Unfortunately, Gama, unlike Columbus, did not leave us is own records. But luckily a member of Gama’s crew did keep a journal, which offers vivid glimpses of the variety of problems conquered en route. The perils of nature and sea somehow seemed the least threatening, for the sea in those remote parts was empty of human enemies, and nature did not dissemble. But as he crept up the east coast of Africa, where no European ship had been before, and where there were no useful maps, Gama had to use every device to secure an Arab pilot who would guide him across the vast Arabian Sea. At one place after another, at Mozambique and at Mombasa, the pilot he found or had assigned to him by the local ruler proved ignorant or treacherous. Finally at Malindi he secured an Arab pilot able to guide his fleet the twenty-three days across the Arabian Sea to Calicut. […]

The shrewd Gama spent three months in palaver with the King, or Samuri, of Calicut. He tried to persuade the local ruler that the Portuguese were mainly in search of the Christian kings said to rule in those parts, “not because they sought gold or silver, for of this they had such abundance that they needed not what was to be found in this country.” But the Samuri of Calicut was insulted that Gama had not brought him costly presents, and spurned the cheap trading goods that might have served well enough on the Guinea coast. Gama tried to explain that his ships had come “merely to make discoveries… The King then asked what it was he had come to discover: stones or men? If he came to discover men, as he said, why had he brought nothing?”

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

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