South China Sea
Although the number of hungry mouths had been reduced by more than half, the spectre of starvation still stalked the Armada de Moluccas, now consisting of two ships, Trinidad and Victoria. The ration was one meal per day. Without Magellan’s iron rule they blundered westwards for no real reason instead of southwards towards their destination – the Spice Isles. Magellan’s charts were useless in these waters. They were now like Moses wandering in the desert without the pillar of cloud to show the way. Pigafetta felt he owed it to the great man’s memory to correct the navigation. He knew the Spice Isles lay on the equator and they needed to sail southwards while evading the numerous dangers in their path.
Desperate for food, Carvalho anchored off an island and sent a boat ashore but a crowd of natives on the beach brandished spears, bows and arrows and blow pipes and turned them back. The boat returned to the ship and the Armada retreated. At another island the landing party was heavily armed and fought off the natives while plundering their village for bananas, rice, coconuts and pigs.
Pigafetta was enthralled by these adventures and studied the locals like an anthropologist. ‘These people go naked,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘and work in the fields. They have blow pipes with poison darts and spears barbed with fishbone. They breed large cocks and place spurs on their legs and make them fight to the death against one another. The owner of the winning cock wins a prize. They have distilled rice wine that is better than the palm wine of Cebu and their women have the same equipment as all other women.’
Eventually they found a pilot who, for two gold ducats, claimed to know how to sail to the Spice Isles. He spoke some Portuguese and warned that Portuguese ships sometimes sailed these waters, which caused Carvalho to send lookouts to the crows nest in case Dom Manuel still pursued them here.