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BETWEEN the colony of Nombre de Dios, situated on the north sea, and that of Panama on the south sea, extend mountains covered with virgin forests which are impassable because of great rocks towering to the very heavens. Aided by the governor, Pedro Arias, the colonists resolved to unite the two settlements by a road. The distance between the two seas is only seventeen leagues, or fifty miles. The size of the country is so great that, from the mouth of the river Maragnon which flows south to the ocean, it extends to the fortyfourth degree beyond the equator. I presume you have already read this particular in the Decade 1 I addressed to the late Pope Adrian, and which I sent to you for presentation to his successor, despite its being dedicated to another; for the Pope was dead before he received the dedication of the book. I spoke at length in that Decade of the spice islands, discovered by following this new route. This road across the isthmus was, therefore, laid out at the cost of the King and the colonists, nor was the expense small. Rocks had to be broken up, and wild beasts had to be driven from their lairs in the forests. This road will be passable for carriages. The intention is to facilitate the exploration of the mysteries of these two immense oceans; but the work is not yet completed.
Egidius Gonzales started from the island lying off the coast of Panama, which I called Rica in my First Decades,
1 The Fifth Decade.
and which is now called the Isle of Pearls, because many pearls have been found there. He set out on the twentyfirst of January in the year of our salvation 1523. His fleet consisted of only four little vessels—few enough! In obedience to the Emperor's orders and the instructions of our India Council, he laid his course to the west. He had been commanded to visit most carefully the heretofore unexplored western coasts, to discover whether there exists between the known point of the continent and the frontiers of Yucatan some strait dividing these immense regions. I may say at once that the Spaniards did not discover the strait. I omit many lengthy particulars and come rapidly to the results of the voyage.
Gonzales writes that for a distance of six hundred and forty leagues—nearly two thousand miles—he was in unknown country and discovered new kingdoms towards the west. The voyage lasted about seventeen months. At the end of this time, the ships being damaged and bored full of holes by those little worms the Spaniards call bromas, he was forced by the want of provisions to continue his journey by land. He plunged into the interior a distance of two hundred and forty leagues, accompanied by an escort of about one hundred men, for whom he begged bread along the way from all the caciques. He received presents on his march amounting to 112,000 pesos. A peso exceeds a drachma by one-quarter, as you will have necessarily learned during the fourteen years you have lived in Spain. Gonzales reports that more than thirty-two thousand natives of both sexes have willingly received the waters of baptism, thanks to the converts who accompanied him. He continued his journey so far that he encountered, in the country lying behind Yucatan, the same costumes and language of that province. The Emperor's share of the 112,000 pesos brought to Spain by the treasurer Cerezeda, to whom Gonzales had entrusted it, consisted partly of 17,000 pesos of gold, twelve or thirteen per cent, alloy, and partly of 15,160 pesos. He writes that the official assayers affirm that each of the alloyed hatchets, used by the natives to cut down trees, instead of iron or steel hatchets, is worth a little more than half a golden ducat.
What amazes us is the discovery of a country where the carpenters' and labourers' tools are all made of gold, even though the quality of the metal be inferior. He further says that he has sent 6086 pesos worth of golden bells, which the natives are fond of ringing; but according to the experts, these bells contain very little gold. Our people think the quantity of gold in the bell metal is small, in order that sweeter or sharper tones may be obtained, for we are not unaware that the purer the gold, the deader sound it gives out.
Returning to the particulars of the expedition, Gonzales says that the crossing of rivers and the frequent rains induced divers maladies amongst his companions, preventing them from making long marches. The season was winter, though, being near to the equator, they did not suffer from cold. Crossing in native barques dug from single tree-trunks to an unknown island ten leagues long and six wide, as his companions agree in declaring, Gonzales was warmly received by the cacique. The chief's dwelling, built of wooden beams, stood upon a lofty hill and was protected against rain by a thatch of plants, in the form of a tent. A large river, divided into two branches, flows through that island not far from the cacique's residence.
Gonzales says that when forced by the waters to stop with the cacique, the river swelled to such an extent that it inundated almost the entire island, and in the royal residence the water was up to people's waists. The force of the current shook the foundations of the beams supporting the house, and only their united strength saved it from collapse. Openings, through which to escape, were made with hatchets, and the people took refuge in the top branches of the trees. Gonzales, with his companions and his hosts, passed two days there until the waters subsided into their channels and the rain ceased.
The particulars of other incidents of the expedition are reported, but I suppose you now know enough, especially if you intend to relate these details to the great and most holy saint, Clement, who must always be very much occupied with the immensity of pontifical affairs and important matters. Let it suffice to say that the inundation had destroyed all the provisions and Gonzales was forced to continue westward overland, in search of food. He never lost sight of the coast, however, and finally reached a port already known to our men, and called by them Port St. Vincent. There he found his companions who had debarked, when he left them, to repair their ships and water barrels as had been agreed between them.
AFTER saluting his companions as the circumstances warranted, Gonzales quickly decided what each should do. He ordered four horses they had with them to be landed, and that the sailors should sail towards the west, but without hurrying. They should not use their sails at night because of the hidden reefs and sandy shoals, amongst which they would be obliged to make their way along the unknown coasts. He himself, with his four horses and a hundred foot-soldiers, continued his march by land and met a cacique called Nicoiano, who received him warmly and presented him with 14,000 pesos of gold. The Spaniards made the cacique understand that beyond the sun, which the natives worship as a god, there exists a creator of the heavens and the earth, who created the sun itself, the moon, and the other visible stars out of nothing, and guides them by his wisdom and recompenses men according to their merits. Nicoiano and all his family wished also to receive baptism, and a thousand persons in his district followed the example of their sovereign and were baptised. .
Gonzales remained seventeen days with Nicoiano, and when he left, the cacique was so well instructed that he was able to speak to him in his tongue these words, which were understood by the interpreters of the neighbourhood: "Since I may no longer venerate these statues of the gods, my ancestors bequeathed to me, and may no longer ask anything of them, I offer them to you." Speaking thus, he