Reading About Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s Route to the Pacific, 1513

The Pacific was a side discovery: what all Spanish explorers were after were “rivers of gold.” In 1 September 1513, an Andalucian explorer named Vasco Nuñez de Balboa set off for Careta in Panama, with a crew of “fewer than 200 men.”

At Careta, “the expedition disembarked and scaled rugged mountain ranges and crossed large rivers, passing through thick, exhausting jungles of a density they had never imagined possible, subduing indigenous people as they went with gunshot and packs of hungry dogs. Finally, in late September 1513, they reached the summit of a bare hill. There, surrounded by his companions — who included a sturdy man from the Extremaduran town of Trujillo called Francisco Pizarro — Nuñez de Balboa was dumbfounded by a sight that was as awesome as it was unexpected. Kneeling down, he raised his hands, gave thanks to God, and ‘prouder than Hannibal showing Italy and the Alps to his soldiers . . . he promised great riches to his men, saying: ‘Behold, all you men who have endured so much, behold the lands of which . . . the natives have told us such wonders.’ In front of them lay the Pacific Ocean.

Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest, by Fernando Cervantes, pp. 87 – 88


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