The Long Riders' Guild

Howard Saether and Janja Kovačič's Ride from Uruguay to Texas! 

Brazil - Land of Hospitality

Having crossed Uruguay, Janja emailed us from Brazil in October,  2001 where the equestrian travelers were riding to report that they have been overwhelmed by the warm hospitality.

"Since we entered Brazil people would not let us ride with our cargo, but they bring it to our next planned stop with pick-ups.  In 6 days we have done 156 kilometers, stopped in 5 different estancias, and people have been bringing our cargo every day.  We are trotting happily along, knowing that after exactly so and so many kilometers people are expecting us.  The hospitality is amazing, and there is food for both us and the animals.  Our plan is to rest here for two-three days, and then continue north towards the border of Argentina.  We will then pass through the northern part of Argentina to Paraguay."

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Janja and her horses riding through the quiet back country of Brazil.

Howard also sent us some interesting observations from Brazil.

"I’m sure the best investment for the whole trip was that I went to the horseshoeing school.  I do not understand how people can undertake a long horseback trip without being able to shoe their own horses.  Farriers do not exist, and what we see of shoeing is basically horrible," he said.

Trouble at the Border

In November, 2001 the travelers emailed to say they had been stopped from riding into Argentina from Brazil.

"The trouble is that on the whole border of Argentina with Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil there is not even one port that is authorized for the crossings of animals. We decided to enter Argentina at Dionizio Cerquera, 245 kilometers to the north. 

The way there was a nightmare. There was only one road to follow, narrow and very busy with no place on the roadside for the horses to walk. It was full of all kinds of trucks and buses with dangerous drivers. We had all the necessary documents of the horses ready. But our trouble started with the Argentine customs officer. Although our papers were valid, this person wanted us to pay $4,000 and to insure in case they died. Such an arrogance made us sick, but we had to keep on our kind faces and try again. But there was no way to continue. In that horrible traffic we would have been dead in a few more days with traffic speeding by only a few meters away from the horses."

Because of the dangerous road conditions the Long Riders were forced to load their horses onto a truck, and have them driven over the short, but dangerous, portion of the road. Further north in Brazil, they emailed The Long Riders' Guild with more observations about riding conditions in South America.

"We still haven’t bought guns.  We went to the Federal Police to ask if we, as foreigners, could buy guns.

-Oh yes, they replied, no problem.  Just go down the street to that shop right there.
-Well that is great; it will be legal with papers and so on? 
-Oh no, that is impossible, as a foreigner you can only have illegal arms! 

Brazil, Brazil… "

A Deadly Choice for Horses

In early December the Long Riders sent word that they had crossed into Paraguay. They advised anyone riding in South America to make sure they had all the the required vet certificates ready for their horses. Otherwise, as Howard explains, the options are swift and deadly.

"Please advise everybody who plans to travel with horses down here to have all sanitary papers ready.  Yesterday I went with the head-veterinarian here. He was on his way to kill 18 breeding bulls that had been smuggled into the state.  From the time that the smuggler's truck was stopped, until the bulls were dead, it passed only 5 hours!  That was the first time I have seen any official efficiency down here at all.  Horses that are stopped illegal go the same way too.

To enter the state we are in now, Santa Catarina, we needed a special permission from the chief veterinarian in the state.  Thanks to all the publicity we have down here, and that people from one mayors office called, they liberated especially for us to enter.  We just needed to disinfect the horses’ hoofs, and with all the papers we have, everything went smoothly.  

Into the Jungles of Paraguay

Howard and Janja have now dropped off the screen for the next several months. Along with their four horses, they have ridden into the hidden perils of the Chaco jungle of Paraguay. Howard emailed us this short report.

"We are now ready to continue into the Chaco, or “The Green Hell” as it is popularly called.  We have bought arms.  One revolver and one lever action rifle, both caliber .357 Magnum.  Totally legally, with the necessary permits.  

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Howard is ready to ride into the Chaco Jungle with his new rifle.

We will be out of touch for quite a while (1-3 months), but don’t worry.  The good thing about the place we are going now; there are no jails!  

February 2002

From deep in the jungle, Howard and Janja managed to send an email to The Long Riders' Guild.

"First thing first:  We are fine, and we are about 450 km in to the Chaco.   When I say that we are fine, that means our dog Bella and ourselves.  Three of the horses (except Barra) have gotten an illness called Piroplasmosis (also called Babesiosis).  They get it from a tick, and parasites enter the blood and eat away the red blood cells.  Luckily, we made a blood analysis of the horses in Asuncion, where they were free, and then when we came to where we are now.  They have gotten it during the trip through Chaco, and because we discovered it so fast, they will be totally OK again.  We have given them an extensive medical treatment for 7 days.  We will now give them a couple of days rest, before we give another 10 days treatment of vitamins and minerals directly in to the blood.  We were very surprised to learn about it, because the horses appeared to be in very good condition.

