Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl




Ah the adventure classic. This was the first one that sprang to mind when I saw that it was on the list of categories of Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge 2016. You can choose to read something fictional or non-fictional but for me, it was a push to finally read Kon-Tiki.

You may already know the story, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian, has this crazy idea to take a hand-built raft out onto the Pacific, trying to prove that the Polynesian islands were reachable from South America. He and four other men sailed from Peru for 101 days across the Pacific Ocean, eventually crashing into a reef in the Tuamotu Islands.

Of course it’s not that easy. They face some difficult right from the start.

As with any cross-country (cross-sea?) expedition, permissions must be given, supplies are necessary, funding is drummed up, crew is cajoled (although he specifies, no seamen). But with this adventure, a raft must also be crafted, and it must be from  balsa wood. Balsa wood was apparently what the old Peruvian rafts were made of. Balsa being lighter even than cork. Unfortunately, they arrive in Ecuador to discover that it was rather impossible to buy whole logs of balsa, as thousands of trees had been felled and shipped to aircraft factories. And that they would have to go inland to find large balsa trees. Of course it was the rainy season and the roads into the jungle were impassable. But despite being told to come back six months later, they persevere and get hold of their logs.

As with any adventure story, there must be talk of thrilling near-death experiences with nature and wild animals. In this case, it is the octopus.

We were reminded that they lay floating in the darkness with phosphorescent eyes and that their arms were long enough to feel about in every small corner of the raft, if they did not care to come right on board. We did not at all like the prospect of feeling cold arms round our necks, dragging us out of our sleeping bags at night, and we provided ourselves with saber-like machete knives, one for each of us, in case we should wake to the embrace of fumbling tentacles.

Luckily they only come across small squids. But also, plenty of sharks and once even a whale shark.

And of course there’s a storm, a huge mother of all storms, that the men have to stare down from that little raft of theirs.

It is a wild, thrilling adventure. It is occasionally repetitive as, well, days and days out at sea will probably be repetitive ones. But oh man, can you imagine it? Being out there in the wide open sea, just drifting along, catching fish for dinner, hoping somehow that they end up in the Polynesian islands. And somehow they make it, against all odds, they get there and more or less intact too. Amazing.

What’s your favourite adventure classic (fictional or not?)


I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 – an adventure classic


  1. Oooo, do I have a favorite adventure classic? I can’t think of one quickly and am now wondering if my fundamental unadventurousness in life has spilled over into my reading life too. I read The Swiss Family Robinson when I was a kid! It was fine.


Comments are closed.