- Azerbaijani Links
Hiking in the Caucasus to Sailing the Pacific
Format - 500 KB
by Betty Blair
As strange as it
may sound, there's a link between Azerbaijan and the Norwegians
who made the remarkable voyage on the Tangaroa raft this past
summer sailing 4,000 miles across the Pacific.
The Tangaroa was based on the Kon-Tiki voyage that the great
Norwegian explorer and experimental archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl
(1914-2002) had made in 1947.
Heyerdahl had visited Baku four times during his lifetime. And
it was Heyerdahl who introduced the leader of the Tangaroa expedition
- Torgeir Higraff - to Azerbaijan. Torgeir has since visited
this country twice. Here's how it happened.
Torgeir Higraff first heard
about Azerbaijan on the single occasion when he met his childhood
hero - Thor Heyerdahl. The year was 2000. In Oslo. At the time,
Heyerdahl was trying to promote his new book, "In Search
of Odin," convinced that Odin could be traced to Azerbaijan
and that Scandinavians had roots in the Caspian region.
"Like many of Heyerdahl's other theories," observed
Torgeir, "this one was controversial and not appreciated
in academia. As school kids growing up in Norway, we read that
Odin was a god, but Thor was convinced that Odin was really a
human being-something like a respected chief or elder in the
Throughout his life, Heyerdahl always paid serious attention
to folklore, convinced that legends and myths often provided
hints that conveyed truth and reality.
Heyerdahl first published his ideas about the Scandinavian ties
to Azerbaijan in Azerbaijan International. [See "The Azerbaijan
Connection: Challenging Euro-Centric Theories of Migration."
Spring 1995 (AI 3.1). Search at AZER.com].
After meeting Thor, Torgeir
started teaching at Danvik School of Media and Communication
Known as a "folk school", Danvik is part of the educational
system that has been established in Norway, which offers young
people the chance to explore their own personal interests during
a one - or two-year interim before many of them settle down into
the academic rigors of university study and the pursuit of professional
Tore Seierstad happened to be the director of Danvik School at
the time. Prior to his appointment, he had been deeply involved
with Azerbaijan, directing the Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise
(NHE) there for about five years.
It was Tore who urged Torgeir Higraff to think about taking a
dozen Danvik students and hiking in the Caucasus. Once Torgeir
heard about the remote village of Khinalig in the Caucasus, he
set his mind on getting there.
That was the spring of 2004. At that time, it was really quite
difficult to reach Khinalig. Streams
and rivers flood from the melt off of snow, making it nearly
impossible to access remote villages except a few months of the
year. Dirt roads were treacherous. Many places were not even
wide enough for two cars to pass.
Nor were there any guard rails
to prevent vehicles from rolling over the banks, tumbling into
the river, hundreds of feet below. But with persistence, Torgeir
At Khinalig, Torgeir was amazed to find that many of those villagers
looked much like Norwegians with blue eyes and blond hair.
There were other similarities also that made him think that Heyerdahl's
hypothesis might be worth delving into further. And now that
the Pacific Expedition has been completed, Torgeir does see correlations
between hiking expeditions in the Caucasus and sailing expeditions
across the Pacific.
"In both situations, our driving motivation was to get as
close to nature as possible and, by implication, as far away
as possible from 'civilization'.
Both kinds of adventures require
the cooperation and coordination of an entire team to reach the
designated target safely. Both require detailed planning of the
"But because of the great buoyancy of the raft, there really
is plenty of space for cargo, which enabled us to take along
almost all the stuff we wanted.
Not only food and drink, but many things that we actually didn't
Torgeir figured that the crew could have stored several tons
of goods between the balsa logs and the floor. "However,
when hiking or camping, you're limited by what each person can
physically carry. The only exception is if you can make depots
in advance," he said.
Torgeir says he prefers hiking in the Caucasus, rather than the
Alps, because Khinalig is one of the most unique places in the
"The people are a separate nation and have their own unique
language, unlike other languages in the world. I really want
to go back, some day," he concluded.
Hopefully, he won't be disappointed now that since the summer
of 2006 the road has been asphalted and bridges constructed.
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