Of the turtles or hicoteas of this Island of Hispaniola.

Translated by Adele Birkenes ’20

Sea turtles are very large. I have seen them many times sleeping on the surface of the sea, on the grand Ocean, and when a ship passes by at full sail, they do not feel it or wake up, so much so that many times they are taken while sleeping. I have also seen them on the surface of the water two by two, so involved in intercourse or the venereal act that the seamen go into the water and disrupt them and load them onto the caravels. On the coast of the mainland, and especially in the town of Acla and other parts, I have seen some whose top shells are seven or eight spans long, and four, five or more spans wide, the length and the width in proportion to each other, and some are so large that five or six men are needed to carry just one of them with great effort. They are of the same shape as the galápagos or land turtles of Spain, except they are larger, as I have described. They leave the sea and lay their eggs in the sandy areas of the beaches, making a hole in the sand that they cover with the same sand, laying up to three or five hundred eggs at a time, more or less. The heat of the sun and the providence of Mother Nature will help them hatch, ad putrefactionem, and turn them into many other turtles. These eggs, of which the females are full when they are killed, are very good. They are round and all yolk, without whites or shell, and the largest are the size of walnuts or smaller, and some of them are very small, like what would usually be found in a hen. When the Christians or the Indians find the turtles’ tracks in the sand (which they make with their flippers), they follow the tracks or traces, and in finding the turtles, they turn them on their backs with a stick, and there they stay since to their great sorrow they cannot move after being turned over, and they find many of them when they come ashore to lay eggs, as I have described.

Those who have not seen or read about them will think that in these and other things I exaggerate; but in truth I hold back, for I am fond of not losing my credit and of conserving it to the best of my ability. And to this purpose I sometimes look for corroboration in ancient authors, so that I can be believed as a modern author who speaks of what he has witnessed, describing for those far away from our Indies what those who are here and are not blind have seen. And to this purpose, anyone who doubts what I have told of these animals can read Pliny,[1] who will tell you that in the Indian Ocean there are huge turtles, so big that the bone or shell of one is enough to cover a habitable house. And he says more: that between the islands of the Red Sea they sail on these shells instead of boats. And he who has read this author and others will see that I do not claim as much as they write; yet my testimony is stronger than Pliny’s, since he does not claim to have seen them, while I can say that I have eaten them many times, which is a common and well-known thing here, something frequently experienced and constantly seen.

They are a delicacy and safe to eat no matter the quantity, and not so unpalatable as other fish, even if eaten frequently.

The smaller turtles, which the Indians call hicoteas or jicoteas are two spans long at most, and many of them smaller. These can be found in lakes and many parts of Hispaniola; they are sold in the streets and plazas of the city of Santo Domingo every day, and they are a healthy thing to eat. And they are one species of turtles, and there is no difference in the form of them, only in their size and largeness, and these small ones are the ones the Indians call hicoteas.

[1] Pliny, Book IX, Chapter 10. [GFO]