from Pedro’s Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus, August 3, 1492 - February 14, 1493
written by Pam Conrad
illustrated by Peter Koeppen
Caroline House/Boyds Mills Press, 1991
When we were young, my mom liked to “go exploring.” She’d find a road that looked pretty, or maybe she liked the sound of its name, and off we’d go, looking for the end of that road. Or an interesting crossroad. I’m not sure she ever was lost. My dad had a wonderful sense of direction that my brother inherited. I did not.
My biggest challenge in going to a new place is always finding my way there. With a road map, some verbal directions from a friend or my husband, and my GPS, I am successful most of the time.
I’ve been lost more than once, though. I couldn’t find playgrounds that should have appeared at the end of my trip. I’ve gone miles (and miles) out of my way because I wasn’t paying attention, or I missed a road sign, or turned left when I should have turned right.
Travel by car is my most common mode of transportation. I’ve been on busses, a train, and airplanes. My husband and I once owned a small, but seaworthy, sailboat and traveled to Canada more than once. We had an early form of GPS, but mostly relied on a compass and nautical charts. I never really got the hang of them, though.
Once we took a cruise from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale through the Panama Canal. We could watch our progress on a TV screen in one of the main lobbies. We were out of sight of land for several days, but not in a row. That was a pretty incredible journey. We always knew where we were, and at the end, we were not surprised to find ourselves in Ft. Lauderdale at exactly the appointed time.
But imagine going somewhere and ending up somewhere else entirely. There are no maps, no nautical charts, no GPS. Just stars, only at night, and only on clear nights, at that. And trusting that land was at the other end of the journey. And finding people after weeks and weeks and days of being out of sight of land. People who look different, act different, talk different than you.
Let’s jump back to 1453. The Ottoman Turks have taken control of Constantinople and the surrounding areas. The overland trade route between Europe and Asia is closed. Silk and spices are unavailable.
Common stories say Christopher Columbus sailed for the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, in search of an ocean route to India. Columbus was looking for gold, spices (especially pepper), and silk. Some say he sailed for Spain because the Spanish crown was competing for the riches.
Most people say Columbus was Italian by birth and the Spaniards hired him. But according to an article in the Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/christopher-columbus-the-hidden-jew/ there is little evidence of where Columbus was born. There is no documentation that he was from Genoa, Italy. Given his fluency with the written language, some say he may have been Spanish.
An interesting theory is proposed by eminent scholar, Simon Wiesenthal (December 31, 1908 – September 20, 2005) in his book Sails of Hope (Macmillan, 1973). Christopher Columbus may have been Jewish, born Cristobal Colon in Pontevedra, a large Galician port in northern Spain.
At any rate, the Spanish Inquisition was in full swing by 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella set August 3 as the day of the last expulsion of Jews from Spain. Columbus, at around age 40, set sail that same day, August 3, 1492, from Spain. There is no evidence that says he was not a secret Jew. Or that he and his crew were not fleeing for their lives.
Simon Wiesenthal makes a good argument, but the 500+ year-old-records are murky.
What we do know is the land he sighted was not Asia or India. He traveled far afield in uncharted water and found lands unknown to the Europeans.
He survived the return to Spain and set out for the “new world” three more times. He captured native people and brought them back to Spain with him as slaves. He may have mistreated his crew, but he almost certainly cheated the people he met, trading worthless trinkets and glass for gold and spices.
Controversies rage about Columbus, but this are facts:
He claimed land for Spain that was already settled by native people.
He (unwittingly) brought deadly diseases that wiped out whole populations.
He opened the slave trade.
Many people now judge his actions as nationalistic in the most prejudicial sense of the word, but Christopher Columbus was a man of his day. Whether fleeing for his life or questing for gold and other luxuries for a King and Queen, he was undoubtably adventurous, courageous, and self-confident.
In our day, even those qualities cannot excuse the atrocities he committed.
-—stay curious! (and kind)