Month: July 2016

A chance encounter

Me and Francisco Yabar

Me and Francisco Yabar

“I’m good at recognizing faces.”
The tall, chubby man in a dark suit outside Museo Naval del Peru looked at me, wondering whether or not I’d been there the day before?
“I have,” I said.
“Where are you going,” he said, smiling.
“To Miraflores.”
“I’m heading in that direction, follow me!”
He was accompanied by a young woman in a uniform, and I quickly realized this was not a man accustomed to being told “no, thank you.”
“Are you the director of the museum,” I asked. He gave me a nod.
“I’m a retired admiral in the navy,” he explained.
When we’d entered his car, he asked me where I was from. “Norway,” I answered truthfully, and explained that I’d gone to the museum looking for information about Kon Tiki and/or balsa wood rafts.
“Thor Heyerdahl’s son, Thor Jr, attended a dinner party at my house. During the dinner I got a phone call from the navy telling me I’d been promoted to admiral. I turned white as a ghost. It turned out that Thor Jr had been involved. He’s very adept at convincing people!”
At this point I was already star struck, but managed to keep my calm.
“You’re coming home with me to take a picture. You’ll send it to Olav Heyerdahl, Thor’s grandson. You know, Olav planned the Tangaroa-expedition in my home.  The Kon Tiki II expedition was also planned in my home.”

Me, in admiral Yabar's house

Me, in admiral Yabar’s house

“That’s awesome,” I admitted. The truth, of course, was I couldn’t find words to express how cool I thought it was.

During the car ride, I expressed my fascination with Thor Heyerdahl.

“You know, I have a funny story about Thor,” he said. “When I was much younger, working in the navy,” I attended a lecture by Thor. I bought a book of his, and wanted it signed. But after the lecture, he was surrounded by professors, military officers and politicians. Then, after a while, he notices me standing alone in a corner. He breaks out of the crowd and comes my way. “Hey, kid, what do you want?” I held out my book, and he signed it for me!”

The impossible made possible

To ancient man, the oceans were not barriers, but pathways.

– Thor Heyerdahl

69 years ago, an anthropologist – who had been doomed to fail by an entire scientific world – banded together an unlikely crew consisting of a navigator and artist, a fridge selling engineer, a couple of telegraph operators and a Swede, and set sail from the port of Callao heading for Polynesia.

But what they were sailing was not a boat, it was a fleet constructed from balsa wood.

The original Kon Tiki

The original Kon Tiki

Everyone who heard about the adventure thought they sailed to their certain death. But 101 days later, they surfed over the Raroia-reef and showed the world that the impossible was possible.

There aren’t many places abroad that one can get a close encounter with Norwegian history. Norwegians are a rare breed, and we keep mostly to ourselves. Even when we were going to be imperialists, we happened upon some of the most remote pieces of land known to man, land that no one else cared about.

But the port of Callao, half a world away from Norway as the crow flies, is one of the places where Norwegians have not only made their mark. From the port of Callao, we changed world history. Perhaps Polynesia was not populated from the east, but that is only a footnote. Thor Heyerdahl showed the world that pre-Incan civilizations could sail, and that they have had contact with Polynesia has later been proven.

Me, at the port in Callao

Me, at the port in Callao

On the twenty eight of April, 1947, an adventure was started that made Norwegians large not only in their own eyes, but in the world’s. As I sit here watching the sea and thinking about the fact that the palm trees that grow behind me have probably been there since 1947, it strikes me that this place, which in some ways looks like any major port in the world, is a temple to something as un-norwegian as standing out. If the Law of Jante is yin, this place is its yang.

The law of Jante states in part: “You should not think you are better than us.”

A cannon in the port of Callao

A cannon in the port of Callao

Thor Heyerdahl not only thought, but knew he was better than the rest of the scientific world, and he proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you as a Norwegian have been wondering about the reach of the Law of Jante, I now have the definitive answer: it extends to Callao.

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