9 Real Stops On Christopher Columbus’s Voyages

istock
istock

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue … and totally missed his mark. His journey may not have gone exactly as planned, but there were some interesting detours along the way. 

1. THE CANARY ISLANDS 

When Columbus set sail from the Spanish port of Palos on August 3, 1492, he already had his first pit stop planned. The Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria headed to the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco for last-minute preparations and restocking. It's a good thing, too. By the time they arrived, the Pinta's rudder had disconnected and the ship was taking on water. (Columbus suspected some of the crew had second thoughts about the voyage and sabotaged the vessel.) There was talk of leaving the ship behind—but what were they going to do, order another one online? The men repaired the Pinta during the layover and officially headed west on September 6. 

2. SAN SALVADOR ISLAND 

We know Columbus—or perhaps a sailor on the Pinta named Rodrigo de Triana—first spotted land on October 12. But what we don't know is where exactly they were. Not that there's anything wrong with that—Columbus thought he was in the East Indies! The island was definitely in the Bahamas and already inhabited by the Taino people, who called it Guanahani. Columbus named it San Salvador and recorded that it was "very flat and with very green trees" with a surrounding reef and laguna in the middle. A number of islands fit the description, but many scholars later agreed that it was probably what used to be known as Watling Island. The Bahamanian government renamed it San Salvador Island in 1925. 

3. CUBA 

Columbus didn't stay put for long. After naming the small surrounding islands Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, Isabela, and Las Islas de Arena, the fleet took off again. On October 28, Columbus and his men arrived in what they believed to be China—but was, in fact, Cuba—most likely through the Bay of Bariay. Columbus christened the island Juana after Queen Isabella's son and soon discovered the joys of tobacco. Long before Cuban cigars, the Arawaks smoked with Y-shaped nostril pipes. 

4. HISPANIOLA 

After China, which was actually Cuba, Columbus set off for Japan. The trip was no pleasure cruise: On Christmas Day, the Santa Maria ran aground after hitting a reef. Columbus ordered his men to dismantle the ship and build a temporary fort called Villa de la Navidad with some "help" from the locals. Columbus headed back to Spain on the Niña a few weeks later, leaving 39 sailors behind on La Isla Española, with his mistress's cousin Diego de Arana acting as governor. When Columbus returned a year later, the fort was destroyed and all of the men were dead. Today, Hispaniola is one of only two shared Caribbean islands, split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

5. SANTA MARIA ISLAND

The journey back to Spain was miserable. After a number of storms, the crews of the Niña and Pinta disembarked in the Baía dos Anjos on Portugal's Santa Maria Island around February 15. Columbus set off seeking boat repairs while half his crew went to church (presumably to thank God they were still alive). Alas, the locals were wary of strangers after numerous pirate attacks and quickly arrested the sailors. So first Columbus lost the ship Santa Maria, and then he almost lost half his crew on Santa Maria. Fortunately, he was able to reason with the Portuguese to get the sailors released, plus to get some boat repairs. Then they finally headed home.   

6. DOMINICA 

Columbus didn't have much to show for his adventures when he returned to Spain, but he quickly secured funding for a second voyage. Returning to the fort on Hispaniola was his first priority, but he got a little distracted. On November 3, 1493, Columbus spotted a heavily forested island and had to take a look-see. The Kalinago natives weren't very welcoming—and the Europeans thought they were cannibals—so Columbus quickly named the island Dominica and headed out to explore the neighboring tiny islands, including modern-day Antigua and Montserrat. Why did he call this new place Dominica? Because it was Sunday (Domingo in Spanish) and, if you haven't noticed by now, Columbus wasn't especially original in the naming department. 

7. JAMAICA 

Columbus was horrified when he finally returned to Hispaniola and found La Navidad in shambles. He and his men built a new settlement called La Isabela, which was later struck by two of the earliest hurricanes ever observed in North America in 1494 and 1495. But before the natural disasters, Columbus made his own trouble by mistreating the locals and alienating his fellow sailors, who were hungry, sick, and mutinous. When they failed to find gold, Columbus headed back to Cuba and soon found his way to St. Ann's Bay in Jamaica. The Taino natives were hostile, so Columbus continued exploring and landed at Discovery Bay, Montego Bay, and Portland Bight. He didn't find gold in Jamaica, either, so he went back to Hispaniola before returning to Spain. 

Columbus later returned to—well, was shipwrecked in—Jamaica on his fourth voyage in 1503 after losing his four-boat fleet in a series of storms. He and his men were stranded for a year, until captain Diego Mendez rowed a canoe to Hispaniola. By that point, Columbus wasn't even allowed to visit Hispaniola, and it took months of negotiations before Mendez could charter a rescue caravel. 

8. TRINIDAD

Back to the chronology! The King and Queen allowed Columbus to go on a third voyage in May 1498 to resupply the colonists on Hispaniola (before he was blacklisted) and find a new trade route. The six-ship fleet split up: three went to Hispaniola and three went to new islands. Columbus chose the latter, of course. He and his men had almost run out of drinking water when they spied three peaks in the distance. Columbus named the land Trinidad and quenched his thirst in the Moruga River. 

