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      August 2011 > Andalucia to Iceland part 4: Boat Trip to Nowhere

Andalucia to Iceland part 4: Boat Trip to Nowhere

Azulejo tilesWe were more than happy with the guest house in Almonaster, which is a very pretty village, overlooked by a mosque-cum-church-cum-bullring that dominates the sky line. Now we are meandering up through Extremadura, that region of Spain which, despite having absolutely no coast, provided the majority of Conquistadors who set sail to conquer the Americas. They were motivated by something other than sea-faring experience – and that was dire poverty. This region is exactly what its name says in Spanish – extreme and hard. Those who survived brought back spoils which converted into stately mansions and huge churches which, Gulliver-like, seem out of proportion in the small, dusty villages of Spain’s toughest and poorest region.

As I drive, my mind goes back to very pleasant days spent researching in this area for Inntravel’s ‘Following in the Footsteps of Columbus and the Conquistadors’ holiday (the title was probably something less clumsy than that). I remember one evening standing in the square of the little village of Palos de la Frontera, from where Columbus set sail on his historic voyage. He had a royal proclamation to read out to the villagers, dictated by the monarchs Isabel and Fernando.

Palos de la Frontera These two young monarchs had been encamped, along with their entire court and army, in a now desolate spot called Santa Fe, outside the last surviving Moorish stronghold of Granada. This was the final slow thrust to oust the Moors from the peninsula. Several times a strange, obsessed man called Columbus, who had already unsuccessfully hassled the kings of England and Portugal, showed up at the door of their tent saying: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a boat trip.” Isabel and Fernando couldn’t focus on anything other than their siege of Granada – besides, they’d probably heard that the Portuguese, who were by far Europe’s most experienced sailors and navigators, considered Columbus’ calculations to be way out.

With the fall, at last, of Granada, however, the monarchs could turn their mind to other things, and not only that, they actually wished to celebrate their victory – and so they gave this persistent pest Columbus the go-ahead. But they only provided him with one boat – that and a piece of paper. So, when the town crier rang his bell to call out all the villagers of the tiny fishing port of Palos into the square one cold midnight in 1492, it was for Columbus to read out from this piece of royal paper. They huddled together in the night air, wondering who the hell the stranger in the frockcoat was and cursing the fact that they had to get up again at 5am to get their fishing smacks ready. But worse was to come – when Columbus read out the Royal Proclamation, the fishermen and their wives were shocked to the core. The village of Palos had to provide not only two more boats, but all the menfolk of Palos were obliged to accompany this mad stranger over the edge of the world. “No, no!” they chorused. “You can’t just keep sailing in a straight line! Look, we’ll show you some nice fishing spots instead …” There is a moving poem inscribed on a pillar in the village square, written by a woman about the women left behind all those centuries ago.

Trujillo in Extremadura
Posted: 08/08/2011 08:08:10 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: heritage, journey, Spain

Steve J
Me too!... great story about Columbus, 'the persistent pest'
19/08/2011 11:09:45

Christine Furniss
Lovin it!
09/08/2011 19:48:39

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