Galapagos Quest

An Ecuadorian Legend

By Jose-Gabriel Almeida
Published on LatinoLA: September 23, 2003

Galapagos Quest

The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by Fry Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama. His discovery was entirely accidental. He had been sailing from Panama to Peru when the winds suddenly died. The stranded ship was carried out to sea by the waves. Little did Berlanga know where he was headed. To his surprise he drifted right into the Galapagos Islands.

Was Bishop Berlanga really the first person to set foot on the Islands? It is possible that someone else may have discovered the islands before him? One ancient legend may hold the answer to the mystery.

A long time ago, high in the mountains of Peru, there lived a great Indian nation known as the Incas. A noble and powerful King, Tupac Yupanqui, led them and they ruled land and sea. The Kingdom was made up of great fortresses built out of fine stone masonry. The main fortress was named Cuzco. The temples had walls decorated with golden ornaments and colorful urns at every turn. Under King Tupac, the Incas came to control all of Ecuador and most of South America. They fought with grit and skill and conquered everything. Everywhere they went they built a new fortress. And with every new fortress being built the Kingdom grew larger and larger. In time, the Inca Empire reached all the way to the coastline.

?Only the sea out west stands between us,? announced Tupac before a large audience. The crowd went wild with applause. They loved their Kingdom and their king.

Around this time merchants arrived by sea from the west. They came in rafts with sails. Along with goods and merchandize they brought with them fantastic stories about the places where they had been. They said they had come from two distant islands called Avanchumi (island of fire) and Ninachumbi (island beyond), where there were many people and much gold.

?That world and all that is in it is filled with beauty and wonder,? they told anybody that would listen. These remarks drew the attention of the people. News about the islands spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. It was truly amazing. Soon, every man, woman and child was talking about the islands.

?Have you heard about the islands called Avanchumi and Nivanchumi?? a man said to his neighbor.

?Yes I have,? answered the neighbor. ?I hear they are quite beautiful.?

?I hear the islands have gold.? A little boy said to a little girl.

?And many, many people,? responded the little girl.

It didn?t take long for the rumors to reach King Tupac himself.
At first, he was thrilled when he heard about the islands. He had many dreams in his heart and his spirit was bold and daring. Looking for new adventure was among his biggest goals. The chance to conquer new territory fit him like stars fit in the night sky. He was ready for the task before him. So he decided to challenge a happy fortune and see if his lucky star would favor him by sea. This is what the people expected him to do in the first place. He couldn?t let them down. As their ruler, he had the duty to rise to the occasion.

?Our beloved King will find the islands,? a high priest told people in the village square. Everyone cheered with joy.

?Long live our King,? said the crowd. ?Long live the Great Tupac Yupanqui.?

But Tupac was a wise man, who always made use of good judgment. He knew the character of the merchants very well. Generation after generation, these men were known to have a habit of puffing up stories. In a lot of cases these world wanderers made mountains out of molehills. That is why he refused to believe them without any sort of proof. And that is why he changed his mind about making the journey to look for the islands. He said to himself that it would be a waste of time.

But the rumors refused to go away. They went on for weeks. Tupac, however, would not be swayed. No matter how many times they told their tale he had a firm belief that the merchants were making up their story. He thought the islands were a myth.

?Maybe is all just plain words,? thought Tupac. ?A merchant saying what his father and his grandfather always said.?

When nothing was done about the rumors people began to get restless. They started to wonder why their beloved King did not challenge the sea and find the islands. Tupac knew that the rumors would not go away on their own. Even if they did, new rumors would spread when other merchants would arrive with similar tales. He had to do something. Otherwise it would appear that he had turned cowardly and weak. His people relied on him for answers. As a noble ruler, he felt he owed them.

But he was not about to go on some wild goose chase. What if he made the trip and found that there were no islands after all. He would end up looking foolish. The people and his loyal servants would loose faith in him and then he could not be an effective ruler anymore. That was not a risk he was willing to take. Meantime, he realized that not taking action presented another risk. He felt trapped and caught in the middle. The way things stood, he only had one choice. And that was going ahead and making the trip to find the islands.

Before taking the journey he had to make sure the islands did in fact exist. For that information he relied on his trusted personal magician, Antarqui. Tupac was certain that this powerful wizard would be able to find out what he needed to know. Among his many talents, Antarqui had mastered the ability to fly. So when Tupac called upon him he came soaring through the air as quickly as he could.

?Yes, my beloved master,? said Antarqui, standing before Tupac as the King sat behind his throne with an urn by his feet. ?How can I be of service??

?Go and see if what they say about the islands is true,? Tupac ordered Antarqui. ?Find out if they?re where merchants say they are.?

