- 500 years. The true story of the first round the world: this is how Elcano became a legend
If Elcano and Magallanes repeat their trip around the world today, started on August 10, 500 years ago, even eyes as tanned as theirs would have unimaginable surprises . They are the environmental crises, which show the profound deterioration of the planet in these five centuries. The impact that the human species inflicts on its seas would be demonstrated, although only in part, by its journey in the 21st century.
The first note of his new on-board diary would already be written on the initial walk, between Seville and Sanlucar de Barrameda: it is much shorter. No less than 40 kilometers less due to the short ones , the new channels that avoid the meanders of the Guadalquivir. In addition, in the river there is no sign of sturgeons and eels, two exquisite pieces of fishing then abundant, but unable to climb upstream because of the Alcalá dam.
For this modern trip we will reread Antonio Pigafetta, who embarked with Elcano and Magellan in the role of the trip's rapporteur and left a detailed account, as valuable and exciting, as sometimes unreal.We set sail again to the Atlantic, like five centuries ago, from Sanlucar.
"Great fish called sharks swam near our ship. These fish have several courses of formidable teeth, and if unfortunately a man falls into the sea, they devour him on the spot" - Canary Islands, September 26, 1519
Our sailors of the 21st century notice in the surroundings of Tenerife and towards the equator the lowest presence of whales. Although more than a third of the planet's cetacean species meet on the eastern coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, today its quantity is much lower. Eight of the 13 large species in the world suffer some degree of threat from their hunting. In the Spanish islands, the biggest problem derives from the collisions due to the intense maritime recreational traffic and the risk of oil exploration in the area. The conservation organization WWF proposes to create a national park in the Mar de las Calmas, at the western end of the Canary Islands, the first completely Marine in Spain.
"Brazil inhabits an infinite number of parrots, in such a way that they gave us eight or ten for a small mirror. They also have a kind of very beautiful yellow cats, which resemble small lions" - Rio de Janeiro, 1519
Upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, the modern Elcano will not be able to exchange the mirrors that he carried in large numbers for local products, as they did at each landing five centuries ago. Now they have everything on the same beach, because on the coast of Rio thousands of kilos of those modern trinkets that we buy accumulate, to immediately turn into garbage. Plastics, glass, cans and plugs float in the Guanabara Bay, to the point that the sound of the sea is no longer caused by the cooing of the waves, but that of the clash of waste.
More than 100,000 marine animals die each year from this pollution. 90% of seabirds contain plastic, according to WWF, which adds that in 2050 there will be more kilos of plastics than fish if the trend is not reversed. The UN launched a campaign across the clean seas at a shocking fact: every year more than eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans, the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck full of plastics every minute.
"This river forms seven small islands, on the largest of which, called the end of Santa Maria, are precious stones. Previously it was believed that this water was not that of a river but a channel through which it passed to the Sea of Sur "- Río de la Plata, January 1520
On arrival at the Río de la Plata, our sailors come across the same mighty and spectacular mouth. Only if they want to get drinking water to stock up they will find it contaminated. The pollution by phytosanitary products, sewage and industrial waste derives from the neighborhood with the urban corridor Rosario-Buenos Aires-La Plata, where a third of the population of Argentina lives. The hank of islets of the Paraná Delta, which joins the Uruguay River to form the Río de la Plata, looks much less wooded. It is common to burn the vegetation to sow soybeans, an Asian plant that has taken over from spices as an object of agrarian desire. The paradox is curious: the main consumer is Asian, China, who needs it so that chickens, pigs and fish get fat faster, since the country has almost tripled its meat consumption in 25 years.
"The penguins exist in such abundance and are so meek that in an hour we took abundant provision for the crews of the five ships. They are black and it seems that they have the whole body covered with small feathers, and the wings devoid of those needed to fly" . Patagonia, March 31, 1520.
