Bibliography Texts

A letter to His Majesty,
from Fray Tomás de Berlanga,
describing his voyage
from Panamá to Puerto Viejo,
and the hardships he encountered
in this navigation

Fray Tomás de Berlanga

The highlighted section describes Berlanga's visit to Galápagos.—JW.

Puerto Viejo:—April 26, 1535
Sacred Imperial Catholic Majesty:

It seemed right to me to let your Majesty know the progress of my trip from the time I left Panama, which was on the twenty-third of February of the current year, until I arrived in this new town of Puerto Viejo.

The ship sailed with very good breezes for seven days, and the pilot kept near land and we had a six-day calm; the currents were so strong and engulfed us in such a way that on Wednesday, the tenth of March, we sighted an island; and, as on board there was enough water for only two more days, they agreed to lower the life-boat and go on land for water and grass for the horses. And once out, they found nothing but seals, and turtles and such big tortoises that each could carry a man on top of himself, and many iguanas that are like serpents. On another day we saw another island, larger than the first, and with great sierras; and thinking that, on account of its size and monstrous shape, there could not fail to be rivers and fruits, we went to it. The distance around the first one was about four or five leagues and around the other, ten or twelve leagues. At this juncture the water on the ship gave out and we were three days in reaching the island on account of the calms, during which all of us, as well as the horses, suffered great hardship.

The boat once anchored, we all went on land and some were given charge of making a well, and others of looking for water over the island: from the well there came out water saltier than that of the sea; on land they were not even able to find even a drop of water for two days, and with the thirst the people felt, they resorted to a leaf of some thistles like prickly pears, and because they were somewhat juicy, although not very tasty, we began to eat of them, and squeeze them to draw all the water from them, and drawn, it looked like slops of lye, and they drank it as if it were rose water.

On Passion Sunday, I had them bring on land the things necessary for saying Mass, and after it was said, I again sent the people in twos and threes, over different parts. The Lord deigned that they should find in a ravine among the rocks as much as a hogshead of water, and after they had drawn that, they found more and more. In all, eight hogsheads were filled, and the barrels and the jugs that were on the boat, but through the lack of water we lost one man and two days after we left that island we lost another; and ten horses died.

From this island we saw two others, one much larger than all, which was easily fifteen or twenty leagues around; the other was medium. I took the altitude [of the sun] to know where the islands were and they are between half a degree and a degree and a half of the Equator, in the south latitude. On this second one, the same conditions prevailed as on the first; many seals, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do not know how to flee, and many were caught in the hand. The other two islands we did not touch; I do not know their character. On this one, on the sands of the shore, there were some small stones that we stepped on as we landed, and they were diamond-like stones, and others amber colored; but on the whole island 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, so much so that it seems as though at some time God had showered stones; and the earth that there is, is like slag, worthless, because it does not have the virtue to create a little grass, but only some thistles, the leaf of which I said we picked.

Thinking that we were not more than twenty or thirty leagues from the land of Peru, we were satisfied with the water already mentioned, although we might have filled more of our casks; but we set sail, and with medium weather we sailed eleven days without sighting land, and the pilot and the master of the ship came to me to ask me where we were and to tell me there was only one hogshead of water on the ship. I tried to take the altitude of the sun that day and found that we were in three degrees south latitude, and I realized that with the direction we were taking we were becoming more and more engulfed, that we were not even heading for land, because we were sailing south. I had them tack on the other side, and the hogshead of water I had divided as follows: half was given for the animals and with the other half a beverage was made which was put into the wine cask, for I held it as certain that we could not be far from land, and we sailed for eight days, during all of which the hogshead of the beverage lasted, by giving a ration to each one with which he was satisfied. And when the hogshead gave out and there was no relief for us, we sighted land and we had calm for two days, during which we drank only wine, but we took heart on sighting land. We entered the bay and river of the Caraques on Friday, the ninth of April and we met there the people of a galleon from Nicaragua who had left Nicaragua eight months before. So we considered our trip good in comparison with theirs.

The bay of the Caraques is at half a degree south latitude and on the maps it is at three degrees; from this bay to Puerto Viejo, it is nine leagues along the sea coast. The said bay is one of the most beautiful ports that there can be in the world, and the boats can moor there, and they can sail up it three or four leagues and they do not know whether [they can sail] any more. Commander Pedro de Alvarado landed here and destroyed a town of Indians that were there, and frightened others, and it is a pity to see the havoc wherever he went with his men.

From this bay, I landed with the passengers and we set out on foot because our animals were worn out from coming to this town from Puerto Viejo, and walking we came to a valley which is called Charapoto, which has a very good river, where there are many Indians now peaceful, because Captain Francisco Pizarro had behaved so well that he is at peace with about thirty chiefs. This Captain and Lieutenant-Governor is so well looked upon by them that they bring him food of corn and fish and venison and whatever is necessary, and if by chance when they go to see some land they capture some Indians, they immediately return them to their native soil and they give them a cross so that on account of it no Spaniard will do them any harm, and anyone who wants to come to see it should bring some sign and that way no harm will be done them. If he learns that any gold or silver is taken from them, he immediately has it returned to them, and some of them have brought it to him and he tells them that he has not come for their gold or their silver, but rather so that they may know God and Your Majesty, and that Your Majesty will give them masters, who will have charge of teaching them the things of the Holy Catholic Faith, and that on account of that solicitude, they must undertake to feed them. The keeping of this said Captain seems to me very good for the serving of our Lord and Your Majesty, and for relieving your royal conscience; and since he has a great thing to do, I have told him Your Majesty's intention in this matter, and he is determined not to deviate from it very soon. There are grand mines of gold, and here I gave them information from those who were with Alvarado that six or seven leagues from this town there are very good gold mines. There is thought to be a bed of emeralds, because the Indians have them in their jewelry. Frequently, the said Indians have touchstones and copper with [emerald] points of 22 karats, and also plate with points, some of very good quality. It is thought that before half a year a good part of this land will be peaceful, owing to the good treatment given them by the already mentioned Captain and Lieutenant; and Your Majesty should support him in it, and it is necessary considering the importunities of the men that he has, because they follow with longing eyes every trace of gold that they see.

God willing, I shall leave for the town of San Miguel in four days. Of the Governor, Don Francisco Pizarro, I know nothing at present. He is quite far from here, although some believe that he is coming to the town of Truxillo, which is between San Miguel and Xauxa.

The Lord fill Your Sacred Majesty with holy love and grace for many years and with the conservation of your realms and an increase of other new ones, as I hope. From this new town of Puerto Viejo, the twenty-sixth of April, of one thousand, five hundred and thirty-five years.—of Your Sacred Imperial Catholic Majesty.—I am your most true servant and subject and perpetual Chaplain, who kisses your royal feet and hands.—Fray Tomás eps locastelli aurii.—(está firmado).