August 19, 10:49 PM
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 Ican remember,
and tomorrow we’ll be on our way! I still havea lot of packing to do,
but before closing my first journal entryI want to make a note on how
this adventure came about. It had been a while since our last trip and
we were itching tobegin another journey. One night over dinner, we
talked aboutour options. Given my mom’s job at World Airlines, our
family can fly almost anywhere for free, so long as there are
seatsavailable. So, she made a few calls, jotted down a list of
thedestinations available and told us all to write our choice on a small
piece of paper. She gathered our votes and read themaloud. Amazingly,
we’d all chosen the same place: Botswana!
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
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 justthat 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
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
I guess we’re lucky. I mean, with a flight attendant for amom and an
artist for a dad, we’re pretty much a bunch ofnomads, always hopping
around the globe from one amazing place to the next, and I have to say,
I absolutely lovebeing a nomad!
Looking out my window, I notice that we’re over land. Wyatt tells me
that the country of Namibia is directlybelow us. The early morning sun
lights the barren desertlandscape. Other than long dirt roads that
disappear intothe haze, there are no signs of anything man-made. No
cities, no towns. No trees or water either. Just parched land, asfar as
the eye can see.
Wow, it’s almost hard to believe.
Excerpted from "Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana (Travels With Gannon & Wyatt)" by Patti Wheeler. Copyright © 2013 by Patti Wheeler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.