I had been looking forward to the Kon-Tiki Museum. And that’s putting it lightly.
The Kon-Tiki Museum is all about a ridiculously unaccomplishable journey. I love ridiculously unaccomplishable projects. We are, after all, walking the entire coast of Britain whilst holding down full-time jobs and bringing up 12-year old twins – that’s 7,500 ridiculously unaccomplishable miles. The Kon-Tiki Expedition was ridiculously unaccomplishable on an epic scale, but the enthusiasm and determination of a small band of men showed the world that when you put your mind to it, there’s nothing that can’t be done.
The Kon-Tiki voyage was concerned with some small and particularly remote islands, situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – the Polynesian Islands. If you are not sure where the Polynesian Islands are then open up Google Earth and type in “Polynesian Islands”. You will quickly see that they are in the middle of the blue bit of the globe – that part of it where the entire visible part of the globe is sea.
In the 1940’s it was the established view that the Polynesian Islands had been colonised via Asia, approximately 5,500 years ago. A Norwegian adventurer, Thor Heyerdahl, disagreed. His belief was that the islands had been settled by South Americans. However, this would have meant that 5,500 years ago these South Americans would have undertaken a sea voyage of thousands of miles across the sea and navigated themselves to a precise point in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Heyerdahl was ridiculed for his theory. He was left with little option but to prove it in the only way he could – to construct a raft using materials only available 5,500 years ago and make the journey himself. He built a raft which is on display in the museum, together with a full account of his expedition.
Suffice to say that the experts called the entire stability of the raft into question when Heyerdahl announced his plans. They thought him mad. Remember that Heyerdahl sailed in 1947. There were no GPS systems. There were no long-range satellite communications. In short, there was no help. If Heyerdahl’s raft encountered problems on the open sea there would be no-one to come to the rescue. His team were very much on their own. It was a massive risk they undertook. Nobody had sailed a raft like this on a journey like this for thousands of years. Many thought that the raft would break up. But it didn’t! Do you see how the ropes in the next picture rubbed and wore grooves into the balsa logs? This was a particularly important aspect of the raft, the effect of which was not appreciated until it was at sea and the interaction between the ropes and timbers started to play out. But you’ll have to read Heyerdahl’s book to learn why – I’m not going to tell you.
Heyerdahl’s voyage lasted 101 days and 4,300 miles before he landed (or rather was smashed) on a reef on the Tuamotu Islands. On 7 August 1947 he proved to the establishment that their theories were wrong. Thanks to Heyerdahl it is now the accepted and established view that the Polynesian Islands were settled by South American natives who made epic journeys across thousands of miles of ocean. Heyerdahl wrote a book about his experiences which must hail as one of the best adventure books of all time (possibly bettered only by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World (not that I want to get into an argument about this (though I will if I have to))).
Here is the journey Thor Heyerdahl and his companions made:
The Kon-Tiki was not the only raft Heyerdahl built, and not the only vessel on display in the museum. We also got to see the Ra II, a raft built of papyrus which Heyerdahl and his crew sailed from Morocco to Barbados in 1970. With this voyage Heyerdahl proved that it would have been possible to cross the Atlantic in Egyptian times.
As we were leaving the museum something caught my eye. It was something I had always wanted to see but never thought I would. It was an Academy Award! Heyerdahl made a documentary about his Kon-Tiki voyage which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature of 1951, and there was the award, staring at us from its museum shelf.
Date of Visit: 18 July 2014
Points referred to in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Kon-Tiki Museum: N 59° 54.210 E 010° 41.885
- Callao, Peru (where the Kon-Tiki was built): S 12° 03.200 W 077° 08.000
- Tuamotu Islands (where the Kon-Tiki landed): S 18° 40.000 W 141° 00.000