Abby Tarwater ’21: Book III, Chapter VIII (Of what captains Alonso de Hojeda and Rodrigo de Bastidas discovered on the Mainland coast)

Book III, Chapter VIII

Of what captains Alonso de Hojeda and Rodrigo de Bastidas discovered on the Mainland coast.

Translated by Abby Tarwater ’21

While the first Admiral was in Spain, it followed that Captain Alonso de Hojeda, with the approval of Bishop Don Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, who was one of the foremost persons in the governance of these Indies, went to explore the coast of the Mainland, and his route took him to reconnoiter south of the Marañon River, in the province of Paria, and came ashore eight leagues above where the town of Santa Marta is located now, in a province called Cinta. And the cacique there was called Ayaro, who welcomed them and became a good friend of the Christians, and who was deceived, in a bad way, by another captain named Cristóbal Guerra. This was the year 1501. But these captains were not the only ones, because Captain Rodrigo de Bastidas sailed from Cabo de la Vela (where the Admiral arrived when he discovered the coast of the Mainland), and went further west, as will be told later. Because in good conscience I cannot keep silent about what I have learned of the remarkable deeds each of them had done in these parts that are worthy of recognition; thus I say that Rodrigo de Bastidas left Spain in the year 1502 with two caravels from the port or bay of the city of Cádiz at his own expense and that of Juan de Ledesma and other friends; and the first place where they made landfall was an island that they called Isla Verde because it was very fresh and had many large trees, this island is on the side or part between the island of Guadeloupe and the Mainland, and close to the other islands in that area. And from there the ships set sail in the direction of the Mainland coast, and talking to the Indians in various places, they got almost forty marks of gold, and made their way along the coast, traveling west, up to the port of Santa Marta from Cabo de la Vela, up to the Río Grande. Later the same Captain Rodrigo de Bastidas discovered the port of Zamba, and the Coronados, which is a land where all the Indians wear very large crowns. And further to the west he discovered the port called Cartagena, and discovered the islands of San Bernaldo and those of Baru, and those called the Arenas islands, that are in front of and close to said Cartagena. And from there he went ahead and discovered Isla Fuerte, which is a flat island two leagues from the Mainland coast, where much good salt is made. And further on is the island of Tortuga, very small and not populated; and further on he discovered the port of Cenú, and he continued ahead and discovered the Cape of Caribana, in the mouth of the gulf of Vrabá, and he entered the gulf and saw the islets and cliffs that are on the opposite coast or form the border with the province of Darién. And when he arrived there, he completed the discovery of the hundred and thirty leagues I have mentioned, a little more or less, that are from Cabo de la Vela to that spot. And when the water was at low tide, he found fresh water at four fathoms from where it could have emerged, and renamed the gulf that is called Vrabá, Dulce,  but he did not see the San Juan River, also called Río Grande, which flows into the gulf from seven mouths or seven inlets, which is the cause of it turning fresh at low tide, when the sea water recedes. This gulf of Vrabá is about twelve leagues in length and four to five leagues wide (and in some parts six leagues) from shore to shore. More will be said later about this river and its particularities, since I have spent some years in that land. In this voyage the main pilot was Juan de la Cosa, who was a very excellent seafaring man.

These captains remained in that gulf for some days, as the ships were already very worm-eaten and taking on a lot of water, and they decided to turn around and pass over to the island of Jamaica, where they had a respite. And from there they went to the island of Española, and entered the gulf of Jaragua, and there they lost the ships they could not save: and they went by land to the city of Santo Domingo, where they found Commander Bobadilla, who had already taken the Admiral prisoner. And he also arrested the said Captain Bastidas for having traded illegally with the Indians of this same island of Hispaniola, and sent him prisoner to Spain in the same boat as the Admiral, since they were imprisoned at almost the same time. But later the king and the queen ordered his release, and for the great service and deeds done by Captain Rodrigo de Bastidas and his other friends at their own expense in that land and province of Darién, as I said, the Catholic Kings granted him the favor of fifty thousand maravedís irrevocably and for life. Everything Bastidas discovered on this voyage up to Punta Caribana belonged to the Indian archers and to the fiercest people on the Mainland, as are all those found from Cabo de la Vela on the east to the end of the salt mines and Boca del Drago, and all that the first Admiral had discovered in the Mainland. And they shoot arrows with very bad and incurable poison all along this coast and on the islands; and if there is a cure, the Christians don’t know it. In its place I will tell how and with what ingredients the Indians make this poison; and as not to dwell on this now, I will return to the Admiral and to his discovery.


Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.