. That way, we also don’t get too tired of being on horseback.
Q: Do your children ride, too?
Our oldest one, Iyan, he’s 2 ½ right now, so we put him on the horse for like an hour but then he gets bored. The problem with him in the beginning was that he was falling asleep to the horse’s movement after half an hour. But he enjoys sitting on a horse. The little one, if you put her on a horse, it’s really hard to get her down. We put her on the horse just for a picture or if we really have to. Normally they go in the car or on the motorbike. We rarely ride with her because she’s too little.
Q: What a formative experience for your kids!
Our kids are really wild. It’s sad that they’re not going to remember it. But they’ll see pictures.
Q: What’s your background with horses?
I’ve ridden horses since I was a child and then I went to university to study horse breeding. I travelled a lot, and during my travels I worked in stables in Europe, both in volunteer and paid positions. So I’ve been around horses my whole life.
Q: What do you do now?
Right now, we’re back in Europe and we’re looking for jobs in the UK. We have some interviews lined up, so we don’t know yet where we’re going to be. We have a couple of options available so we’re going to work for the next five months, save up again and then go back to Argentina and continue.
Q: How far have you gotten?
About 1,200 km in total. We are very slow—it’s taken six months. We started in September 2018. Mo came in July to buy horses first, and to prepare everything for us, and then I came with the kids in September.
Q: What are your horses’ names and what breed are they?
They are half-breed criollos. It’s a South American breed well-known for its endurance and resistance to very harsh conditions—not much food or water. Most of the horses in Argentina have some criollo blood. They’re very, very tough horses. In Europe, horses are a luxury. In South America, horses are a must—so many people use them for everyday work.
Our first horse is Sin Nombre which in Spanish means “no name.” He came with the name and because Mo doesn’t like to change the horses’ names, that’s how it stayed. We call him “Sinn.” We also have Pomelo, which means “grapefruit” in Spanish. He got this name because the owner told us that he likes to eat grapefruit. He’s the calmest of our horses, the only one we can trust with the kids. Then we exchanged our motorbike for another horse—Contramano, which in Spanish means “on the other hand.” He used to be a racehorse and he got this name because he used to run in the opposite direction. So right now, we have Sin, Pomelo and Contramano.
They’re also looking for people to join them on parts of their journey to volunteer, so if a Patagonian horseback adventure is on your bucket list (it’s definitely on ours), feel free to reach out.
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