If there is a dominion in the world where all those “dots”
which represent islands become a multitude, it is in the Pacific. It
could just as well have been named the ocean of the islands, as it holds
over twenty-five thousand of them. However, the sailors in Magellan’s
expedition, who sailed into it on November 28th 1520, maybe having become
tired of the harsh storms of today’s Magellan Strait, came to
call it “Pacific” (peaceful). They had just entered the
waters that occupy a third of the planet.
The enormous extension of this ocean made it impossible for it to be
known worldwide for a very long time and it contributed to the creation
of quite a few legends among seafarers. Yet, despite its enormity, it
is a sea of navigable routes facilitated by the winds. In its extremes,
around 25ºS and between 30º and 55ºN, it is the west-bound
winds that predominate. The trade winds which dominate both sides of
the calmness of the North-Equatorial belt, blow from the north-east
between 15º and 25ºN, counting among the most reliable winds
in the world; they also blow from the south-east in a wider strip which
stretches from the equator to 20ºS, although they seem to be less
constant in this direction.
None of this was known to Magellan. Yet he had the fortune to reach
the Pacific just when the south-east trade winds blow; and so, he took
advantage of the Humboldt Current to surmount the Chilean coast in search
of warmer waters and then he tacked westward, believing that navigation
would be easy with the favourable wind and a sea sown with islands.
But he was wrong and spent ninety days of painful navigation before
he reached Guam and the Philippines, where he met his death. When he
set out on his expedition, his fleet had five ships. Only one managed
to return, albeit fully loaded with valuable spice merchandise. Among
the survivors of the expedition was Pigafetta, the Italian humanist
who wrote the story of this adventure.
Savage as they may be, these Indians seem to have some kind of medical
science. For example, when they have stomach-ache, instead of purging
as we would do, they introduce an arrow deep down in their mouth to
cause the vomit, throwing up a green substance mixed with blood. The
green colour comes from some sort of thistle they feed on. Should they
have a headache, then they make an incision on their forehead, proceeding
likewise in all the parts of their body where they feel pain, so as
to let a big amount of blood flow out of the aching area. Their theory,
which we were told about by one of the persons we had caught, is related
to their practice: pain, they say, is caused by blood which will not
be subdued in this or that part of the body; consequently, we can stop
the pain by letting it out.
Their haircut resembles that of a monk, with a fringe around the tonsure,
but longer and tied around their head with a woollen cord, where they
keep their arrows when they go hunting. When the cold is very intense,
they tie their natural parts tightly to their body.
It seems that their religion comes down to the worship of the devil. They
believe that when one of them is about to expire, ten to twelve demons
appear dancing and singing around him. One of them, noisier than the
others, is the boss or big devil, whom they call Setebos; the minor
ones are called cheléale. Their faces are made up as those of
the inhabitants of the country. Our giant claimed to have once seen
a demon with horns and such long hair that it covered its feet, and
according to his account, he threw fire from his front and his back.
As I have said before, these people are dressed with an animal skin, the
same they use to cover their huts, which they move about as they find
most convenient, lacking a fixed abode and living rather as bohemians
trying to settle here and there. They usually feed on raw meat and a
sweet root they call capac. They are avid eaters: the two we caught
ate a basketful of sponge cakes and gulped down half a bucket of water
each. They devoured mice raw and with their skin still on. Our captain
gave this people the name of Patagonians. We spent five months in this
harbour, which we called San Julián ourselves, where we experienced
no more accidents than those I am about to tell about.
No sooner had we anchored in this harbour than the captains of the other
four ships were plotting to kill our commander-in-chief. These traitors
were Juan de Cartagena, treasurer of the squadron; Luis de Mendoza,
treasurer; Antonio Coca, accountant; and Gaspar de Quesada. The plot
was thwarted: the first man was dismembered and the second stabbed.
Gaspar de Quesada was pardoned, but a few days later he devised a new
treason. Then the commander, who did not dare take his life for he had
been appointed captain by the Emperor himself, threw him out of the
squadron and abandoned him in the land of the Patagonians with some
priest who had been his accomplice.
