Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswanaby Patti Wheeler
When Gannon and Wyatt arrive in Botswana for an African safari, they find themselves tangled up in much more than a family vacation. After receiving word that a poacher has shot and wounded a lioness, they set off into the wild in the hopes of saving the mother and her cubs before the poacher finishes the job. While on this amazing journey, they encounter… See more details below
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When Gannon and Wyatt arrive in Botswana for an African safari, they find themselves tangled up in much more than a family vacation. After receiving word that a poacher has shot and wounded a lioness, they set off into the wild in the hopes of saving the mother and her cubs before the poacher finishes the job. While on this amazing journey, they encounter Africa’s Big Five - elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, leopards, and lions?only to discover that the most dangerous predator in the African bush is not the king of beasts, but man himself.
In the tradition of the historic journals kept by explorers such as Lewis and Clark, Dr. David Livingstone, and Captain James Cook comes the adventure series Travels with Gannon and Wyatt. From Africa to the South Pacific, these twin brothers have traveled the world. You never know what they will encounter as they venture into the wild, but one thing is certain - wherever Gannon and Wyatt go, adventure is their constant companion.
You can find Gannon and Wyatt’s blog, photographs, and video footage from their real-life expeditions at travelswithgannonandwyatt.com.
Read an Excerpt
TRAVELS WITH GANNON & WYATT. BOTSWANA
By PATTI WHEELER, KEITH HEMSTREET
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2013Claim Stake Productions
All rights reserved.
JOURNEY TO THE DARK CONTINENT
AUGUST 19, 10:49 PM COLORADO, U.S.A.
By mid-morning tomorrow, we'll be aboard a plane, flying in an easterly direction, probably somewhere over Colorado still, but en route to a far-off land ... Africa!
Just say the word "Africa" and all sorts of wild images are brought to mind—elephants stampeding across the savannah, yipping baboons swinging from the limbs of trees, hippos and crocodiles lurking just under the water's surface, an elusive leopard silently stalking a herd of antelope, a pride of hungry lions devouring a fresh kill, tribesmen stepping cautiously through the bush on the hunt for their next meal.
Africa is one of a kind. Untamed. Exotic. Mysterious. Bigger than big. When you think about it, Africa is not so much a continent as it is a world of its own.
In the field of scientific exploration, one of the last remaining places on earth to be studied was the African interior. For centuries, the outside world knew little about it, except that it was full of dangers that could bring an expedition to an abrupt and tragic end. Africa was such a mystery, in fact, that the great explorers of the 1800s labeled it the "dark continent." For this reason, they were determined to shed some light on Africa, to march into the bush and see with their own eyes what this mysterious world was really like. Over the next century, many explorers became famous for leading scientific expeditions into this uncharted territory. Some lived to tell about it. Many did not.
Reading the journals of these brave explorers gave me the idea of keeping my own journal during our upcoming adventure. When I mentioned it to my mom, she thought it was such a good idea that she incorporated it into our home-school curriculum. Gannon and I went to the bookstore and each bought a leather-bound journal, just like the famous explorers used on their expeditions. These books will be dedicated specifically to our daily record, or "field notes," as I like to call them. Our field notes will also serve another important purpose. When we return from Africa, we're going to submit them to the Youth Exploration Society (Y.E.S.), an organization of explorers whose mission is to inform young people of ways to help cultures, species, and environments at risk. If they are worthy, and we're going to do our best to make sure they are, they will be housed in the Y.E.S. library right alongside some of the most famous books of exploration ever published.
Visiting Africa has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and tomorrow we'll be on our way! I still have a lot of packing to do, but before closing my first journal entry I want to make a note on how this adventure came about. It had been a while since our last trip and we were itching to begin another journey. One night over dinner, we talked about our options. Given my mom's job at World Airlines, our family can fl y almost anywhere for free, so long as there are seats available. So, she made a few calls, jotted down a list of the destinations available and told us all to write our choice on a small piece of paper. She gathered our votes and read them aloud. Amazingly, we'd all chosen the same place: Botswana!
AUGUST 21 FLIGHT 712, SEAT 42A SOMEWHERE OVER THE OCEAN
Oh, man, it really turns my stomach. We must be passing through a huge thunderstorm because right now it feels like this plane is driving over a never-ending dirt road full of potholes. Out the window all I see is darkness and the flashing red light on the tip of the wing and all these clouds streaking past like some kind of crazy ghosts flying at Mach speed in the opposite direction.
This is probably the worst time to start my journal because my handwriting is all over the place and my mom won't be too happy about that when she grades my penmanship and I'll have to explain to her that it was because the plane was bouncing all over the sky, but right now I have to do something to try to take my mind off this bumpy ride and journaling seems to be the best option.
According to Wyatt, it's about seventeen hours from the time you take off in Washington, D.C., to the time you land in Johannesburg, South Africa. That's where we will switch planes and fly to Botswana, which will take another couple hours, I think. We're about fourteen hours into the flight and still somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
Okay, now this is more like it. I think we've made it through the storm. At least the plane isn't getting knocked around anymore, and thank goodness for that, because I was about to put the old barf bag to good use, if you know what I mean.