The Chaco, as we expected, is not the most pleasant place on earth to ride.  It is extremely hot, and the bush is impenetrable, so when we ride on the roads there are no shadows.  We get up at 04:00 and start riding as soon as we have enough light.  By 10 o’clock, it is like in an oven.  The temperature is normally between 38º and 44º Celsius in the shadow, and as said; there are no shadows.   Beside tick attacks, the horses get bitten by vampire bats, swarms of mosquitoes and “polvorines” (a kind of tiny sand fly), they get open wounds of all the thorns and a few more bothersome things.  We are slowly getting used to always having some creepy thing crawling on us somewhere, and as for the snakes; I have only killed three so far.  One I stepped on, on I beat to death with a stick and one I shot.  No big deal!

Paraguay in general is a country in total disorder and with a lot of violence.  It is the second most (I think Senegal is number one) corrupt in the world, and there are a lot of robberies and murders around.  Most of the people here are heavy armed, and we haven’t had one single question about why we are armed.  A few wonder why Janja don’t wear a gun, in addition to what we already have.  On the estancias, they have a lot of problems with cattle thieves, and almost all of the cowboys are armed while they ride.

I also ride with the revolver openly on my hip, because I figure that it is better that the “bad ones” know that we are armed, and so far we have been left in peace.  This is kind of like riding through the Old Wild West, and the old saying is still valid here: “Shoot first, and ask later”.

Despite everything, we don’t feel unsafe here.  It is more like a way of adjusting.  Sleep with the revolver under the pillow (its very hard), always keep the rifle handy and your eyes open.  Trust very few.  We would never feel safe here without arms, that is for sure!  I guess it is the romantic part in me that likes this, because it feels free here.  No one to trust, except your self."

forest.jpg (95558 bytes)   Geronimo bitten by bat.jpg (56539 bytes)  Janja & Milciades.jpg (52411 bytes) From left to right:  The Chaco Jungle;  Geronimo after being bitten by a bat, and Sunset in the Chaco.

Early in April 2002, The Long Riders' Guild finally heard from Howard:  he and Janja had emerged on the other side of the Chaco Jungle. 

"The Chaco is the hottest place in the whole Latin America, and we had days with up to 48º Celsius in the shadow, and as I have said many times before; there are no shadows.  99 % of the trees have thorns, and the bush is impenetrable. The insects (bichos) either bite, sting, burn or piss on you.  Add to that; that some of the thorns are poisonous, there are snakes, vampire bats, millions of ticks, pumas, jaguars and basically no drinking water, I guess you got an idea.  It is very hard to enjoy riding here in the Chaco, and it was basically like a endless suffering." 

One of their original four horses, Graciana, was injured and had to be replaced, yet the team pushed on. 

"We named the new mare Chaceña, the lady from the Chaco.  She is 6 years old, 3/4 Quarter Mile and the last 1/4 we don't know.  She has so far turned out to be a good choice, because she is super tame and easy to handle." 

"On the 24th of March we finally crossed the border to Bolivia.  We still had about 140 km of Chaco ahead of us, and it turned out that this part of the Chaco was much drier, and almost without grass.  The last two and a half days the horses didn't have anything to eat at all, and we were very happy to finally reach Villa Montes.  It is by the foothills of The Andes, and it was a pleasure to again see mountains after more than a year without."



15th June 2002

After a long silence, Howard and Janja have just sent an email to The Long Riders' Guild.

"We are now in Sucre, Bolivia and everything is fine.   That means the horses, Bella and us.  We are planning an update on the website soon, but with the horses in a military camp 6 km away, it gives us very little time to know Sucre (a very nice city) and to sit by the computer.


We enjoy riding in Bolivia very much, despite that there is a lot of climbing up and down, and that it is very hard to find food for the horses.  Grass doesn’t exist, and we have to buy whatever there is.


One afternoon we climbed more than 1500 meters (4500 feet) up to 3200 meters above sea level.  It is winter here now, and the nights are very cold. We enjoy it (after “the green hell), but we are a little bit worried for the horses."


August 2002

Janja has just sent another email to The Long Riders' Guild.

"We are now in a small town Teoponte in Las Yungas, east of La Paz.

To get here, we rode down "The road of the dead" that deserves its name 100%.  It is so narrow that in most parts, two vehicles can't meet as it meanders down the Cordillera Real.  The precipices all the way make one dizzy to look down and to make it "better," many springs and waterfalls run and fall over the road and wash it away to oblivion slowly.  To oblivion also went 36 passengers of a bus that fell down 300-400 m the day we were riding there.  A similar accident happened two weeks ago, also.  This is the only connection of La Paz with Las Yungas and, on this particular road, in contrary to the rest of Bolivia, English driving rules apply.

We passed 40 km of it in a single day and descended 2000 m!  The climate changed dramatically.  Up where we started it's full winter, with people freezing to death, but in Yolosa, where we stopped at the end of the day, we stripped off about five layers of clothes and had our dinner in shorts and T-shirt.

Everything goes more or less fine, except that Howard's leg is hurting badly.  A few days ago, we crossed a small river and, while trying to climb on the opposite bank, the soil gave way.  Geronimo fell back and on his side, on top of Howard who was riding him.  So Howard found himself between the river stones, the rifle, and a horse weighing more than 500 kg.  I tell you, that man has 7 lives!!  He didn't even break a bone, and I thank God for that.  His leg resembled a big, fat rainbow."

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"Climbing 1600 meters in one afternoon"
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"What happened to the plains of Uruguay?"
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