Columbus Tours Cuba and Takes Souvenirs
We all know that when Cristóbal Colón embarked from Spain he was looking for something other than a place to take a holiday. Cuba actually got in the way of his quest for quick access to the Indies and the spice trade riches they possessed. So when Columbus and his convoy reached land after a voyage of more than two months, he got lucky when he found a different form of wealth: new land fit for colonisation and resources to claim for his country.
In October of 1492, on the first of his four Caribbean sightseeing tours, Cuba, Hispaniola, and some of the Bahamas were discovered. He landed on one of the small Bahaman islands first, but which one in particular has been forgotten. A few weeks later, the expedition stumbled into the island upon which Columbus would take many Cuba holidays over the following decade.
Upon landing in Cuba, he sent out a party of his men to find the Emperor of China. They came back instead with news of indigenous natives who rolled leaves into something called a "tabaco" which they smoked through their nostrils. Columbus took about twenty-five of these cigar-smoking natives home to Spain as souvenirs. But taking trophies was just the start of his heavy-handedness in the country.
Things would get much worse for the natives in the years following Columbus's first expeditionary tour. Cuba, at the time of the discovery, had a population of more than 200,000 aborigines. Most of these would be wiped out by the diseases that the Spanish brought to the island, the rest would become slaves.
Columbus Finds Islands, But Loses Ships
It was not all sunshine and cigars for his crew either. Three months into his charting of the Caribbean, the flagship Santa Maria was wrecked in a storm. This was to be his first wreckage in these waters. He managed to lose eight more in his voyages of 1493, 1498, and 1502. As a result, scuba enthusiasts taking wreck diving tours in Cuba today might be unknowingly exploring the wrecks that once carried Columbus from Spain.
As European interest in the region grew, more and more ships fell victim to its shallow waters and hidden reefs. Some historians reckon there are still about a hundred wreckages scattered in the waters around the Caribbean islands waiting to be discovered.
On the last of his voyages Columbus lost two ships and was marooned in Jamaica for a year. Not such an unpleasant fate to endure, you might think, but it goes to show that the Caribbean was a treacherous place to sail in back then, and although Christopher Columbus was undoubtedly a great navigator, his voyages weren't all plain sailing.