A visit from a friend and two Norwegian explorers

This past weekend, Mary Lewis, an old friend from college became our first visitor to Norway to stay with us at our apartment. We had a wonderful time together exploring Oslo, going to festivals, and during our last day together, learning about a Norwegian Explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Here is a pic of Mary Lewis and I exploring Oslo (using Rick Steve’s walking tour which was actually pretty great):


On Sunday night, we watched the newest movie about Thor Heyerdahl’s adventure on the “Kon-Tiki” in 1947 and then Monday while the kids were in school, we went to the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo where we saw the boat he helped build. (The movie was pretty good and is streaming on Netflix for free but unfortunately only in Norwegian. So, we rented the english version from  iTunes.) 

In middle school, Thor told his teachers he wanted to uncovery scientific mysteries like that of Easter Island. After graduating college, he pursued his dream and spent a year with his wife on a Polynesian island where he developed a theory that some native Polynesians came from Peru to the West of Polynesia, 4,300 miles away. Scientists at the time believed all of Polynesia was settled from the East. In particular he heard of the legend of “Kon-Tiki” who came to the island on a balsa wood raft from Peru. After he was unsuccessful convincing others that his theory was plausible, he decided to test it out himself with a six man crew by building a balsa wood raft and then successfully sailing it on a 101 day, 4,300 mile journey journey across the Pacific. The Kon-Tiki museum has the original balsa wood raft and the supplies they used on it. Below is a pic of the ship- Doesn’t it look flimsy?:


A few crazy factoids about their journey:

  1. Because of a near drowning incident in childhood, Thor evidently was scared of water and didn’t even know how to swim before he decided to sail across the Atlantic. In fact only one person in their six man crew had any experience in the ocean!
  2. At the time, scientists thought that it was only possible to catch fish near the shore and that in the middle of the ocean, fish were so scarce that they thought no one could have sailed far without proper provisions. On Thor’s journey, breakfast almost every day consisted of flying fish that became stranded on the raft the night before. So, he helped prove that theory incorrect. 
  3. They brought a parrot with them that bit through the radio line that allowed them to have contact with the outside world
  4. They were unable to steer the raft well and when they got close to the Polynesian islands, natives would paddle to them but they couldn’t steer the boat to their islands. They ended up basically crashing their raft on a reef (where the wind and current brought their ship) just outside some polynesian islands.
  5. Almost everyone was convinced the ropes holding the raft together would fall apart after 14 days and that the entire crew would die. Thor didn’t believe them and didn’t even bring enough extra rope to tie them together again if they did break. Fortunately the ropes dug into the balsa soft balsa wood which protected the ropes (and their lives) for the entire 101 day journey.
  6. Thor wrote a best selling book and based on footage he took on their journey an Oscar winning documentary in 1950 after his journey which you can also see in the Kon-Tiki museum or rent on iTunes.

After watching the movie and seeing the museum, I was stunned by how unprepared and how daring Thor was when undertaking the Kon-Tiki expedition and how incredible it was that they all survived that 101 day journey across the ocean. It was also humbling to know how little scientists knew in 1948 and how little we still know today.

A little under two weeks ago, I read a book about Roald Amundsen, another Norwegian explorer, and his adventures exploring the Arctic. I also got the chance to tour his home with the International Woman’s Club of Oslo. Below is a pic of a few of us by his statue by his house:


Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole and also the first person to reach both the south and north pole. He died at the age of 55 trying to rescue a fellow arctic explorer by airplane and his house is almost exactly the same as he left it in 1928. A few interesting facts about Roald:

  1. When he was young, he was inspired by another famous Norwegian polar explorer Fritdjof Nansen and would open his window in the middle of the night in Norway so he could get accustomed to arctic conditions. His poor parents!
  2. As a young man, he tried to explore northern norway in the dead of winter with his brother outside for a week with just sleeping bags (no tent) and a small amount of food. Within the first few days they almost died after they tried to make their own shelter in the snow and were frozen in overnight. After that experience he decided he would never be unprepared for anything.
  3. His mother wanted him to be a doctor but she died in the middle of his training. After she passed away, he quite medical school to pursue his dream of exploring the arctic.
  4. On the first expedition he lead, his creditors threatened to cancel their journey until they got their money back. Thor decided to leave in the middle of the night to escape them and he evidently got away with it.
  5. The doctors on his expeditions all ended up sneaking the morphine from the medicine cabinet and becoming addicted for the rest of their lives. On his last expedition, Roald decided to just bring the cabinet and no doctor so he wouldn’t have to deal with that unfortunate side effect. Below is a pic of the medicine cabinet he brought with him on his most recent Arctic expedition. It’s smell was very strong when our guide opened it up for us.IMG_2343
  6. They would set out on journey’s expecting with provisions to feed themselves for 3- 5 years because they expected to be trapped in the ice with little chance of finding other food for entire winters. I think they brought biscuits, and chocolate, and 
  7. He learned from natives to the Arctic how to avoid scurvey by eating raw meat (from seals) which had just enough vitamin C in it. (He actually learned a lot from native people and had these beautiful pictures in the windows in his home that were taken on his expeditions.)IMG_2324
  8. Lots of explorers died in horrific ways trying to get to the North and South Pole. Conditions there are unbelievably harsh!
  9. NASA studied Roald Amundsen and his expeditions to learn what space explorers would have to undertake when going to the moon.
  10. At one point he decided to train a baby polar bear but it didn’t work out so the polar bear ended up stuffed in his home. There is the head of another polar bear on a cabinet by his picture.

And here are a few bonus pics- Walking through his house really felt like walking back in time. It was amazing. From left to right and top to bottom- an outdoor porch area, his living room with the original furniture/lamps, the study where he planned his expeditions (and a huge map of the arctic), the outside of his home, the bathroom, and the amazing detailed painting so the wire matched the wall paper, and finally his bedroom (Norwegians still tend to have bedrooms just big enough for their beds) with port holes so he could feel like he was on a ship.

After we toured his home, we went to a cute coffee house and a friend ordered Norwegian waffles which Norwegian’s eat either with jam or brown cheese. (Waffles and hot dogs are evidently very Norwegian.)


Both of these trips have taught me again, how little I know about our world. I seriously had never heard of these two explorers yet in their time, they were world famous! It also made me realize that although I’ve always considered myself adventurous (I biked across the US in college!), I am much to risk adverse to do anything close to what Roald Amundsen and Thor accomplished! Those guys are crazy!


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