Rally for Rangers, Namibia
Updated: Nov 1
"The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes." Marcel Proust
Voluntourism • A volunteer vacation where you give time to support a meaningful cause.
For two weeks this summer, a group of adventurist friends & I rode (and crashed) ~900 off-road miles across the Namibian landscape as a part of Rally for Rangers' mission bringing new motorcycles and conservation equipment to the region's rangers.
In Namibia, a country whose coastal areas reach temperatures of 140°F (60°C) by day and sub 50°F (10°C) by night, conservation is an under-resourced yet critical initiative. Despite immensely harsh environments, Namibia is at the forefront of African wildlife conservation due to its innovative, community-based approach pioneered by leaders such as John Kasaona.
When an elephant threatens to destroy a farmer's crops or predators kill herder's livestock, rangers are often the first to receive the call for help. It is common for rangers to walk in the blistering sun for miles before being able to provide support. Their prolonged travel can prove deadly for wildlife (some of whom are shot when help does not arrive in time) or local villagers (commonly injured or killed trying to protect their farms and villages.)
When our RFR team arrived in Windhoek, Namibia on July 3rd, many of us were less versed of the intricacies of the region's challenges, the scope of the adventure we'd signed up for, and the breadth of the country we'd spend the next 2 weeks pitching tents in. We spent a day in Windhoek before transferring to the rally kick-off at Midgard Lodge.
Day 1, July 3: Arrive airport, transfer to Midgard Lodge (80km - shuttle)
Midgard Lodge is a tranquil farmstead nestled at the foot of the Otjihavera Mountains in the African bush, not far from Namibia’s capital. German in architecture and disproportionately green to its surroundings, the 90-room lodge offered ample real estate for a rally base. In short order, the RFR team staged ~15 Yamaha AG125's, one for each rider to prepare, sticker-if, and adjust for the next day's ride.
As motorcycles were set, riders were briefed on the end-to-end route — a 900-mile circuit from Midgard to Outjo to Terrabay to Twyfelfontein Lodge to Swakopmund to Windhoek. Rally for Rangers' founder Ono Batkhuu outlined the rally rules, answering questions, clarifying expectations, and reiterating the group's adventure should not trump its mission to deliver motorcycles intact at the journey’s end.
Day 2, July 4: Midgard Lodge > Ombe Guest Farm and Safari (157 km)
Launching from Midgard provided us newer rallyers a false sense of confidence. In Namibia, a great deal of roads are unpaved. They are comprised of dirt and gravel, pock-marked and barren. All too often riders would find themselves facing a tractor, endlessly sweeping piles of sand that persistently sought to engulf the roads themself. In Namibia, the elements — sand, wind, and a beating desert heat — are constant factors.
We started on dirt roads and barren grasslands. To provide motors quiet enough to not startle wildlife, the Yamaha AG 125’s we were wielding proved smaller than expected, leaving some of us laugh-out-loud throttling out on the hills. Inevitably, dirt roads transformed to trails where more than a few of us fishtailed / swerved through the characteristical red sand.
Throughout the journey, lunch stops were made anywhere from under random trees to small, desolate country towns. The RFR support team involved (3) different vehicles, (1) at the front and (2) at the back of the riders — complete with a paramedic / mechanic (Bertus) to address on-site rider injuries, tire flats, or motorcycle crashes, a cook to feed the starving riders at the days end, and our videographer Jonathan to document the journey.
Ombe Guest Farms, a family-operated livestock enterprise (among one of the earliest registered guest farms in Namibia) offered a reprieve at our first trail day's end. In addition to an opportunity to set up tents / opt for yurt camping, the farm hosted us for a private safari tour led by our hosts Florian and Katrin. After a dusty debut & some much-needed washing up, our group was captivated with an open-top jeep expedition, featuring local giraffes, oryx, and ostriches.
With the setting sun, Florian outdid all cohort expectations… producing a cooler of spirits for a cheers — a prelude to a delicious homemade dinner.
Day 3, July 5: Ombe Guest Farm and Safari > Okonjima Nature Reserve (236km)
From Ombe Guest Farm we traversed ~146 mi / 236km further to Okonjima Nature Reserve in the Omboroko mountains. The riding was moderately easy, and we arrived with the waning sun. Riders pitched tents, engulfed in an astoundingly beautiful landscape. Amid wildlife sounds and the aroma of springbok meat grilling over an open fire, the cameras were whipped out almost as fast as cooler beers.
Day 4, July 6: Okonjima Nature Reserve > Etotongwe Lodge, Outjo (209km)
If riding into Okonjima was stunning, the morning’s ride out proved more so. Rolling out of the reserve — over the course of 15 minutes — we came within a few dozen feet of being stampeded by a group of giraffes, a charging herd of wildebeest, and a group of zebras. Jaws on the ground…. we then spotted an elusive rhinoceros in parallel with a (seemingly) never-ending number of springbok, steenbok, and errant giraffes.
