Sanlúcar de Barrameda

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Steve knows I am a history buff and drove to the coast yesterday to a place I’ve not heard of before.

Fancy this. We were on this insignificant-looking beach looking out at the insignificant body of water on a cold windy day. But this place is hardly insignificant at all. This was the gateway of the great Spanish explorations in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Here behind me, is the Atlantic Ocean and beyond the horizon was the New World where Italian Christopher Columbus sailed under the Spanish crown on his voyage across the Atlantic in search of Asian kingdoms simply because eastward was reserved for the Portuguese.

Of course what Columbus found was not Asia but the Americas, thus prompting the Spanish to commission other missions to establish new maritime routes to discover the mysterious Spice Islands and the incredible Orient.

Betting on the then hypothesis that the world is round and if you go west long enough, you’ll reach east, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was appointed to lead a fleet of five Spanish ships and 270 men to Asia by sailing westward to prove the point.

It was here, on the same shore that Magellan saw the Iberian coast for the last time. When he was butchered in the Philippines, the Spanish captain Juan Sebastián Elcano took control of the mission and successfully sailed home on the ship Victoria with a crew of 17 men back to this shore, completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

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Photo:Wikimedia.org

Sadly not much was done to glorify this amazing feat or much mentioned about these great explorers in school textbooks. All I could see was a concrete monumental stump with a metal arch stating a few words about Magellan’s fleet.

It’s like everyone knows Steve Jobs but not everyone knows who is Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Steve showing where sea battle was fought
Steve showing where sea battle was fought

What’s even gloomier, Steve pointed out, was the Battle of Trafalgar fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined French and Spanish navies just off the coast from where we were. In that one decisive slaughter, Lord Nelson finished off the Europeans and that’s why the admiral was made to stand perpetually in T-Square, London.

Reminds me of what Tony said to me in Berdot about the significance of insignificance – that when all’s said and done, when the moment passes, then what was significant becomes insignificant.

… Steve and I walked away from the beach, the wind blew away our footsteps and nobody would ever know we were once there.

 Joan Yap

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