Oslo, Thor Heyerdahl, and Kon-Tiki

Back in Scandinavia (and hence the column actually being on time today).

I surprised Mia on Monday morning, arriving in Stockholm immediately following her green card meeting at the US Embassy. It's one of the few modern-looking buildings in the city, and completely surrounding by fence. Mia waited in the cold for half an hour before they let her in for her 8:30am appointment. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the Oslo airport waiting for my connecting flight and wondering if she'd been let in yet. And eating a bar of chocolate I bought at the news stand.


The view from the coffee shop in Oslo

I arrived at Arlanda airport in Stockholm around 10:30 in the morning. Unbeknownst to me, Mia was already in and out of her interview, and was out jogging around the city. I made it a point not to try and call her until I got into the city so I could use Skype and not tip her off by calling on my Swedish cell phone. 

I took the Arlanda Express train from the airport into T-Centralen. I have ridden it before, but they must have upgraded the cars. They seemed brand new. High-back seats contoured to fit the back and comfortably padded, clean white walls accentuating the minimalist / futuristic design, flat-screen, high definition monitors mounted in the bulkheads as if they were part of the wall itself, displaying daily news stories and the odd advertisement, no doubt which paid for a lot of the upgrades. The train has it's own magazine, it's glossy cover peering out from a skeletal stainless steel rack mounted beneath the window next to my seat, which faced backwards as the train raced forward towards the city.

In twenty minutes I was back in T-Centralen at the little coffee shop where we last had a latte with Clint when he headed back to Norway after New Year' Eve in Åland with Johanna. I managed to get Mia on Skype, who was confused as to why I wasn't calling from my cell phone like I normally do from home. I told her to go meet a friend at the Kultur Huset in town, and that's when she suspected it was me. I called her back on my Swedish phone to see if she understood the implications of that number appearing on her own phone (she did), and ten minutes later she walked in and joined me at the table I had in the corner.


We spent the evening in Stockholm, sleeping on the Rygerfjord, an old passenger ship they converted into a hostel. The restaurant upstairs had a view over Gamla Stan, and we were only steps away from Södermalm. We walked around the island that evening and stopped for a coffee near a small theatre on Hornstull Strand, just down from the place Mia saw Peter, Björn and John last summer. I was asleep by eleven, and didn't wake up the next day until ten.

I wanted more than just to go back to Dunderbo and wait out the mailing of Mia's greencard. We went back to T-Centralen next day and hopped a train to Oslo, where I had arranged for us to stay with Clint, whose working there as a tree surgeon and living in a nice flat with his boss, who, conveniently, was away for the week, leaving the place to the three of us. It was a six-hour journey, but I love riding the train.

Oslo is hillier than Stockholm, situated at the north end of Oslofjord, and a major shipping center. The downtown area is crammed with new construction, but the city is decidedly more compact than Stockholm. We took the bus into town, about twenty minutes from Clint's place the next morning, and after walking twenty minutes from Oslo Sentralen, were in a nice neighborhood where we found a pleasant coffee shop and lazed away the afternoon. It was cold and blowing snow outside.


Kon-Tiki museum in the snow...

Mia had grabbed a map from the station that showed the city layout. On the map in a wooded corner of town was listed information for several museums - Amundsen's polar FRAM ship is located next to the Norsk Maritim Museet, adjacent to the Kon-Tiki Museet. We went on Thursday.

I read Kon-Tiki  years ago, and always knew that Thor Heyerdahl, the guy behind the expedition was Norwegian, but it never occurred to me to look for him in Oslo. We took another bus to the museum yesterday morning. 

Heyerdahl was one of those guys I get my inspiration from. He had an idea and he acted on it, damn the consequences. For those unfamiliar with the story, Heyerdahl was an anthropologist who had moved to Tahiti with his wife in the 40s, where he spawned the theory, based on his observations of life on the island, that it's original inhabitants may in fact have come from South America. His idea was revolutionary then, and still is to some degree, and he set out not really to prove it, but only to prove that it was possible. 


Thor Heyerdahl

A telegram went out to as many adventurous compatriots as he could muster, informing them he intended to set sail across the Pacific from Peru, but only after first building a raft from Balsa wood trees harvesting high in the Andes and transported downriver to the coast, whereby they'd load a cargo of coconuts and set forth. His theory held that the prevailing winds and currents, with the help of a small square sail set from an a-frame mast, would carry them the several thousand miles across the ocean. Eventually they'd wash up on one of the islands scattered about the vast watery wilderness.

Well, they set out. 101 days later, they accomplished, in dramatic fashion, exactly what Heyerdahl had predicted, literally pounded onto the reef by swells that Heyerdahl described as being higher than their mast (a documentary film played at the museum - a film that won Heyerdahl an Oscar in 1951 for 'Best Documentary', and the original award is on display outside the museum's theatre - and in it, Heyerdahl filmed the aftermath of their collision with the reef. The raft is in tatters, and he described it a miracle that none of his crew was killed in the maelstrom). They waded ashore with their belongings. It was, astonishingly, 1947.


Heyerdahl's Ra II

But Heyerdahl wasn't finished. The museum included artifacts of his later expeditions, including two attempts at crossing the Atlantic from Morocco in a raft built of papyrus, based on ancient drawings found near the pyramids in Egypt (in fact, he built the rafts, named Ra for the Egyptian sun-god, at the foot of the great Pyramids, with local labor). The first attempt sank a couple hundred miles from the Caribbean, and Heyerdahl and his crew were rescued by a freighter from Barbados. Undeterred, he returned a year later and completed the voyage successfully in Ra II, which is on display at the museum. 

Heyerdahl's theories were based on knowledge that mariners since before recorded history were keenly aware of, that of prevailing wind and ocean currents. Pilot charts that the Clipper ships used in tracing their routes round the world were based on the same, as are the pilot charts yachtsmen use today (or should be using). It's the same theory that took Mia and I north to Nova Scotia last summer en route to Europe, and the same reason the ARC rally goes south from the Canaries, following precisely the same route Heyerdahl did in his Ra expeditions. And the same reason that Matt Rutherford has some distinctive kinks in his course around the Americas as he tried to play the winds and currents to his advantage.

But more than anything else, Heyerdahl provided me a strong reminder as to what's worth pursuing in life. That of latching on to a passion and taking it beyond it's logical conclusion. Matt is doing the same thing. That serendipitous finding of Heyerdahl's museum during a spur-of-the-moment trip to Oslo really made an impact on me.