Category Archives: Cultural Travel

Vagabond in Mexico

Greedy Vagabond – Conquistador Hernando Cortez

Vagabonds travel the world, not conquer it. Sure, I hear you. The fact is though, vagabonds would conquer the world if they could and Cortez did it. He conquered an entire empire. Sure, it was shitty for Montezuma, but for Cortez? It must have been cool.

Hernando Cortez was a Spanish conqueror, he led a journey which caused the decline of the Aztec Empire. We can also call him world traveler. He brought a major part of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the 16th century. Hernando Cortez was a part of the Spanish colonizers generation which started the first stage of the Americas’ Spanish colonization.

Vagabond in Mexico Hernando Cortez sailed to the Americas with a family companion and a faraway relative, the new governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando. Hispaniola is the present Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Cortez had been injured while escaping in a hurry from the bedroom of a married woman from Medellin. This incident stopped him from continuing the journey. He spent the next year as a nomad in the country, he spent most of his time in southern ports of Spain, Cadiz, Palos and Seville, he became a vagabond. During that time he used to listen to the stories from those who returned from Indies. They told him about the discovery, the gold, and the Indians. Cortez left for Hispaniola soon and he became a colonist there. He suffered from syphilis for some years later, no report if he got it from the married chick, but probably.

More about Hernando Cortez and the Aztecs

Hernando Cortez
Conquistador: Hernan Cortez, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

Lonely Planet Mexico
The People’s Guide to Mexico
Colonial Mexico Guide

Cortez recovered from the disease in 1511 and joined Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, in his journey to conquer Cuba. Cortez was appointed as a clerk to the treasurer at the age of 26, he was given the responsibility of making sure that the Crown received one fifth of the profits from the journey.

When Juan de Grijalva reported his discovery of Mexico in 1518, Velasquez picked Cortez to build a colony there. Velasquez soon suspected Cortez would go beyond his orders and cancelled the expedition. Unfortunately for Velasquez, Cortez had already assembled men and equipment and set sail. He rounded the peninsula at Yucatan and touched Mexico on the coast of what is now the state of Tabasco. During the battle with Indians there, he took many captives including a young Aztec princess. She became his interpreter and advisor.

Mexican VagabondCortez continued up the coast. On April 21,1519, he landed near the site of Veracruz. There, to prevent all thought of retreat, he burned his ships. Leaving a small force on the coast, Cortez led the rest of his men into the interior. The Indians outnumbered the Spaniards 300 to 1.

On November 8, 1519, Cortez reached Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) and was graciously received by Montezuma, the Aztec emperor. Soon after Cortez established headquarters in the capital, he learned that the Aztecs had plundered Veracruz. He seized Montezuma and forced him to surrender the attackers. Then he had them executed.

Meanwhile Velasquez had sent 1,400 soldiers to arrest Cortez and bring him back to Cuba. Cortez defeated this army and most of the survivors joined Cortez.

He returned to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. As Cortez and his men reached the heart of the city, they were attacked by thousands of Aztec warriors. Montezuma was brought out to pacify his people, but they stoned him, and later he died of his wounds. Cortez’ army was surrounded and apparently doomed, but he and three others managed to get to the chieftain of the Aztecs and killed him. Confused by this apparent “miracle,” the Aztecs retreated. With fewer than 500 of his men left alive, Cortez, in July of 1520, made his way back to his Indian allies.

Cortez attacked Tenochtitlan again by ship the following May. On August 13, 1521, Guatemoc, the new Aztec emperor, surrendered. This was the end of the great empire of the Aztecs.

Later Cortez spent his life in establishing peace between the Indians of Mexico and developing farmlands and mines. He returned home in 1528 and Charles V received him with a great honor, but he missed the experience of the New World. Cortez came home as a military commander and explored Lower California. He passed away in Seville in 1547.

genghis khan map

Nomad Vagabond – Genghis Khan

Traveling round the world doesn’t usually involve conquest of foreign lands but for Temujin, also known as Genghis Khan, conquest was probably just a means of travel. Starting with nothing as an exile and prisoner means he was certainly an extraordinary vagabond.

