Kon Tiki 2: When flying is just a little too boring

Henrik Jenssen

A raft has set sail on a roundtrip expedition from Peru to Easter Island and back – all in the name of adventure and science.

To most normal people, crossing the Pacific Ocean on a raft might sound like a once in a life time experience; if it would happen at all. To Norwegian Torgeir Higraff, however, it is at least a twice in a lifetime experience.

The legacy of Kon Tiki

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer, and his crew left the port of Callao on a self-made balsa raft. Sailing for Polynesia, they sought to prove that it was possible that Polynesia had been inhabited by pre-Hispanic people from South America.

Heyerdahl also wanted to demonstrate that the old Latin American cultures were more sophisticated at sea than what mainstream opinion dictated. Sailing westward with the Humboldt Current, the Kon-Tiki expedition reached its destination after more than 100 days on the watery expanse that covers one third of the world.

In 2006, 60 years later, Higraff’s Tangaroa Expedition underwent the same journey, all though they reached Polynesia in 30 days less. Now, in 2015, Higraff will do it once more. This time, however, the trip, now consisting of two rafts, will go to the Easter Island and then back.

(Photo: Henrik Jenssen)

You might wonder why on earth anyone would do this again.

Between Heyerdahl and Hagriff’s expeditions there had been a notable discovery. Archaeologists and anthropologists had learnt that wooden planks found in different Incan and pre-Incan ruins were in fact primitive rudders.

These rudders, called guaras in Spanish and translated as daggerboards in English, are argued to prove that the rafts of pre-Hispanic times did not simply drift on the water; they were purposefully maneuvered. Thus, when returning back from the Easter Island, the balsa rafts will use guaras to sail against the wind. If they succeed, they will demonstrate that pre-Hispanic Latin American cultures could have freely navigated the seas.

Traversing the open seas on a wooden raft is not an effortless endeavour. From large numbers of volunteers to sponsors, numerous people have dedicated weeks of their lives to the project and different third parties have contributed in diverse ways.

Like in the initial Kon Tiki expedition, the Peruvian Navy has given considerable support to the project. The Navy provided SIMA (Servicios Industriales de la Marina S.A) as a place for the rafts to be constructed. The Peruvian Navy has also accommodated the expedition members and the many volunteers at the Naval School in La Punta.

(Photo: Henrik Jenssen)

Sailing for science

But this expedition is noteworthy also for another reason.

On board one of the vessels is Cecilie Mauritzen, a Norwegian oceanographer and climate change scientist. She will engage in scientific research of the ocean territories they are crossing.

Under her command, the crews will measure pollution in the ocean and examine how climate change is affecting the seas. This will involve the measuring of temperatures, oxygen, carbon dioxide and the levels of microplastics in the oceans.

Research vessels rarely traverse this part of the Pacific; the Kon-Tiki 2 expedition is therefore in a prime position to make unique discoveries regarding the state of the world’s largest ocean.

These discoveries will occur simultaneously with the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change. From late November to December, the world will try to achieve a universal and binding agreement on climate. The expedition will therefore help put the oceans on the UN agenda; something it direly needs considering the world oceans have no permanent representation in the UN.

A real adventure

Part adventure and part scientific experiment, the Kon-Tiki 2 expedition is a multifaceted undertaking. As a result, it has garnered broad support, from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to private technology companies.

The undertaking has, however, not been without problems. Logistical problems have delayed the building and the Peruvian customs have given the expedition management continuous headaches.

Despite such obstacles, however, months of hard work came to a satisfactory end on November 7. Just over a week beforehand, on the 30th of October, the two rafts were lowered into the water and pulled from SIMA to La Punta, where the last details were put in place before departure.

For children, it is natural to dream of exploits and adventure. The world lies in front of their eyes, ripe for discovery. For adults, the adventures envisioned in childhood are considered to be possible only inside a young mind. For the crew of Kon-Tiki 2, however, adventure is real. One can only therefore admire and envy the people who are setting out on a journey of a lifetime.

You can read more about the Kon-Tiki 2 Expedition here.

University taught Henrik that his dearest talents make him a splendid vagabond and bohemian. Hence, as his studies came to an end, he found no pleasure in the prospects of settling down in a 9-5 job. He therefore left the peaceful meadows of Europe in search of something different. With an academic background in European and international politics, he is now residing in Peru as a freelance journalist exploring the narratives unknown to the West. His main expertise lies with political and social affairs, but his curiosity is boundless. Always interested in meeting new people and making new experiences, Henrik intends to pursue stories and adventures across Latin America over the coming year. If all else fails, he intends to become a spice merchant on his own sailboat. He is also a managing editor and contributor of the Ivory Tower, an online magazine concerned with politics, culture and philosophy.

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