Of course, Magellan started his trip from Spain and we were starting on the other side of the world. I never said it was going to be chronological. Magellan’s objective was the Spice Isles, the Moluccas, in our back yard. Magellan never actually made it to the Spice Isles but three of his ships did. Only one, Victoria, returned to Spain with enough spices to turn a profit on the expedition even though the other four ships were lost through various misadventures. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper were prized commodities in medieval Europe before refrigerators because they could delay meat going rotten.
Magellan never had to bother with formalities like Customs and Immigration, although, in the days before Customs services, the Shah Bandar or head man of most islands demanded tribute. The easiest way to get a visa, sailing permit and Indonesian Navy clearance was to enter the annual Darwin to Ambon yacht race and leave the paper work to the Darwin Yacht Club.So we did that.
Pigafetta travelled back along the road to Valladolid to complete the circumnavigation of the world and try and make sense of it. Perhaps the most vivid memory was the image of the severed heads of Mendoza and Quesada impaled on spikes and staring sightlessly at the Patagonian wilderness. Writing his memoir from the journal so meticulously maintained brought back the nightmare of men wasting away to skeletons, slashing their gums and leaping over the side screaming with pain and madness. He recalled the childlike curiosity and gleeful laughter of naked people, savages, pagans and heathens making their first encounter with foreigners and perhaps paying for it with their lives. He mourned his pet giant, Paul, and their struggles to understand one another.
Along with Diogo Barbosa, Magellan’s father-in-law, he was riding in Cristóbal de Haro’s coach heading for a reception with Don Carlos. De Haro was the biggest investor in the Armada de Maluku and the king’s main creditor, subsidising the wars with the French. Despite the loss of four of the five ships, Victoria’s cargo of spices had returned a profit, although not enough to satisfy La Senora de Haro.
“If only the other four ships had come back full of cloves the profit would have been at least tenfold, as Magellan predicted,” she
“A tragedy, Senora,” Pigafetta agreed.
La Senora also had advice for Pigafetta’s memoir. She had got wind of another document on the voyage being prepared by a distant relative, Maximilian, natural son of the Bishop of Salzburg, The bishop had great influence with His Majesty and suggested that to receive a reward from the king Maximilian should write a story about El Cano being the first man to circumnavigate the world.
“El Cano is not the first man to circumnavigate the world,” Pigafetta said. “Henrique, the captain general’s slave is.”
“Yes, yes, yes, I know all that but Maximilian is a little too friendly with El Cano. El Cano contributed nothing to the expenses of the expedition; why should he partake in the profits?”
“I can only write the truth, Senora.”
“Ah, the truth. A wonderful thing, the truth. Wonderful. Just make sure El Cano does not get too big a slice of the profit.”
It appeared to Pigafetta that his diary was to become a political document and it contained no mention of El Cano, whom he despised for his participation in the Mutiny against Magellan and his piratical adventures in the South China Sea. So when he returned to the throne room in Valladolid where he had first encountered Ferdinand Magellan, his memoir was the only thing he had to offer.
“Your Majesty, I have no gold or precious things worthy of Your Honour, but pray you may accept a book written by my on hand , in which I set down all the things that happened to us day by day.”
“A book?” said the king.
“A book, Your Majesty, that the fame of so noble a captain shall not perish in our time.”