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Galapagos History


Galapagos giant tortoise

The islands were discovered accidentally by Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, in 1535. He was on his way to Peru when his ship was becalmed and swept 800 km off course by the currents. In a letter to the King of Spain, the bishop was less than enthusiastic about the islands: "I do not think that there is a place where one might sow a bushel of corn, because most of it is full of very big stones and the earth there is much like dross, worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass". Like most of the early arrivals, Bishop Tomas and his crew arrived thirsty and disappointed at the dryness of the place. He did not even give the islands a name. The islands first appeared on a map in 1574, as 'Islands of Galapagos', which has remained in common use ever since. The individual islands, though, have had several names, both Spanish and English. The latter names come from a visit in 1680 by English buccaneers who, with the blessing of the English king, attacked Spanish ships carrying gold and relieved them of their heavy load, The pirates used the Galapagos as a hide-out, in particular a spot North of James Bay on Santiago island, still known as Buccaneers' Cove. The pirates were the first to visit many of the islands and they named them after English Kings and aristocracy, or famous captains of the day. The Spanish also called the islands 'enchanted', or 'bewitched', owing to the fact that for much of the year they are surrounded by mists giving the impression that they appear and disappear as if by magic. Also, the tides and currents were so confusing that they thought the islands were floating and not real islands.


Columbus' discovery had a more immediate effect. In 1493, influenced by the knowledge of the New World to the west, the Spanish Pope Alexander VI granted to Spain what amounted to the entire western hemisphere. This Papal Bull, as it was called, was understandably not met with overwhelming approval in Great Britain, the Netherlands, and France. While an act of war was not declared, the word was that these countries would not punish any of their citizens who took private action against Spain. At sea, such citizens were called buccaneers, sometimes referred to as pirates. The difference between a buccaneer and a pirate is not all that obvious and depends on the circumstances. In times of cold war, as between Great Britain and Spain during a good portion of the 1500s and 1600s, if you robbed a Spanish ship, the British said you were a buccaneer; if you captured a British ship, however, they accused you of being a pirate. During times of war, some of the buccaneers were pressed into service as privateers.

In between attacks, the buccaneers made for the haven of the Galapagos, recuperated, and fed on the giant tortoises. One of these British buccaneers, William Ambrose Cowley, drew the first navigational charts of the Galapagos.

Cowley, the patriot that he was, also named several islands after British royalty at the time, including [King] Charles (Floreana), [King] James (Santiago), [the Duke of] Albemarle (Isabela), and [Admiral] Narborough (Fernandina). This is not to say that the majority of the buccaneers were cartographers, quietly enjoying a cup of coffee while trying to decide which English duke or admiral should be honored with an island bearing his name. Many of these guys were pretty ruthless, and in general they were a tough lot. They didn't just seek out treasure ships either; many a port city, including Guayaquil on the coast of mainland Ecuador, was regularly sacked by this bunch. When the buccaneers didn't have anyone else to fight, they fought each other.

Upon his rescue by a British buccaneering ship, Selkirk took part in a raid on Guayaquil and retreated with the crew to the Galapagos Islands.The ship's captain, Woodes Rogers, was intrigued by the man, and included the story of Selkirk's solitary existence in a cruising voyage round the world, published in 1712. Based on this account, Selkirk became the model for Robinson Crusoe, written by Daniel Defoe.

Like the history of the Galapagos Islands, the history of Mexico is very interesting, this interesting country is one of the most important tourist destinations in Latin America. Hiring a Mexico guided tour, will take you to the most representative in the country, the beaches, Aztec and Mayan ruins, cuisine and people are always friendly, will make your vacation unforgettable.

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