We got to Johannesburg right around midnight. It was nice to be in a proper airport, with a jetway and everything. Our happiness was quickly doused, however, because somehow we got stuck in the exit corridor for about 15 minutes. Somehow the gate agents had opened the door to come down the jetway, but let the door shut behind them, and no one had a key. It was actually amazing that the lock would keep people in the jetway and out of the terminal, rather than the other way around. While we were waiting, a group of locals were commenting how embarrassing it was for people having this be their first experience in South Africa. We weren't sure exactly what happened to fix the problem - we were well back from the door - but eventually we got out. The airport was pretty well laid out, probably upgraded a ton because of World Cup in 2010. We didn't recall it being this nice in 2007. We met up with our driver and also a representative from Wilderness Safaris, who runs all of the places in Namibia we'd be staying. He gave us all the necessary paperwork for our stay, and then we took a short drive over to the Emperor's Palace complex; Julian had booked us at the Metcourt Suites. We were happy to see that we'd got an hour back in time zones, and that we'd get an extra hour of sleep. We checked in and went straight to bed.

We woke up just before our alarm went off at 5:45. We were a little worried by our cell phones, which for some reason hadn't determined we got the hour back. We took the free shuttle to airport, which was only 5 minutes or so away. The check-in and bag drop at the airport were a breeze. The international terminal had a ton of shopping, including diamond stores, fancy clothing stores, toy stores, (dried) meat stores, home furnishing stores, a Nike store, a Body Shop, but somehow only two restaurants, neither looking all that appealing. We took the one with the bar (Jackson's), but then the bar wasn't open. [Don't judge, we just climbed Kilimanjaro.] Breakfast was very slow, but we had plenty of time. After breakfast we went into the bookstore to find something we A) wanted to buy anyway and B) could serve as a protector for the Kilimanjaro certificates we'd received. We got a Braai cookbook that we thought would fit the bill, but it was too small for the certificates. At least we wanted it anyway.

The flight to Windhoek wasn't too bad, about two hours. In Windhoek, met our pilot, who whisked us through a bunch of the airport and out to the taxiway. The plane was tiny, just four seats, including hers. We had seen the plane when we were taxiing in, but we figured it was too small to be ours - nope. The ride was very bumpy and very loud, but we had no problems with motion sickness; Justin actually kept nodding off. We were expecting to see some huge desert, but we didn't really see the sand dunes until just before we landed in Kulala.

After landing, picked up by Ambrosius, our guide. On the short drive from the air strip to camp, we saw a number of Oryx (aka Gemsbok), Springbok, and Ostriches. We also saw two jackals (scared off by our car) and a number of vultures on a sprinbok. It was unclear whether the jackals had actually taken down the springbok, or whether they were just scavenging. We got to camp (Kulala Desert Lodge) around 2:30, and got situated. They didn't seem to know anything about our balloon ride scheduled for next day. Even though we had already had lunch, they served us lunch (Bratwurst and German Potato Salad) just before 3. We chilled out in the room for a bit, taking in the Star-Wars like scenery, then got our stuff together for an afternoon drive.

As we were enjoining tea before the afternoon drive, we spotted an unmistakably American couple that were almost cartoonish in their absurdity. The husband had about six cameras, all with gigantic, expensive lenses, and photo vests to match. He was balding but with a ponytail, so he covered up the balding hair with a safari hat. He really looked straight out of an advertisement for photo equipment on safari. His wife was a cheerleader, asking him all sorts of questions about whether he'd checked this or that or packed everything. We couldn't hear the conversation of the people 20 feet away from us, but we could hear these folks from over 50, and they were, in fact, American. All we could think was "what a pair of douches."

When we saw them also heading towards Ambrosius' truck, we were a bit concerned. As it turned out, our concerns were justified. There were 6 of us in the truck. Unlike most safari vehicles, this truck was closed, with a solid roof and solid sides. We figured it was because of the dust and the cooler temperatures. Becaue of this, getting photos out of the vehicle wasn't quite as easy, particularly out the other side of the vehicle, because of the walls and the windows. The American gentleman solved this problem by sitting in the front seat, right next to Ambrosius. We weren't sure whether this was appropriate or not, but Ambrosius didn't say anything.

While the two of us and a German couple sat quietly and enjoyed the scenery, the two Americans overwhelmed the conversation and monopolized everyone's time. Also, because they had camera equipment that could probably take pictures on the dark side of the moon, they kept focusing on animals half a mile away rather than right outside the window. At one point the husband spent literally five minutes trying to show his wife some bat-eared foxes through binoculars. She couldn't find them - possibly because we were in the middle of the desert and there were no reference points - but if she had simply put the binoculars down she could have seen them just fine with her eyes. When she finally did find them, she looked for a minute, then turned to us and the Germans and asked if we wanted to see - we all simultaneously said "nope, we saw them just fine." Our tone must have inflected something, because they didn't talk to us from then on.

In addition to dealing with the Americans, we didn't see the dunes at all, which was a bummer. We had only two nights, so only four excursions, in the area, and picked Kulala because of its proximity to the huge red sand dunes that are nearby and Sossusvlei ("the gathering place of water"), a large pan where two "rivers" end at the edge of the dunes. Since we had a balloon ride scheduled for the next morning, we were wondering if/when we'd see the dunes up close. But we made the best of the situation, enjoying the scenery that was in front of us. It reminded us a bit of the Bolivian altiplano, with the short grasses and reddish-hued hills. Ambrosius showed us a huge bird nest, built by Sociable Weavers. The birds build one big nest, but with numerous individual "rooms" for each nesting pair of birds. The holes are all almost directly downward-facing, to minimize the odds of snakes crawling in. We also saw a fair amount of ostrich, impala, and oryx, which comprise probably 95% of the wildlife in the area. We went to a hilltop and stopped for sundowners. It was really windy, with some sand blowing around, so we had to make sure not to aim the camera lenses into the wind. It was a nice sunset, and it was interesting to see the shadows slowly envelop the valley to the east of us.


Back at hotel, there was still no word on balloon ride. Ambrosius told us that our group would be heading to the dunes the next morning, and since that what's we wanted to do, we decided to let it be with the balloon ride, since we'd already informed them of it. If they didn't re-confirm it, we decided to just go on the regular drive the next day. So when Ambrosius came by after dinner to give details for wake-up call and leaving the next morning and told us only of the regular drive, so we decided to go with that. He also told us the Americans would not be joining us, as they had asked for their own car "so that they can take National Geographic photos or something." Ambrosius doubled his tip with that statement. Also good was the warm fire near the bar, and the news from the web that Arsenal had beaten Sunderland, so a good end to the day.