A trick question comes up every now and then in trivia games and on shows like "Jeopardy," and the trick has to do with an event that occurred during this week in 1521.
"Who was the first person to sail completely around the Earth?" usually draws the response "Ferdinand Magellan," which is then followed by "I'm sorry. That's incorrect, you've lost all your money." Magellan was killed by natives in what is now the Philippine Islands on April 27, 1521, so he never completed the last leg of the trip back to Spain.Actually, Magellan never intended to sail around the world. He thought that the "Spice Islands" (today's Indonesia and Philippines), and their treasures of pepper, cloves and nutmeg, could be reached more quickly by sailing west from Spain instead of east. Like many others of his day, Magellan believed that the ocean surrounding the Spice Islands was quite small, and so these islands must be very near the lands of the New World.
You have to look at a globe to see how wrong Magellan was about this, and tracing his route with your children can be a great geography lesson because it is "peppered" with familiar names that we owe to Magellan.
From southern Spain, Magellan's five ships and 240 sailors headed south and west, skirting the African coast until they neared the equator, and then headed across the Atlantic toward the east coast of today's Brazil. Magellan was sure that a passageway existed that would connect the Atlantic to the ocean on the other side of the New World, but no one had found it yet. Balboa had seen that ocean from Panama and had named it "El Mar del Sur" ("the South Sea") because, as you can see by looking at Panama on the globe, the Atlantic Ocean is to the north and this other ocean lay to the south. (We still use this name when we speak of the islands of the Pacific as the "South Sea Islands.") As Magellan continued down the coast of South America looking for this passage, he sighted a tall mountain and exclaimed "Monte video!" ("I see a mountain!"), which is how the modern capital of Uruguay got its name.
Finally, Magellan's party ventured into a narrow passage that eventually opened onto that South Sea, which Magellan renamed "Pacific" because it appeared so calm and peaceful. This narrow waterway - still called the Strait of Magellan - can be seen on the globe near the southern tip of South America. And notice the spelling of the word "Strait," which means "narrow" or "restricted" and comes from the Latin word meaning "to draw together." This meaning and spelling (not "straight") are also part of "straitjacket," "strait-laced" and "in dire straits."
Look at the 10,000 miles of "peaceful" ocean that lies between the Strait of Magellan and the Philippines. Sailing this enormous distance required much more food and water than Magellan's ships had on board, and the crew eventually resorted to eating rats and rawhide and even sawdust to stay alive. Still, many died of hunger and dehydration before the ships finally reached the island known today as Guam.
The westward route was not the shorter way after all, as Juan Sebastian del Cano - who assumed command after Magellan's death - confirmed when he continued on around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and north to Spain, arriving with just one of the original five ships and only 17 of the 240 original crew.