?Your wish is my command,? said the magician.

?If the islands are a myth bring them to me in this urn,? said Tupac. ?Otherwise, bring me proof that they are not.?

?I will do as you say my beloved master,? responded Artanqui, holding up the urn.

With that, Antarqui took to the air and flew west over the ocean. He looked sharp at the water below in search of the islands. If the islands were real sooner or later he will spot them. How long this would take, nobody knew. In fact, it was doubtful that Antarqui would ever be seen again. He may fly so far out west that he could loose his way back. Or he might become so tired that he could drop down to the water below and drown. It appeared that he had flown to an uncertain future. Tupac prayed to the spirit of the Gods for the safe return of his brave magician. All he could do was hope for a miracle.

And lo and behold the miracle came.

Antarqui left with the sun and came back with the moon. After forty days and forty nights he returned with news of what he had seen. King Tupac greeted him, sitting on his throne. The entire court was present, but the royal chamber was totally silent. No one dare to speak. They were just staring at the magician and the urn he was carrying.

Antarqui walked over and placed the urn at the feet of his beloved master. Tupac looked inside and noticed that there was nothing in it.

?But the urn is empty,? said Tupac.

?The urn is empty because the islands are not a myth,? responded Antarqui to the surprise of everyone. ?I have witnessed the islands. They are where merchants say they are. And they are filled with people and much gold. Here is the proof.?

Antarqui laid three gold coin pieces next to the urn. The gold pieces were unlike anything that existed in the Inca Kingdom. Without a doubt, they came from other corners of the earth. Everyone looked with surprise at the gleaming coins. Tupac stood up and praised his loyal wizard.

?You have done your king a great service,? he told him with gratitude.

Now that he knew that the tales about the islands were true, Tupac put his plan into motion right away. He rallied his troops along the coast and set them to work at the job on hand. He ordered an enormous amount of rafts be built for the journey. It was a daunting task, but the Incas were great warriors and master builders. They managed to put together an amazing fleet of rafts.

The rafts were thirty feet in length and were made out of timber logs. These water vessels had a huge sail for the wind to steer them forward and a hut for shelter in the center. Each sail had the Inca symbol on display.

This was done for the sake of having the Imperial Inca fleet stand out in high seas. The symbol would send a warning to likely foes not to interfere or otherwise suffer a terrible fate. When all was ready, the Inca king chose 20,000 warriors as part of the crew that would travel with him. They set on board of the rafts and headed out to sea. The fleet took off in grand spectacle from the port of Manta along the coast of Ecuador.

Navigating with the sun and the stars they pushed west. The high sea was rough. Violent winds and strong waves made traveling difficult. Sometimes the stormy sky made matters worse. But that didn?t stop Tupac. He sailed on with great determination until he discovered the islands of Avachumbi and Ninachumbi.

The expedition was a total victory. Tupac returned triumphant after a year, bringing back with him black people, chests filled with silver and gold, a throne made of copper and the skin and jawbone of a horse. It was quiet a homecoming. Thousands and thousands of people were there to greet him. They were proud of their King. Once again the brave Tupac had proven why he was a great leader.

With the exception of the black people, the rest of the treasures were kept in the main fortress of Cuzco. There they remained until the Spaniards arrived.


The Galapagos Islands are a group of volcanic land mass located on the Equator, about 600 miles west of Ecuador in South America. According to the history books, father Tomas Berlanga, the bishop of Panama, discovered the islands by chance in 1535. His ship stalled when the winds die and strong currents drifted him out to the Galapagos. He had been sailing to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants after the conquest of the Inca Empire.

Ever since then the islands have captivated the imagination of the world. The combination of ocean fishes, birds, mammals and reptiles set the Galapagos apart from other marine environment.

In 1835, a young student by the name of Charles Darwin was the first geologist to explore the Galapagos, and ultimately came to consider that ?these islands are the origin of all my views.? He made many important biological observations about this fascinating place, which eventually led him to formulate his theory about The Origin of Species.

During the height of his power, Tupac boarded thousands of his warriors and headed out on a journey that lasted a year. It is conceivable that he passed by the Galapagos Islands in the course of his voyage, which is the basis for this legend. But if he returned with black people, and other treasures, clearly he visited other places as well. There is evidence that he may have gone as far as Oceania.

The Galapagos Islands are owned by Ecuador and are preserved as the nation?s largest national park system. Every year people from all over the world tour the islands on cruise vessels for their unbelievable scenery and exotic animals.

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About Jose-Gabriel Almeida:
Jose-Gabriel Almeida is a professor and a writer based on New York. His articles have appeared in several local publication.

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