Fray Tomás de Berlanga

Fray Tomás de Berlanga

From Oxford, Pete, and Graham Watkins. Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin. Morgansville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. Print.


Fray Tomás de Berlanga brought the world’s attention to the Galapagos Islands. Some claim that Inca Tupac Yupanqui visited before Fray Tomás, though this assertion, based on accounts by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1572, has lost favor since Thor Heyerdahl’s initial support. Because of Fray Tomás’ letters, early maps of the coast of South America began to include the Galapagos Islands. The islands appear on a vellum chart, undated, but thought to be from the 1530s, though it is likely that an artist added the islands after its original creation. The islands then appear in Gerard Mercator’s map of 1569, which included the Ysolas de los Galopegos. The third oldest existing map appears as the Ins. De los Galopegos in Thatrum Orbis Terrarum, first published in 1570. These maps and accounts were the beginning of a chain of communications, through which the islands became better and better known, culminating today with the Internet, where a Google search delivers over 22.2 million hits for “Galapagos.”

Fray Tomás’ experience in the islands was not a happy one. The inhospitality and lack of water that he noted is a recurring theme in the accounts of subsequent visitors to the islands. Other Spanish explorers visited, including perhaps Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, but most found the islands waterless, somewhat uninteresting, and very difficult to live in. They were seen as having little more to offer than giant tortoises as a food source. A second recurring theme is that the location and ecological context of the islands made them important as a haven for pirates, as a base for whalers, as a scientific curiosity, as a military base, and an eventual draw for tourists.

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