9. VENEZUELA 

Contrary to what many people believe, Columbus did not discover America. But he did reach South America on August 1, 1498. As he and his men gathered water in Trinidad, they spotted the coast of South America. They explored the Gulf of Paria for eight days, discovering the "Pearl Islands" of Cubagua and Margarita and reaching the Orinoco River in Venezuela. Ever wrong about geography, Columbus admired this verdant new land and concluded he'd reached the Garden of Eden. Sigh. 

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

12 Thought-Provoking Gifts for History Buffs

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon

If you're looking for a gift for the person who can't get enough history in their life, we think you'll find something on this list. From an atlas of the United States's National Parks to a book that will allow one to record their own family genealogy, these presents will both enlighten and entertain even the history buffs who already own every Theodore Roosevelt biography and Titanic exposé.

1. Atlas of the National Parks; $59

National Parks atlas
National Geographic / Amazon

This stunning atlas from National Geographic invites armchair explorers into all 61 national parks, from Gates of the Arctic to Dry Tortugas, American Samoa to Acadia. Each entry features a brand-new map and information about the park’s character, covering archaeology, geology, human history, wildlife, and more. All of which are illustrated with amazing photographs. You can order it now, and according to Amazon, the book will be in stock December 24.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Homesick Library Candle; $30

Library candle
UncommonGoods

Remind your favorite history buff of that book project they've been working on for many years with a library scent that doesn’t evoke mildewed paper and anxiety. Homesick’s hand-poured soy wax candle features spicy notes of orange, nutmeg, sandalwood, and amber.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

3. Spectacular Women Ornaments; $22 Each

Spectacular women ornaments
UncommonGoods

Your giftee will need to make some space on the Christmas tree for these ornaments depicting amazing women in history. Artist Gulnara Kydyrmyshova and her team of textile artisans in Kyrgyzstan make each ornament by hand from local wool. You can choose Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, or all four.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

4. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

Gin making kit
UncommonGoods

Just in time for holiday parties, this DIY gin-making kit includes two elegant bottles, stoppers, a selection of dried herbs and spices, and mixing tools. The giftee supplies the vodka, which acts like a blank slate, to be flavored with juniper berries, coriander seeds, rosemary, rose hips, and more.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. Genealogy Organizer Book; $9

Genealogy organizer book
Amazon

Here’s a genealogy gift for the holidays that doesn’t require handing over genetic data to private corporations! This handy book includes organizational charts for tracing one’s family tree back five generations. Plus, there are fill-in family group pages and sheets to record personal memories.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Great Lakes 3D Wood Nautical Chart; $178

Great Lakes 3D nautical chart
Amazon

Up to eight layers of wood are used to demonstrate the depths of each of the five Great Lakes in this unusual topographical map, which also depicts the major rivers and towns of the region. If these lakes don’t float your boat, 3D maps of Cape Cod, the Hawaiian Islands, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other waterways are available.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition; $35

W.E.B. Du Bois art book
Amazon

With colorful, hand-drawn infographics, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois illustrated the progress and challenges of African Americans in the South at the beginning of the 20th century. This beautiful volume pairs his maps and charts, which were displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, with contemporary photographs of black people and communities.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Three Mini Notebooks; $15

Three map notebooks
Amazon

An explorer should always have a pen and paper at the ready. Make your giftee’s travels memorable with this set of three pocket-sized notebooks, each bound with a vintage map design on the cover and blank, lined, or graph pages.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Penny-Farthing Watch; $40

Penny-farthing watch
Amazon

It’s been said that bicycles kickstarted the women’s equality movement by giving ladies the means to explore their world. Celebrate that history by giving your fave cycling enthusiast this cute watch, which depicts a penny-farthing, the Victorian precursor to modern bikes. The leather band and analog face complete the watch’s old-timey look.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Shakespearean Insults Mug; $14

Shakespearean insults mug
New York Public Library Shop

This 14-ounce ceramic mug includes 30 Elizabethan insults that you can feel free to use any morning pre-coffee—but you may need to reassure you gift recipient that you’re not actually calling them a “canker-blossom” or a “lump of foul deformity” when they open the box.

Buy It: New York Public Library Shop

11. LEGO White House; $222

LEGO White House
LEGO / Amazon

This LEGO set is based on the White House design by James Hoban, which was selected by George Washington back on July 16, 1792. And now, with over 500 pieces, you can recreate your own version of this iconic building. And when you're done, the set also includes a booklet highlighting interesting facts about the White House.

Buy It: Amazon

12. A History of New York in 27 Buildings; $20

NYC buildings book
Amazon

Stories behind such famous NYC icons as the Flatiron Building or the Empire State Building are well known. Those skyline staples appear in this book, but author Sam Roberts also dives deeper into other notable buildings that changed the course of the city’s history—like the Tweed Courthouse, the Marble Palace, and the Coney Island Boardwalk. (For a similar approach to urban history, see the new book The Seine: The River That Made Paris).

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER