Tomás Mazón Serrano (Alicante, 45 years old) plays with an advantage, with the wind in his favor. Since he has had at his disposal all the existing bibliography for five centuries, has consulted primary sources, interviewed the best specialists in the world and has taken advantage of new technologies, he has been able to write the excellent Elcano. Journey to History (Editions Encuentro 2020). Because Mazón takes the reader, from the first page, into one of the greatest feats of humanity: The first travel around the world (1519-1522); And he does it with the meticulousness of a logbook, but scraping down every detail without leaving anything to the ground despite the complexity of the adventure and the various paths that the five ships and the 247 heroes who starred in this epic took for three years. .
It is true that, in the end, eternal glory went to the “eighteen skinny men like never were”, those who arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, but the author, in all fairness, leaves no one behind and It elevates to the category of heroes both those who died trying to save their companions, as well as those who were abandoned on deserted islands, imprisoned by enemies or those who could not resist the last days of the long journey.
Those who arrived in Spain were on board a ship so damaged that “it took 25 days for the port laborers to drain the water inside the ship.” Because the Victory, the only ship that survived the adventure, arrived heeled, about to sink, only full of glory and 27 tons of the precious nail.
A feat that ends – given the negligible recognition that Spain usually does of its heroes – strangely well. The joy of Emperor Carlos V was so great – John III of Portugal, despite the Portuguese claims of the discovery, only dedicated himself to trying to torpedo the company to maintain the monopoly of spices – that even the messenger who gave the good news to the Spanish king was awarded 50 gold ducats, a real fortune for the time.
The success of Mazón is not so much that he tells an epic, as that he traces the psychological profile of its main protagonists, in addition to rescuing the importance they had for the miracle to be performed: they were going to look for the islands of Spices, not to give around the planet.
Thus, he recovers little-known figures such as Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa “the best of captains”, and who replaced Joao Lopes Carvalho in command, a man thirsty for money who was able to betray his companions and who was therefore dismissed in the command. Because there were five – Fernando de Magallanes, Duarte Barbosa, Lopes Carvalho, Gómez de Espinosa and Juan Sebastián Elcano – the captains of the navy that dwindled as they crossed nautical miles.
The adventure – like all adventures that prizes itself – is full of kings, treasures, pirates, betrayals, loyalties, heroics, emotions to tears, battles, pain, death, courage and rewards. And all this is caught by Mazón and turned into a book that, more than an informative essay, seems like an adventure novel. From the heroic death of Magellan trying to save his navigators, to the arrival in sumptuous Brunei, with “a much higher degree of civilization”, dedicated to the spice trade, and whose rajah was not seen by the rest of mortals. Or the separation of the last two surviving ships, the Victory and the Trinity, The wound is already fatal. Parents, children, friends, colleagues had to decide on one or the other, knowing that those who went up to the Trinity they would never return. “The decision was everyone’s,” recalls Mazón.
But no less exciting is the story of Vasquito, the boy who accompanied his father in the Victory, that he was orphaned in the middle of the Pacific and that he continued his journey with his companions until he was captured in Cape Verde with 12 other sailors. Vasquito was rescued by Carlos V from his captivity, so he was able to return to Spain on April 9, 1523. He was so small that he was the only one of the expedition members who did not collect the great reward in person, but had to be his mother. the one that received the 41,360 maravedíes that corresponded to it, of which 22,000 were awarded “for their value.” And so, stories and stories, to which more exciting.
Then, centuries later, Willy Fogg arrived and many were amazed at a character who won a bet because he had won one day on his journey around the world, without knowing, perhaps, that four centuries before Elcano had already discovered him by completing the fantastic mission that Mazón so painstakingly recreates. For those men it was not a question of gambling, but of honor. And besides, they were real.