The sun is just now coming up and painting the sky in all these amazing colors. It looks like some kind of abstract artwork where the artist takes out a brush and paints patterns or shapes in all kinds of bright shades. My dad has done some paintings like that—the abstract kind—and I really like them, but he focuses mostly on wildlife and landscape paintings. Can't wait to see what sort of paintings he makes in Botswana.
Since leaving D.C., I don't think I've slept more than three, maybe four hours tops, but I feel really alert. It might have something to do with all the soda I've had on this flight or that awful turbulence, but I think it's mostly due to our destination. In all of our travels, I don't know that I've ever been so amped about a trip.
I think Wyatt's even more excited than I am, if that's possible. The kid can't keep his mouth shut. He's been babbling on through the night about all sorts of things that— to be completely honest—I could care less about, like the digestive system of a giraffe and the monsoons that flood the Okavango Delta every year and all this other stuff I totally tuned out. I mean, the kid thinks he's Charles Darwin reincarnated or something. How twins could be so different is totally baffling to me. I guess some people get into all of that stuff, but not me. Science bores me to tears. I'm not saying it isn't important or anything. Of course it's important. It's just that learning how many hours a day an elephant spends eating grass or how to navigate through the bush using the stars doesn't bring me to the edge of my seat with excitement.
So that's not the kind of stuff I'm going to write about in my journal. I'd rather write about the things I experience while traveling—the things that leave a lasting impression on me. Now, I'm not trying to be all profound or philosophical or anything, but if you get all wrapped up in the details of things, like my obsessive-compulsive brother, well, sometimes you miss what's really important. A welcoming smile from a child in a foreign city, for example. Or the affectionate nudge a mama bear gives her cub. I like to spend some time thinking about these things, and not just take them for what they appear to be on the surface—a child smiling or a bear nudging its cub—but really wonder to myself what these things mean. Like, what thoughts are running through their mind at that very moment? Maybe I'll write about that stuff. To me, that is what's really fascinating. That's life!
Of course, this is just my opinion. Everyone sees things differently. I bet if you sent ten people on the same trip, you'd probably hear ten different stories when they got back. Everyone has different interests and different opinions about things. My brother and I are no different.
It's funny, or sad (depends how you look at it, I guess), but when I told my friends back in Colorado that we were going to Africa, almost everyone asked, "Why?" It made me wonder if my friends would ever venture beyond their own backyards. I mean, who asks "why" about the chance to travel? I say, "Why not?" Why not expand your horizons? Why not learn about new cultures? Why not see what there is beyond your home turf?
I guess we're lucky. I mean, with a flight attendant for a mom and an artist for a dad, we're pretty much a bunch of nomads, always hopping around the globe from one amazing place to the next, and I have to say, I absolutely love being a nomad!
Looking out my window, I notice that we're over land. Wyatt tells me that the country of Namibia is directly below us. The early morning sun lights the barren desert landscape. Other than long dirt roads that disappear into the haze, there are no signs of anything man-made. No cities, no towns. No trees or water either. Just parched land, as far as the eye can see.
Wow, it's almost hard to believe.
AUGUST 21, 12:24 PM MAUN, BOTSWANA, 19° 58' S 23° 25' E 21° CELSIUS, 70° FAHRENHEIT SKIES CLEAR, WIND CALM
Just before 11:00 a.m., we landed in Maun, a dusty town of about 50,000 people in north-central Botswana. I am sitting on the steps outside the airport. A man just walked up and asked if I wanted to buy any bananas. I looked into the man's bag, thinking that a banana might actually hit the spot and provide a good dose of potassium to help keep my muscles working properly, but the bananas were all too ripe and bruised. Maybe that's the way they like to eat them here, but there wasn't one in the bunch that looked appetizing to me. Politely, I said, "No, thank you," and the man moved on.
We are waiting for a connecting flight to our camp in the Kalahari Desert, which is about an hour away. We'll be flying on a small plane. That would scare some people, but I love small planes. When you're in a small plane you really get the sensation of flying, of moving through the sky from one point to another. Whereas in a jumbo jet, you more or less feel like you're in a movie theater or something. When we landed in Maun I took a look in the hangar and saw a few Caravans, which seat eleven or twelve people, and even a couple Cessna 206s, which only seat six, including the pilot. Both are single-engine planes and very reliable.
Tomorrow we will begin our safari. First, we'll explore parts of the Kalahari Desert, a stretch of dunes and salt pans, which covers over 100,000 square miles in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. We'll live in tents near a Bushmen village and attempt to track the great white rhino. After a week in the Kalahari, we will fly to the Okavango Delta, a system of inland waterways and islands. Monsoon rains flood the delta each year, and where there is water, there is wildlife! Having the chance to go into the African bush and observe the wildlife in an environment that has hardly changed in thousands of years, that's every budding scientist's dream. And now, just a short thirty hours after leaving Denver International Airport, I am here! It's really amazing to think that just yesterday I was having breakfast in North America, and now I'm in Africa. It's like my mom always says, "Any place in the world, no matter how far, is just a few flights away."
