‘Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft’ is a record of Thor Heyerdahl’s three-month-long voyage through the Pacific Ocean, penned by the explorer himself.
After developing a controversial theory that the Pacific Islands were settled not from Asia but from South America, Thor Heyerdahl is determined to prove it right. In order to do so, he decides to ‘travel back in time’ and recreate the voyage of the Peruvians. He assembles a group of people willing to embark on such a hazardous journey and together they travel to the land of the Incas, where they build an exact replica of an ancient balsa-wood raft. Within a few months, they are ready to set sail from Peru to Polynesia.
Their expedition starts out rough. Contrary to its name, the Pacific Ocean turns out to be not so peaceful and the men need to get used to handling the craft on the high seas. When the weather finally calms down, they begin to actually enjoy the experience. With each passing day, they are one step closer to reaching their final destination while their dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Is there a greater classic among adventure books than Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his Kon-Tiki expedition? I highly doubt it. His memoir is a riveting chronicle of human daring that grabs readers’ attention somewhere in the first few pages and holds it tight till the very last sentence. This is, of course, the result of the story itself – so unbelievable that you can’t help but wonder whether or not it really happened. Traversing more than 3,500 nautical miles of shark-infested waters on a wooden raft with virtually no equipment, eating little fish and drinking who-knows-what… Is this even possible? Can a person survive such a dangerous voyage? Apparently yes. Although for many of us it seems completely unimaginable, Thor Heyerdahl managed to achieve his aim. After 101 days he could proudly say: ‘Mission accomplished. I had proved my point; and I’m still alive.’ Oh, we do love this. We do love when someone takes the risk, overcomes obstacles, and succeeds. And that’s exactly what this story is about.
So yes, the account is extremely engaging – this cannot be denied. But it’s also quite disappointing. The narrative revolves around the expedition that was undertaken for a single purpose: to confirm a bold hypothesis regarding the settlement of the Polynesian islands. You would expect the author to elaborate on this subject and maybe even reveal some hidden secrets about the Pacific. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. True, he sailed from Peru to the Tuamotus, showing everyone it was doable. However, nowhere in the publication does he disclose if his theory was formally proved; you’re just left wondering. And Oceania? He barely mentions it. There is very little information concerning the islands – only a few cultural and historical facts. They are, by the way, immensely fascinating, so it’s a real pity they so rarely appear in the book.
Despite the fact that the memoir is written in a formal and slightly official manner, it reads very well. Heyerdahl’s prose is powerful, his language extremely precise, his depictions vivid and animated. All these make you want to turn the page and spend yet another exciting day on the Kon-Tiki raft with Thor, Bengt, Erik, Thorstein, Herman, and Knut, looking for the sweet shores of the nearest land.
This is, undoubtedly, a wonderful tale – dramatically told and thoroughly compelling. It sparks interest. With each word you crave for more. Adventure enthusiasts will love it. Those who are curious about Pasifika may find it slightly mundane.