KonTiki via Indiana Jones

When we left Heyerdahl, he was gathering funds and resources for his sea voyage, and I was impressed that there were still parts of the world that were not covered by GPS or a reality TV show or Facebook.

He’s making his way now through Peru and Ecuador to acquire some balsa wood logs for the raft. This chapter is really interesting to read, as it documents a time and a place that have disappeared within living memory, swallowed up by globalization.

He’s arrived at the wrong time of the year to collect balsa wood. It’s the rainy season, and between the floods and the bandits, the balsa wood collecting trip just ain’t happening.

He decides to approach the problem from above, going to the Andes and from there down into the jungle, rather than up into the jungle from the sea.

Well, again, it’s still a small world in which somebody knows somebody else. He’s advised to go to Quevedo, Ecuador and find a man named Don Federico.

This little leg of his journey is the stuff of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft legend.

A plane to Quito, no prob.

They are proffered “shrunken heads” the same day that they are warned off the jungle with stories of head hunters.

They find a US Army consul with a spare dude and a jeep.

Trucking along across the mountains, they pass two-hut villages, people coming and going with their worldly possessions lashed to a donkey.

Here we turned off along a mule track which undulated and twisted westward over hill and valley into the Andes. We came into a world we had never dreamed of. It was the mountain Indians’ own world–east of the sun and west of the moon–outside time and space. On the whole drive we saw not a carriage or a wheel. The traffic consisted of barelegged goatherds in gaily colored ponchos, driving forward disorderly herds of stiff-legged, dignified llama, and now and then whole families of Indians coming along the road. The husband usually rode ahead on a mule, while his little wife trotted behind with her entire collection of hats on her head and the youngest child in a bag on her back. All the time she ambled along, she spun wool with her fingers. Donkeys and mules jogged behind at leisure, loaded with boughs and rushes and pottery.

Precarious mule tracks take them down the Andes, with sheer 12,000 ft drops into the fog.

And finally, there is Quevedo ahead, just past the broad, muddy river…with no bridge. Fortunately, there are some folks who live on this side of the river, and having nothing to do except stretch jaguar skins out to dry, happily raft Heyerdahl, his companions, and the jeep across the river.

Quevedo is: “Two rows of tarred wooden houses with motionless vultures on the palm roofs formed a kind of street, and this was the whole place.”

They meet up with Don Frederico further down the river, and on his plantation find the wood they need, along with poisonous snakes, scorpions, and stinging ants so big Heyerdahl is unable to crush them with his foot.


I like looking up “where” I am reading on Google Earth. Thus far, I have been charmed with the quaint idea of Heyerdahl’s paper maps and the task to update via pencil and hand surveying the nautical charts for the Navy.

Quevedo is now a huge town of over 100,000 people, and yet, this is its satellite imagery (click on it if you want to see it bigger):

(what you’re seeing is pretty much nothing: an empty spot in sattelite imaging.)

I guess there are still places in the world where the maps need updating.

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One thought on “KonTiki via Indiana Jones

  1. nrlymrtl

    spinning wool while you trudge along? huh… my lazy start with feeding farm animals, making tea, and starting a fire seems pretty plush in comparison.

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