Ferdinand Magellan and me (59)

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

It was one thing to execute a couple of sodomites but the bastard of Bishop Fonseca was another matter. Despite mutiny being a capital offence, Magellan ordered Cartagena released from the stocks, gave him a stern dressing down and extracted a promise of loyalty. He relieved Cartagena of his command of San Antonio and ordered him to transfer to Concepción under Captain Quesada, who was to be held responsible for Cartagena’s conduct. By trumpet fanfare, Antonio de Coca was proclaimed the new captain of San Antonio and all returned to their respective ships, still drifting in the doldrums. Magellan sent his pilot, Gomez across to San Antonio with de Coca, who was an accountant and no seaman at all.

He promoted Albo, the assistant, into Gomez’s place and brought Carvalho, Concepcion’s pilot, across to Trinidad. This was a strategic move on Magellan’s part because Carvalho had spent four years in the New World, setting up a factory harvesting brasil wood and establishing a profitable trade for Dom Manuel. The native plant that would give its name to the Portuguese colony was highly prized in Europe for its rich, red dye, which brought five ducats the quintal in Lisbon.

Pigafetta also welcomed Carvalho aboard as a source of information for his journal. He was keen to learn about the customs of the natives, reputed to be cannibals of the worst kind. Carvalho was dismissive of such stories. He had lived among them without problems and had nothing but scorn for Juan de Solís, former chief pilot of Spain, who had been careless enough to get himself eaten a couple of years before and ungodly enough to let it happen on a Friday, when red meat is prohibited.

Carvalho warned there was now a Portuguese base at Pernambuco, where the shoulder of Brasil bulges into the Ocean Sea. When land was sighted, the captain general altered course southwards and sailed along the coast so far off that nothing could be seen of cannibals or brasil wood except a faint blue smudge from the masthead.

It was another two weeks and over two months from Tenerife before Carvalho judged it safe to approach the land without fear of Portuguese warships. With leadsmen chanting the depth and a boat ahead sounding the channel, the Armada de Maluku, under reduced sail, groped through an opening between a low stretch of jungle on one side and a remarkable cone-shaped rock on the other. Once through the entrance a huge almost land-locked bay appeared where the sun sparkled on the water and strange, harsh cries hung in the warm, still air.

As soon as the anchors went down, chattering natives emerged from the forest, launched log canoes or swam out and invaded the ships. Pigafetta was enthralled by these outlandish creatures with bodies daubed in bright colours and only a few feathers to cover their shame. Some wore stones dangling from pierced lips, which were hideously distorted as a consequence. The girls were short and plump with olive or brown complexions and with breasts just the right size to cup in the hand. Trinidad’s deck was transformed into a bizarre and riotous market. For a knife or fish hook a man could buy a brace of fowl and for a hatchet, a wench. Pigafetta watched in astonishment as a girl loosened an iron nail as long as his finger from the woodwork, pushed it into her private part and carried it in a crouching walk back to her canoe.
Rio continues its exotic lifestyle up to the present day.



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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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