GABRIEL Salas is 69 years old now, but said he would board a balsa-wood raft and sail the Pacific again if he could.

Mr Salas was one of the 12 crew members - and one of seven still alive - on the three-raft Las Balsas expedition that arrived in Ballina in November 1973, having crossed the Pacific from Ecuador, following the prevailing winds and ocean currents.

He was the navigator of the raft Aztlan, and had sailed on the 1970 one-raft La Balsa expedition that landed at Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast.

Today Mr Salas, a groundwater exploration geologist based at Maitland, travels the world working for the Red Cross and United Nations agencies helping find water for places such as refu

gee camps.

Currently he is working in Spain, but is in Australia on a short break to visit family and he wanted to return to Ballina to see the raft in the Ballina

Naval and Maritime Museum.

He said it was a "pity" the Las Balsas raft wasn't promoted more as a tourism attraction for Ballina, particularly with the tourism mecca of Byron Bay just up the road.

"I wish the raft would get the two million visitors the Kon-

Tiki raft gets (Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 Pacific expedition raft, now in Oslo)," he said.

"There are people in Ballina who don't even know the (Las Balsas) raft exists."

His reflection on the 1973 voyage was that it was an amazing adventure.

He said he was always an adventurous type and had been enthralled by Heyerdahl's books and his theory that it was possible the South Pacific islands could have been populated from South America.

The point of the 1970 and 1973 expeditions was always to see how far rafts could travel.

Mr Salas, who last visited Ballina in 2008, was pleased to learn of initial plans for a 40th anniversary celebration of the arrival of the Las Balsas expedition to Ballina in

November.



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