Another day’s ride in… come evening, we touched down at Etotongwe Lodge in Outjo. Shedding all our increasingly crusty gear and deeply appreciating the comfort of a genuine hotel room with a proper toilet / shower, riders gathered at a small on-site bar for refreshments. In a few hours, the establishment was visited by a Himba family selling trinkets — bracelets made from recycled PVC, hand-carved animal figures, & fibrous beaded necklaces. By the end of the evening, 100% of my local currency transferred from a fender pouch to the local ladies…with a hungry ostrich looking on from behind a cyclone fence.
Day 5, July 7: Etotongwe Lodge > Hoada Campsite (252km)
Gassing up at an outpost on day 5… Namibia’s terrain grew progressively more challenging.
Approximately 46% of Namibia's surface features bedrock exposure, with the remaining topography covered by sediments of the Kalahari and Namib deserts. A disproportionately high number of sharp crystals shed Yamaha tires at an unprecedented rate. Every few hours, a rider would experience a flat tire… and with it, the novel experience of waiting as those more mechanically talented switched inner tubes / patched / aired up and returned the less lucky motorcycle to a functional state.
Each day would bring generally some fuel ups, paired with the support team topping off gas tanks each evening while simultaneously checking for flats / other mechanical issues. Occasionally, we would stop at wasteland-like outposts, purchasing trinkets from local sellers — often from the Himba tribe. In the starkest environments — deserts with no vehicles, the landscape would still be dotted by tiny wood shacks, putting forth a variety of crystals, jewelry, and nicknicks for sale. There were metal giraffes woven from old cans, bracelets made from recycled PVC, and crudely carved lions, rhinos, and leopards.
Arriving at Hoada campsite was the end of an exhausting day.
The word “Hoada” is the Damara-Nama term for “everybody.” With its alien rock formations, it presents an otherworldly landscape… Travelers are welcome to pitch tents, bring RV’s and enjoy the park’s features ranging from shower stations carved into boulders and a top-of-the-mount bar, complete with a small wading pool and Savanna Dry cider. As with every other evening, our cook prepared a delicious concoction of corn grits, meats, and pasta / salad for the famished group.
Day 6, July 8 : Hoada Campsite > Ondongo Waterfall Campsite (142km)
As if the adventure were not enough.. it was about to skyrocket.
Turning out of Hoada’s moonlike landscape, we began our first full day of riverbeds. This ended in a “humbling” manner for some of us, repeatedly crashing on stretches of rocks just to find ourselves confronted turn by turn with another. One cracked leg brace, many bruised limbs, even more wipeouts, and 142km later… we thumped into Ondongo Waterfall Campsite. To our delight, the site actually featured a waterfall / swimming hole. Ripping off moto gear (caked with a week’s worth of dust, sweat, and sand), charged in as game burgers were put on the fire.
Day 7, July 9: Ondonga Waterfall campsite > Onganga Campsite (192km)
Day 7 brought a visit to a local village. After riding across seemingly endless dirt roads we happened upon a small settlement — 5 or 6 huts made of mud, cow dung, stretched animal skins, and branches.
These were Himba homes, hand-built by the semi-nomadic tribe who have resided in the Kunene Region of northern Namibia for centuries. As a matrilineal society, Himba women are responsible for most of the daily tasks, such as milking livestock, fetching water, and cooking. Men are responsible for herding animals and protecting the village. This particular settlement was aggregated by a gentleman named Boaz, a descendent from the Himba who spoke fluent Herero and English.
As Boaz guided our group to the village, young Himba ladies performed a welcome dance before sharing how their homes were built, livestock cared for, and how they ground a particular rock (red ochre) & mixed it with tallow to produce a primitive form of sunscreen. The iron in red ochre is what gives the Himba people their distinct red skin color. We also learned how braided jewelry pieces Himba women/ men wear indicate their societal status... married or unmarried, with or without children.
Witnessing a community survive in such an isolated region was revelatory. In an environment that appeared incapable of sustaining life, they have made these lands their home for countless generations.
Day 8, July 10: Onganga Campsite > Puros Bush Lodge & Camp (176km)
Edging ever forward, the rally continued to prove challenging. Many of us (yours truly included) starting taking a few tumbles as we raced across the endless desert.
At one stretch of the ride, an endless red desert spanned before us… Encompassing miles of burning red sand, it looked as if we were crossing from the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan into an environment pulled from Mars. Alternating between washboard roads beating us senseless and carving our own through-the-dust paths between sand flats, it was an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime, exhausting day.