Heading south again, the passage through Patagonia today is done with a smaller view of the gigantic mantles of Argentine glaciers. Specifically 1,000 square kilometers less, all of them cast in the last 60 years. The total disappearance of the continental glaciers would raise the sea level by one meter and, if Antarctica and Greenland were added, the disaster would reach colossal proportions, since the report of the UN group of experts (IPCC) estimates the rise in 50 meters . Our modern Elcano and Magallanes will continue to marvel, yes, of the four kilometers of the Perito Moreno glacier. This giant is considered "in balance", while others suffer a notable setback.
"A safe harbor, excellent water, cedar wood, sardines and shellfish in great abundance are found in every strait half a league. There were also good herbs to eat, especially a kind of sweet celery." Strait of Magellan, November 1520.
The Strait of Magellan tested the expedition for the wreck of a ship, the escape of another, a storm that left them to the pairo, and all this with the ignorance of whether there was a passage to the South Sea. This hinge of the oceans has changed little ... if it weren't for oil exploration. The wild Strait, fear of any sailor, is currently covered by 3,000 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines and houses dozens of extraction platforms. A third of the world's oil is extracted from the sea in 50 different countries, with Argentina in the lead group. It has been drilled even at depths of five kilometers, raising its cost and environmental risks.
"In search of the Moluccan Islands we pass near certain islets, where we saw the sea covered with grass, despite its great depth." Entry into the Pacific, November 1520.
Dodged the Strait, which they originally called from the Patagones, the Magellan of the 21st century continues to see a myriad of islands emerge in the Pacific ... perhaps a few years after sinking. The Mariana Islands, on which the Spanish fleet and its crew landed 500 years ago after months of desperate journey, are not so far threatened by sea level rise as Vanuatu, Kiribati, or the Solomon, where five of them have already disappeared. In total, and as far as is known, there are 11 islands missing, and others are threatened by a tide that never goes down. Fortunately, on this route you should not be afraid to run aground on the so-called garbage island, as it is further north, in the northern Pacific. 82% of the plastic that ends up at sea is generated in Asia, with China in the lead.
"Dorados, albacore and pretty chase the so-called flying fish. These come out of the water, deploy their swimmers, which are long enough to serve as wings, flying up to the distance of a crossbow shot." Mariana Islands, March 6, 1521.
Juan Sebastián Elcano, already in charge of the expedition after the death of Magellan in the Philippines, might have missed in our 21st century two recent marine phenomena of draft, although little visible from the deck of the frigate. The first is fishing, which was not the specialty of 16th-century sailors, who preferred chickens, pigs, goats and even oxen as a main course on board. Overfishing, a widespread evil, is baited in the Philippines. The world's third largest producer of tuna depletes its fisheries with inadequate gear.
The Southeast Pacific and the Mediterranean contain the largest number of fish stocks exploited beyond sustainability, according to FAO. Two out of three are being sheared. Currently the seas are not enough, and almost half of the fish comes from aquaculture: 80 million tons per year, compared to 90 catches. Fish that swim in increasingly warm waters, a climatic phenomenon that explains the bleaching of coral, that is, its death. The Coral triangle - located between Fiji and Malaysia, the area through which the discovery fleet sailed for months - is the center of the richest coral marine life and diversity on the planet, with more than 6,000 species of fish. Overfishing, destructive fishing, unsustainable tourism, the impacts of urbanization and higher temperatures rapidly erode this resource base, WWF denounces.
"The Cape of Good Hope is one thousand six hundred leagues away from that of Malacca. It is the largest and most dangerous known place on earth." Cape of Good Hope, May 1522.
"During this fictional trip 500 years later, Elcano will encounter a novel difficulty in the Bay of Cape Town: this city was last year the first big city about to run out of a drop of water due to lack of rain and super population A danger in force in many cities of the world Population growth on the coast is spectacular In 2001, 14% of the total population of the EU lived less than 500 meters from the coast According to the IPCC report, near 50% of the world's population lives in the coastal zone In Spain, coastal municipalities are home to 45% of the national population, a global phenomenon that tests that territory and its neighbors: the seas.