We suffered one more misfortune in this place. The ship Santiago, which
had been sent to reconnoitre the coast, was wrecked among the rocks,
even though the crew was miraculously saved. Two sailors came overland
to the harbour where we were to give us the news of the disaster. Immediately
the commander-in-chief sent a few men with sacks of sponge cakes. The
crew stayed at the site of the wreckage for two months picking up the
pieces of the ship and the merchandise that the sea would continuously
wash up on the shore. And all this time they were brought supplies,
despite the distance of a hundred miles and the uncomfortable and tiring
journey due to the thorny bushes and the undergrowth, where they spent
the night, with no other drink than the ice, which they had to break
with no little effort.
As for us, we were not too bad in this harbour, even though some very
long shells – very abundant –not all were edible; but they
did have pearls in them, albeit very small. We also found ostriches,
foxes and rabbits in the surroundings, but which were much smaller than
ours, and sparrows too. The trees produced incense.
We planted a cross on the summit of a nearby mountain, which we called
Montecristo, and took possession of this land on behalf of the king
At last we set out from this harbour and, sailing along the coast, at
a latitude of about 50º 40’ south, we saw a river of fresh
water and we sailed into it. The whole squadron was about to be wrecked
there due to the devastating winds that blew and the tempestuous sea.
But God and the holy bodies (that is, the fires that shone on top of
the masts) came to our aid and saved us. We spent two months there to
supply the ships with water and firewood. We also got a kind of fish,
more or less two feet long and covered in scales, quite good to eat,
even though we did not catch as many as we needed to. Before we left
this place, the commander laid down that we should all confess and take
communion as good Christians.
On October 21st, continuing on our south-bound course, at a latitude of
52ºS, we found a strait that we called Strait of the Eleven Thousand
Virgins, as that day was devoted to them. This strait, as we soon found
out, is 440 miles long or 110 sea leagues of four miles each; it is
half a league wide – sometimes wider, sometimes narrower –
and it flows into another sea which we call the Pacific Sea. This strait
is limited by very high mountains covered with snow and it is also very
deep, so we could not drop anchor until very close to the land and in
twenty-five to thirty fathoms of water.
All the crew were so convinced that this strait had no way out to the
west that they wouldn’t have even thought of looking for it, had
it not been for the great knowledge of our commander-in-chief. This
man, as skilful as brave, knew that it was necessary to sail through
a hidden strait, a strait which he had seen on a map that the king of
Portugal kept in his treasury and which had been drawn by Martín
de Bohemia, an excellent cosmographer.
As soon as we entered these waters, which we believed to be a mere bay,
the captain sent two ships, the San Antonio and La Concepción,
to examine where they flowed in or ended; meanwhile, those of us on
La Trinidad and La Victoria, awaited at the entrance.
At night a terrible storm, which lasted for thirty-six hours, came over
us and it made us weigh anchor and let ourselves be washed into the
bay, at the mercy of the wind and the waves. The other two ships, which
were as blown off course by the wind as ourselves, did not manage to
sail round a cape to join us; and so, abandoning themselves to the winds
that pushed them to the bottom of what they thought was a bay, they
expected to be wrecked there at any moment. But right when they thought
they were lost, they could make out a little opening which they took
for a cove in the bay, and in they sailed; and when they realised that
this canal was not closed, they set about sailing through it and soon
they found themselves in another bay through which they continued their
course until they reached another narrow passage, and at the end of
it a new bay bigger than the previous ones. Then, rather than sailing
to the end of it, they judged it wise to return and give the captain
general an account of what they had seen.
After two days we still had not seen the two ships which had been sent
to search for the end of the bay, and so we thought them lost in the
tempest that we had just experienced; but on seeing smoke on the land,
we speculated that those who had had the fortune of being saved might
have lit a fire to announce that they had survived the shipwreck. Yet,
as we found ourselves in this uncertainty about their death, we saw
them coming back to us, sails fully unfurled and flags to the wind.
And when they were closer, they fired several shots while they gave
shouts of joy. We did the same, and once they had related to us what
they had seen past the bay, or rather the strait, we joined them to
resume our course should it be possible.
When we had entered the third bay I mentioned before, we saw two mouths
or canals, one to the south-east and one to the south-west. The captain
general sent the two ships, the San Antonio and La Concepción,
to the south-east to see if this canal flowed into the open sea. The
former set out immediately and it made the most of its sails, unwilling
to wait for the latter, which it meant to leave behind as the pilot
was planning to take advantage of the dark to go back the way they had
come and sail back to Spain on the same course we had come.
