Category Archives: Historical Travel

vagabond explorer

Ponce de Leon – Damn Deadly Vagabond

It might be pushing it to call Ponce de Leon a vagabond since he was a career soldier, but in terms of dreams and adventure, certainly he fits the bill as someone who not only traveled broadly, but was foolish enough to chase the fountain of youth.

Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer and was the first European soldier to set foot in Florida. He set up the oldest European settlement in Puerto Rico and he also found the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean . Ponce de Leon, was looking for a fabulous fountain of youth and a way to join the ranks of the truly wealthy people.

vagabond explorerPonce de Leon was born in Santervas, Spain, he fought against the Moors as a solider in southern Spain and he traveled on the second journey of Christopher Columbus in 1493 to Americas. But he did not return with Columbus to Spain, he stayed in Santo Domingo which is called the Dominical Republic today. That’s a pure vagabond move, Ponce.

He was the governor of Dominican province of Higuey. ponce de leonHe heard about gold in the neighboring island of Borinquen (Puerto Rico at present) and he conquered the island and claimed it for Spain. In the process he and his men brutally killed a huge portion of the native population. Later he was appointed governor of island. He was removed from the Governorship because of his intense cruelty to the local population and keep in mind, the Spanish weren’t known to be too nice and they thought he was cruel. .

Later Ponce de Leon was handed the right to find and take Bimini Island which is called the Bahamas today. He traveled from Puerto Rico with three ships, the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria along with 200 men. He stopped at Grand Turk Island and San Salvador, and reached the coasts of Florida in 1513.

He named the place “Pascua de Florida” which means feast of flowers because they first located land in 1513 which was a Palm Sunday. And one can assume that the flowers were blooming. Then Ponce de Leon claimed the land for Spain.

Further Reading
Ponce de Leon and the Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida
Ponce de Leon and the Search for the Fountain of Youth
Eyewitness Travel Guide – Florida

He headed south into the warm currrent Gulf Stream (thus blundering on it and losing the smallest of his ships for two days, again in vagabond fashion). While they searched for the ship,a fight broke out between men of Ponce de Leon and Native Americans. Still, they managed to ‘discover’ the Florda Keys and more…

Ponce de Leon - fountain of youthMany people believe that Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. In his Historia General y Natural de las Indias of 1535, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his aging. Most historians hold that the search for gold and the expansion of the Spanish Empire were far more imperative than the any potential search for the fountain, but they don’t understand the things that drive normal men to leave family and home in search of something remarkable. Personally, I’m certain he was looking for the fountain of youth.

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.