"We totally lacked food, and if heaven had not given us a favorable time, we would all have died of hunger." Cape Verde, July 1522.
The original trip had a last desperate stretch, even more than the months of crossing the Pacific, since they accumulated the fatigue of years. After bending the Cape of Good Hope, they travel without touching the West African coast to avoid problems with Portugal. Until they could no more and they approach the coast of Cape Verde, almost unpopulated. On the island of Cape Verde, five centuries later, tourism of European origin has become the axis of national development. 63% of Europeans who take vacations choose the coast as a destination, according to the EU. The local government has announced that it wants to multiply by six visitors. Bad news for the loggerhead turtle, a food most useful to the discoverers for its meat and eggs, since it makes the sunsets on some beaches still free of hotels in the archipelago.
The final stretch between Cape Verde and Sanlucar de Barrameda was carried out in 1522 by the 'Victoria' with 18 of the initial 237 sailors; all sick, spectral, after three years of navigation. It is likely that the sea faced our 2019 Elcano with another humanitarian spectrum, one of the hardest consequences of environmental dramas: forced emigration.
"We lost twenty-one men. When we threw them into the sea, we noticed a curious thing, and it was that the corpses of the Christians were always with their faces turned towards the sky, and those of the Indians with their faces submerged in the sea." Sanlucar de Barrameda, September 6, 1522
Perhaps they cross with kickboats, or with cayucos, loaded with people in search of the coast of Spain. We will imagine that they would get on board, one of the humanitarian values that are questioned in our day. The trip of the 16th century brought a final surprise, discovered by the on-board journalist, Pigafetta, at the height of Cape Verde: they had won a day, sailing west. The 21st century provokes another to the modern Elcano: the distance traveled. The navigation has been several meters more extensive. The reason? The rise in sea level, only 0.3 meters so far, but rising. The nth proof of how we have altered the blue of our planet.
Today 'Elcano' is the most popular ship
In 1927, when 401 years after the death of Juan Sebastián Elcano, Primo de Rivera's daughter, Carmen, became a godmother in the launch of what was called to be the most emblematic ship of the Spanish Navy. They had spent four years of work in the shipyards Echevarrieta and Larrinaga de Cádiz, and with its construction the void of school ships that had the fleet was alleviated, because its predecessor, the corvette with the suggestive name of Nautilus , had been discharged years before His last commander, the frigate captain Manuel de Mendívil, was also the first of Juan Sebastián Elcano . Its current commander is the captain Ignacio Paz García.
The ship is a sailboat-schooner of four sticks and 113 meters in length. Its sleeve measures 13 meters and in addition to its sails, it has a 2,070 horsepower diesel engine. It is a warship, but it is not armed with torpedoes or missiles, although it does have two 37 mm guns, two 12.7 Browning machine guns and two 7.62 mm MG-1s, in addition to the weapons for the crew .
Its main function is to instruct the rangers, that is, the aspiring students of Navy officers, who will leave their studies with the degree of frigate lieutenant or ensign, depending on which body they belong to. Its usual endowment is 197 people. Inside there are five hours of geography, English, astronomical navigation, meteorology or maneuvering classes, among other subjects, according to the Navy.
A normal Elcano cruise to America lasts six months and travels 20,000 miles. The ship has already traveled the world 10 times and 15 days ago it didcked in Cádiz, after concluding its instruction cruise number 91, which has taken it from Tenerife to Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Portugal, Poland and Germany.
Its base is in La Carraca (Cádiz), and there are occasions, when it docks in Galicia and goes back to sleep in its port of Cádiz, when a few have the opportunity to make a small cruise in it. Its elegant and ancient appearance makes it a floating embassy, and that is why it is also used as support for foreign policy, to invite leaders and politicians from all over the world to take a walk on its deck.
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