That pilot was Esteban Gómez, who hated Magellan for the simple
reason that, when he came to Spain to make the king an offer to go to
the Molucas sailing west, Gómez had demanded and was about to
obtain some caravels for an expedition he was going to be appointed
the person in charge. This expedition aimed to carry out new discoveries,
but the arrival of Magellan meant the denial of his request and the
fact that he could simply get a post as subordinate pilot. However,
what annoyed him most was to be at the service of a Portuguese. During
the night he met with the other Spanish crew and they trapped and even
injured the captain of the ship, Álvaro de Mezquita, cousin of
the captain general, and they took him like this back to Spain. They
also hoped to take back one of the giants that we had caught and who
was on board their ship, but on our return we learnt that he had died
when they approached the Equinox line, as he could not resist its scorching
The ship La Concepción, which could not keep up with the San Antonio,
simply crossed the channel awaiting its return, albeit in vain.
We had entered the other channel, which led to the south-east, with the
two remaining ships; and continuing on our course, we got to a river
which we named River of the Sardines, after the enormous amount of these
fish that we saw there. In that place we anchored and waited for the
other two ships for four days. During that time a well-equipped skiff
was sent out to reconnoitre the end of this channel, which was supposed
to flow into another sea. The crew of this boat returned three days
later, announcing that they had seen the cape in which the strait ended
and a big sea, that is, the ocean. We all cried with joy. That cape
was called Deseado (the desired one), as indeed we had long yearned
to see it.
We sailed back to join the other two ships of the squadron but we only
found La Concepción. On questioning the pilot, Juan Serrano,
about what had happened to the other ship, he answered that he thought
it lost because he had not seen it again since the spot where they had
entered the channel. The commander-in-chief then ordered us to look
everywhere for it, especially in the channel that they had sailed in;
he sent La Victoria down to the mouth of the strait commanding that,
should they not find it, they were to plant a flag in a high and prominent
place and leave a pot with a letter in it indicating the course they
were going to follow so that they could join the squadron. This way
of notifying each other in case of becoming separated had been agreed
upon at the time of our departure.
Likewise, they also left two more signs in the highest points of the
first bay and on a little island of the third one, where we had seen
plenty of seals and birds. The commander-in-chief, who awaited the return
of La Victoria on board of La Concepción near the River of the
Sardines, had a cross planted on a small island at the foot of two mountains
covered with snow and where the river has its origin.
Had we not found this strait to cross from one sea to the other, the commander-in-chief
had determined to continue the course southward until a latitude of
75ºS, where there is no night during the summer or, at least, not
much of it; just as there is no day in winter. While we were in the
strait we had but three hours of darkness and that was the month of
October. The coast of this strait, which on its left side leads south-east,
is shallow. We named it the Strait of the Patagonians. Every half a
league you can find a safe harbour, excellent water, cedar wood, sardines
and abundant seafood. There were also herbs and, even though some of
them were bitter, others were good to eat, above all a sort of sweet
celery which grows near springs and which we fed on for want of something
better. Well, I do not think there is a better strait in the whole world.
The moment we sailed into the ocean, we witnessed a remarkable hunt that
some fish were doing on others. There were three species, namely, doradoes,
albacores and tunas, which chase the so-called flying fish. When they
are being chased, they jump out of the water, unfold their fins, which
are quite long and serve as wings, and fly to the distance of the shot
of a crossbow; immediately they fall into the water again. During this
time, their enemies, led by their shadow, follow them and, as soon as
they re-enter the water, they catch and eat them. These flying fish
are over a foot long and a great food.
During the voyage I looked after the Patagonian giant on board as best
I could, asking him through some sort of pantomime the name of different
objects in his language, so I managed to make up a little vocabulary.
He got so used to it that he hardly noticed me taking a pen and paper
every time he came up to tell me the name of the objects in front of
me or the actions I watched him do. Among other things he taught me
how they made fire in their country, that is, by rubbing a pointed stick
with another until the fire starts in a sort of tree bark that is set
between the two pieces of wood. One day when I was showing him the cross
and how I kissed it, he seemed to tell me through signs that Setebos
would possess my body and make me burst. When in his last illness he
was about to die, he asked for the cross and kissed it, begging us to
baptise him and so we did and we christened him Pablo.
On Wednesday November 28th we sailed through the strait into the big sea,
which we immediately named Pacific, and in which we sailed for three
months and twenty days without eating any fresh food.