Genghis Khan was a nomad, in other words he was a world traveler of sort. Genghis Khan’s real name in his childhood was Temujin. When his brother poisoned his father Temujin killed his brother and in punishment he was thrown into forest, he was held in prison by his former friends after that. vagobond genghis khanAfter few years, Temujin rose up as a powerful leader and united the tribes of the Mongol people. With this goal accomplished, he and his Mongol hordes targeted many and far lands. From the time of his unification of the Mongol tribes, the Mongols called him Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan first attacked the Tangut tribes to the west of the Mongol homeland. His first important foreign venture was not an easy one, but he brought the tribes of Tangut to their knees by 1209, which was the beginning of his empire. Genghis targeted east and south after that, this was the land ruled by Jin Dynasty of China. Genghis Khan captured Beijing, bringing the pressure to the Jin emperor and managing to restrain the complete northern half of the kingdom.

Want to know more about Genghis Khan?
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan : His Life and Legacy
Genghis Khan – To the Ends of Earth and Sea (DVD)
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (DVD)

Kara-Khitan which is called “Xinjiang” today by the Chinese government was the next battleground of Genghis Khan. With just 20,000 soldiers, the Mongols brought the surrender of Kara-Khitan by 1218. Now Genghis Khan’s empire extended from shores of China in the east to Kazakhstan in west.

genghis khan mapThis was not enough and Genghis Khan desired more. He set his eyes on his new neighbor, the Khwarezmid Empire. It stretched from Kazakhstan to the banks of Persian Gulf, surrounding most of Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and half of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. At first Genghis Khan tried to establish a booming trade partnership with Khwarezmids, but the leader of Khwarezmid attacked his 500 man caravan. After this, he foolishly refused to pay compensation for his act. Genghis Khan later sent his group of ambassadors to the Shah of Khwarezmid in a hope to have some kind of political trade relationship. But the Shah refused his proposal, Genghis Khan invaded Khwarezmid and executed the Shah. After this horrible conquest of Khwarezmid Empire, he headed across Afghanistan and northern India.

By the end of his life, Temujin had conquered everything from Asia all the way to Europe’s doorstep. Most of modern Turkey, parts of Greece, and even portions of Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia were his domain.

As a world traveler, he spilled a lot more blood than most, but the fact is he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history and saw more of the world than most people ever will.

world traveling vagabond

Vagabond Explorer – Sir Richard Francis Burton

Explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton was quite possibly the greatest vagabond in history. In his lifetime he lived diverse cultures, broke boundaries, and did most of it without much in the way of resources or travel money.

As I listen to the call to prayer outside my window, I can’t help reflecting on the amazing life of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Quite possibly the greatest explorer and adventurer the world has ever known.

Burton was born on the 19th of March, 1821 in England and died at the age of 69 in Austria-Hungary on October 20, 1890. During his life Burton was a writer, explorer, anthropologist, ethnographer, soldier, spy, linguist, and poet.

He is said to have spoken twenty nine languages and was the first European man to go to many places in Asia, Africa,and even to the United States where he infiltrated and exposed the bizarre beliefs and customs of the Mormons in Salt Lake City.
Richard F. Burton Nomad

Why does the call to prayer remind me of him? For one because he was the first European to make the hajj and disguised as an Arab he entered Mecca. For two because Burton was in fact, a Muslim. Third, Burton was the translator of The Thousand and One Nights which is probably the best known collection of stories concerned with Arab and Muslim cultures ever written.

In addition to these achievements he also translated the Kama Sutra and was the first European to see the source of the Nile River. His writings included studies of human behavior, ethnographies, travel writing, books about sexual practices, and more. He was a cofounder of the Anthropological Society of London before most people had any idea what anthropology was (although most still don’t).

To a certain extent, Burton was hated and persecuted for his honesty, his refusal to bend before the man, and the suspicion that rather than having masqueraded as a Muslim, he might have actually been one.
Muslim Richard Burton
Burton always claimed to be a Muslim, but after his death, in an attempt to save her reputation, his wife Isabel published a biography that most believe to be false in which she claimed he was always a strong believer in Christ- like her. She also burned all of his unpublished writings so that her account was the only one which people could turn to. This went specifically against Burton’s wishes, but he probably didn’t care much since he was already dead.

To understand just how many books Burton wrote, how much ground he covered, and how incredible the man was you need only read his fascinating biography.