(December 28-29 – written by Dave)
First the new friends. In our last blog we talked about Curtis and Jenny, the two other Alaska to Argentina cyclists that we’ve been chasing for 1.5 years. We met them for dinner two nights ago, along with some other new friends, Willy and Isabelle – a lovely retired couple from Switzerland (travelling in a Toyota Landcruiser).
We met up for dinner and had a great time exchanging tales of the road. While all three couples have covered some of the ground, we’ve all done it our own way and had our own experiences. It just goes to show you that there is no right way to travel. What’s important is getting out there and exploring the world, chasing whatever your dream may be. From here, we’ll be a couple days behind Curtis and Jenny heading towards Ushuaia – there is still a chance we might see them before the end. Willy and Isabelle have headed north.
Next we met an old friend, a very old friend – Ferdinand Magellan. In addition to the Straits of Magellan, so much of our world is named after good old Ferdinand. You’ve got Magellan the GPS company, Magellan the spaceship that went to Venus, Magellan travel clothing, Magellan penguins and last but not least, Magellan Nancy – the nickname given to Nancy when she gets lost in a hotel hallway. To be fair, she spells well and I navigate – teamwork makes the dream work!
Anyway, back to Ferdinand. Ferdinand Magellan was born on February 3, 1480 in Sabrosa, Portugal – a great time to be born if you wanted to grow up being a “first time anywhere” explorer. He was Portuguese but sailed eventually for Spain and the Spanish King. In his 20s he made several voyages to the Spice Islands (as the Far East islands in SE Asia were known).
In 1519 he was given charge of 5 ships, 270 men and given orders to head towards the Spice Islands via the Americas. There was great belief at the time that you could reach the islands by sailing east faster by sailing west, that the great continents of North and South America had to have passages that ships could pass through. Magellan and his fleet headed south, focused on finding a passage through the bottom.
He lost one ship in a wreck off the coast of Brazil. Magellan and his remaining four ships entered the straights in November 1520. He lost a second ship when the ship’s captain decided he didn’t like the idea of sailing into the unknown Pacific and turned his ship back to Spain just as everyone reached the island now known as Tierra del Fuego. His three remaining ships sailed into the Pacific Ocean on 28 November 1520.
Magellan is known for being the first to circumnavigate the Earth and technically he was. But not in the way you might think. As it turns out, he was killed on this voyage when his ships reached the Philippines. A group of more than 1,500 natives overwhelmed Ferdinand and a small boarding party, killing him with a spear. Ferdinand was killed almost exactly where his last eastward sailing trip ended in 1513 so historians often give him credit for being first to circumnavigate.
Eventually one of the original ships of Magellan’s fleet, the Victoria, reached Spain. Of the original 270 men who set out, 232 didn’t make it back. Magellan’s first mate, Juan Sebastián Elcano captained the Victoria, thus becoming the first person to captain a proper circumnavigation. Raise your hand now if you’ve ever heard of Elcano – yup, same for me, nada. I guess the Straits of Magellan had already been named at that point and all the maps had been printed so bad luck for him.
While Elcano lacks recognition the ship he sailed back to Spain has fared better. Here in Punta Arenas there is a museum that has a full sized, fully sailable replica of the Victoria (now in drydock). We visited the museum today and really enjoyed walking the decks of the Victoria. It is hard to believe how small everything is – they must have been really short back in the day. Sailing back then would have been hard. When you couple cramped space with scurvy and dysentery, well all I can say is that Nancy would have needed a lot more than just seasick wrist bands to get through what those guys did.
In addition to the full sized, sailable Victoria, the museum also has a full sized, sailable versions of Charles Darwin’s Beagle, Shackleton’s James Caird and the Ancud a ship used in the 1840s by Chile to help claim sovereignty of the Straits. Being 400 years newer in design, the Beagle was much “nicer” for the crew than the Victoria. The James Caird was on the other end of the scale – a stunningly small ship sailed by 6 very brave men to help save the crew on the Shackleton expedition. There wasn’t much to the museum other than the ships, but they were really fun to scramble over. There is no place on any of the ships that is roped off – forget health and safety, this is Latin America!
We headed back into town after the museum finding a delightful, proper coffee shop called “Wake-up”. We’ll be back there again before we leave here for sure. It was a long walk back to our cabana from town but we made it even longer by taking the water front. You can see Tierra del Fuego from there – looking out across The Straits of Elcano… No,wait, that’s not it… The Straits of Magellan!
More updates from Punta Arenas – we have a couple more rest days here and hope to visit a brewery and maybe go for another walk or two. Our bikes are resting too, they won’t get ridden again until next year. In the next post I’ll update everyone on that very exciting Nancy vs Dave annual cycling mileage battle… (Senior editor’s note – nothing to battle over as I am miles ahead of him…)