As I write this, I'm watching my brother walk aimlessly down the sidewalk, stopping to talk to random people. It's anybody's guess what he's asking these people. With his blond hair and blue eyes, the kid sticks out like a sore thumb. I guess I do, too. But sticking out never seems to faze Gannon. I have to admit, I don't know anyone else who can strike up conversations with total strangers like my brother does. He's a real people person.
TUESDAY, I THINK ... MAYBE WEDNESDAY
After we got to Maun and got our passports stamped, there was still some time before we were scheduled to fly to the Kalahari, so I did what I normally do when I get to a new place—I walked around and talked to the locals. Whenever I do this, I try to say something in the native language because I feel that doing so shows you respect the local culture. Now, I'll admit, not everybody I come across is totally receptive to this kind of thing. Truth is, you never really know how someone is going react when a perfect stranger walks up and says, "Hello!" Like, for example, when I was in Russia and I did this, not many people said hello back. They usually just walked by without a glance or if they did look at me it was one of those cockeyed looks like I was some kind of crazy kid who should be locked up in a funny farm. Come to think of it, a lot of people in New York City acted the same way, so maybe it's a big-city thing, not just a Russian thing. Well, whatever it is, I think friendliness can be understood anywhere, by anyone. Whether people say hello back or not, I'm pretty sure that they will remember me at some point and say, "You know, that boy who said 'hello' to me that day was real friendly. If everyone was as friendly as that boy I bet the world would be a much better place." At least, that's what I like to think.
Exploring Maun was really interesting. I had my video camera in hand and was taking some footage of the people and the storefronts and this random donkey that was walking all alone down the middle of the road when I came across an older man seated behind a small booth just off the sidewalk. I greeted him using some Setswana words that I'd studied on the plane. Setswana, other than English, is the official language of Botswana.
"Hallo," I said to the man. "Leina la me ke, Gannon. Ketswako United States. O bua Sekhowa?"
Translation to English: "Hello. My name is Gannon. I'm from the United States. Do you speak English?"
"A little," he said, nodding his head.
He was nice enough to offer me a chair and with his permission I filmed a little bit of our conversation. He spoke better English than he gave himself credit for and went on to tell me how he was born in Maun and had lived there his whole life, but that he wasn't born in a hospital like me, he was born in a hut that his father had built from mud, sticks and tree branches. The floor of the hut was mostly dirt, but in one area there was a small rug that his mother had knitted and she delivered him right there, on that rug! His brother and sister were born on the rug, too. I can't even imagine!
He talked about how he'd seen Maun grow from a tiny village of mud huts to the sprawling town it is today with all kinds of concrete office buildings, restaurants, shops, gas stations, and other little businesses. He said the town had grown mostly because safaris were bringing more and more visitors to Maun every year.
The man spent most days at his booth selling wooden sculptures that he and his wife carve with their own hands. This man had never gone to school to learn how to carve wood and neither had his wife—they taught themselves how to do it through years and years of practice. Judging by the quality of their artwork I would have guessed that they had been taught at a school for sculptors in Paris or Rome or wherever the best sculptors are taught. I'm not joking, they were that good!
I ended up buying a small wooden elephant for my cousin Bliss. She's five years old and loves big animals, especially elephants. I didn't have any local currency, but the man said he would gladly accept US money and charged me two dollars. Now, I don't know much about valuing art, but two dollars seemed like an amazing deal for this sculpture. I thanked the man the best I could in Setswana: "Ke a leboga." He just chuckled and nodded, partly as thanks for my purchase and partly, I'm guessing, because I butchered his language.
As I walked back to the airport, happy to have met this friendly sculptor and learned a little bit about what life is like in Maun, I noticed a rusty old jeep parked on the side of the road. As I came closer, I saw a man putting several rifles in the back, the hunting kind, with scopes attached to the top and all. There are certain people who—just by looking at them—bring about an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Well, this guy was definitely one of those people. He wore a beat-up safari hat and his shirt and pants were torn in places and filthy with dirt and who knows what else and there was a patch over his left eye, just like a pirate. But it wasn't so much the eye patch that gave me the creeps. What really creeped me out was the man's good eye. It was completely black, like a marble. I'm not joking, there was no color whatsoever. It was just a deep, dark hole.
Passing the jeep, the man turned and glared at me and when our eyes met this crazy chill went shooting down my spine. How he could see anything out of that black eye, I have no idea, but he could see, that's for sure. I could tell just by the way he stared at me. I looked away and picked up my pace, double-timing it to the airport without ever looking back. Maun was well worth a quick stop, but I'm definitely ready to get on with the safari.
Excerpted from TRAVELS WITH GANNON & WYATT. BOTSWANA by PATTI WHEELER. Copyright © 2013 by Claim Stake Productions. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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