***Chris, waiting for a flat repair.. and Mike enjoying the moment :)
***Jason, gleefully peeking behind the handlebars at a pit stop
***Ollie, Anna and I….with Ollie & I being the vampires of the group
Day 9. July 11: Puros Bush Lodge & Camp > WILD CAMP, Amspoort Gorge (approx. 150km)
At Puros Bush Lodge, we took a pause for what would turn out to be the most rewarding part of our journey. Even in incredibly remote regions, villages often house young children who face limited access to basic resources such as toilets, notebooks, shoes, clothes, and books. We anticipated seeing some children on the way but were unprepared for the 100+ little ones who came to the Puros Bush school.
As we rode into the schoolyard, children flocked forward, eyes bright with curiosity and enthusiasm. They touched the motorcycles, requested photographs, and eagerly lined up for any gifts the rally brought. Mike — the best of us — had angelically lugged along a suitcase filled with notebooks in one of the RFR support trucks, ensuring every child received a gift.
At times like this, each of us contemplated how exceptionally fortunate we have been. The world is carved with stagering inequalities. These children were undeniably bright, beautiful, and talented, but their opportunities were restricted by the circumstances of their birthplace.
Day 10, July 12: Wild camp @ Amspoort Gorge> Torra Bay (Approx. 150km)
Day ten brought the most challenging conditions of the rally circuit. Within our group, half of the riders were seasoned off-roaders while the other half were relatively greener. As the Namibian terrain shifted from fine, powdery sand flats to a meandering barrage of creeks, hills, jagged riverbeds, and towering dunes / quicksand (!) the majority of my own wipeouts occurred on this single day.
When crossing waters of unknown depth, it takes some expertise to comprehend all you can do is maintain balance, roll on the throttle, and pray. Nevertheless, precautions do not prevent water from surging over your head and infiltrating your helmet if the creek is deeper than planned. These creeks happened to have some deep spots… & some of us managed to find every. single. one.
If being sweaty, sandy, and hot is an uncomfortable ordeal… it pales in comparison to being drenched in dank brown water, mud, with sand covering your every inch and your Moto boots turning into waterlogged lead weights. In such circumstances, shaking from the wind, bruised from days of riding, and exhausted from picking up motorcycles crash after crash, moving forward is the only option.
Rallying is not for the faint of heart.
Going backwards or calling it a day is not in the cards.
It's also worth mentioning… a few remarkable members of our group managed to navigate the entire circuit without a single crash-inducing event. These people should have won talent awards.
Day 11, July 13: Torra Bay > Puros Bush Lodge
Day eleven brought forth stunning Martian terrain, legendary open air brraaaaaappp opportunities, and (2) unforgettable trailer fiascos, the latter of which resulted in an axle snapping mid-route to the Elephant Coast's Mile 108 camp. With the latter mechanical glitch, we could not proceed further. Tools are hard to come by in the middle of an endless desert. After some brainstorming, the rally turned around and headed back to Puros Bush Lodge.
Day 12, July 14: Puros Lodge to > Sorris-Sorris > Twyefelfontein Lodge
The culmination of the rally circuit was bittersweet. It had been an adrenaline-filled adventure few had fully anticipated when landing in Windhoek. Looking back, it was almost unbelievable how much ground had been covered in such ten days. We explored surreal places, forged new friendships, and shared countless moments of laughter despite -- and because of -- the numerous crashes, flat tires, and mishaps along the journey. Every second, bruise, and story was worth it.
Rolling into Twyefelfontein Lodge, we lined up the Yamahas, washed each down for hand-off, and did our best to repair minor damage incurred through out the last day's ride. The next day, John Kasaona ’s rangers and a collective of Namibian officials would gather for the hand off celebration.
Day 13, July 15: Morning training, afternoon hand over ceremony Sorris - Sorris
As hand-off hour arrived, each rallyer rode to the ceremony site single file, handing our Yamahas off to an assigned ranger. The rangers were led by a pioneer of community-based conservation — John Kasaona — who committed to using the fleet of AG125's to prevent wildlife poaching from occurring on and around national parks. John's rangers play an essential role in managing complex wildlife and community interactions, serving as an exemplar to the rest of Namibia's conservation community.
Impahewa — the warden who received my Yamaha — did not yet have his motorcycle license. As several rangers had not yet been on a motorcycle, for a final hurrah we gave each ranger an impromptu ride. We didn't mention some of us had never ridden with a passenger before ☺.
***The following day brought a wild land safari. We were stunned to see herds of "ellies" as the locals called them, rhinoceros, lions, & giraffes within a few dozen feet.
***Photo Credit: Oliver Dunkley
Life is nothing without a blooper reel...
***Rally for Rangers (RFR) is an incredible nonprofit supporting conservation by gifting rangers with motorcycles and equipment. Experienced riders can apply to any of the RFR treks spanning from Mongolia to Bhutan, Peru to Namibia, and more. Rally fees cover the cost of purchasing the rider's donated motorcycle, food, lodging, and entertainment throughout each trek.