I have been in southern California for the past few days. I’ve always wanted to come here. There are many similarities between California and Iberia, not least the fact that, to a good extent, the two speak the same language.

Lets call it Iberian, because it is Castillian without the lisp, and sounds more like Portuguese in parts. And this house, with its terracotta tiling, could easily be in Portugal. Except for the cactus.


But the reasons I really wanted to come are linked to geography. Both California and Portugal are on the western fringe of large land masses, North America and Europe. They share the same ocean current patterns (California current, Canaries current), a narrow shelf, and strong upwelling. The cold water upwelling is driven by the NW winds and global circulation, which push the warmer water offshore. In both cases, this means the seawater is cold (I plan to do some onsite checks), and the fishing is good.

In the book “Cannery Row”, Steinbeck wrote about the anchovy and sardine canneries in Monterey. Southern Portugal and northern Morocco have a similar cannery history, for exactly the same reasons. The cold water brings food for the plankton, the fish have a feast.

In an imaginary world from 500 years ago, Californian explorers might have sailed down the Central and South American coasts, and dashed their ships trying to sail east through the Straits of Magellan, just as the precursors of Bartolomeu Dias did at the Cape of Good Hope. Where would they have been headed? Brazil? Faraway lands in Europe and Africa? Or the US East Coast. They might have even met up with Columbus, busy discovering Cipango in the Caribbean.

As I finish posting these few sample chapters of The India Road, the focus shifts to The Spy, Pero da Covilha, who kicks off the book. Here we find him saying goodbye to his lover, as he prepares for the one-way journey east. – The Longing and the Leaving.pdf

Pero was one of the most amazing characters of the discoveries, and receives scant credit for it in history. I think partly that is because the geopolitical framework which King John II constructed, and which was the cornerstone of the success of the Portuguese discoveries, is not generally understood.

When Cortez was busy looking for Eldorado, about 40 years after Dias rounded the Cape, and 20 after Columbus had died, the Spanish must have finally understood, gazing out over the Pacific, that Japan was still a little way off. There is no substitute for good preparation.


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