The Spanish Colonization of Las Americas

The Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas. How much do you know of this period of history? What, who, when and how will you discover while motorcycle touring this vast and exciting continent?

Covering the best part of 500 years, the Spanish colonisation of las Americas is a fascinating period of history. Even now, the effects are felt and seen in our modern lives with their arrival.

Many questions arise consistently from generation to generation. For example, am I Hispanic or Latino?

Has there ever been a famous person who rode his motorcycle and explored many parts of this vast continent? How did it change his life?

Author’s note on this article titled The Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas. I will endeavour to answer as many questions as possible; I will not go deep. By giving you small pathways. They will allow you, the reader, to go where your curiosity guides you. So much more fun and personal that way.

An image of a Motodreamer motorcycle adventure touring warrior on his pathway of learning what happened when the Spanish Colonised  Las Americas.

Mode of transport – sorted. Now 12 facts of Las Americas before the history can begin.

  • Las Americas is the 4th largest continent with the 5th largest population in the world.
  • You can never get lost looking for it. It’s located mainly in the Southern hemisphere.
  • Two mighty oceans bound las Americas. The Atlantic (eastern side) and the Pacific (western side). Not forgetting the Caribbean Sea to the north.
  • The famous Andes mountain ranges dominate las Americas geography from its Northern tip to almost its southern end.
  • Other Las Americas geographically outstanding features include the Brazilian Highlands, Patagonia, Guiana Highlands, the Pantanal Wetlands and the Amazon basin.
  • Las Americas boasts the second-longest river known in the world as the Amazon River. Second only to the Nile in Africa.
  • There are other lesser-known rivers and lakes. They, too, are worth exploring, just as much as the Amazon River. Such examples as the Orinoco River, the Parana and Tocantins Rivers, The Strait of Magellan, Lake Maracaibo and Lake Titicaca.
  • The Santo del Angel (Angel Falls) in Venezuela is the highest waterfall in the world. Measuring nearly 1000 meters in height. Throughout Las Americas, there are countless waterfalls of every size possible.
  • Waterfalls are nature’s way of making you pause and take in the visible power on display. From time to time, you may well go skinny dipping for sheer pleasure.

Las Americas also boasts of having one of the driest places on earth; this landmass is the Atacama Desert.

A scene in Valle de la Luna in Los Flamencos National Reserve, situated in Chile's Atacama Desert. Attributed  via facebook to Alexander Schimmeck of unsplash.
  • With all their joint powers, the Andes Mountains, lakes, waterfalls and the Amazon river nurture the Amazon basin and rainforest to be one of our natural resources. Not forgetting the rainforest also provides nearly 6% of all the world’s oxygen.
  • According to the United Nations in 2010, the population of Las Americas is well above 9 billion, sharing a landmass of just under 7million square miles.
  • Las Americas is home to fourteen countries, both big and small. Such household names as –  Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Falkland Islands (locally known as the Islas Malvinas), French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Just imagine. Following your pathway while motorcycling with one of MotorDreamer’s many adventure tours of South America.

You will be sharing your thoughts and your growing encyclopedia of knowledge with a band of fellow like-minded motorcycle adventure warriors.

Author’s note; Why don’t we all take a short comfort break, put the kettle on, re-adjust our slippers. See you again soon.

Hello again, let’s settle down with our pathway to the Colonisation of  Las Americas.

Soon we will be turning to the arrival of the Spanish colonisation of las Americas.

But our history must begin with the four greatest ancient Mesoamerican civilisations.

Homo sapiens from 200,000 to 300,000 years ago found the means to live, hunt, and create languages as they developed. It’s widely believed they started to move from continent to continent between 70,000 & 100,000 years later.

There is strong evidence that some 4000 years ago, the Polynesian people from modern-day Taiwan began migrating eastwards and southwards to what we now call the Americas.

Then approximately 800 years ago, they made an epic voyage to Las Americas. To this day, in many Polynesians’ DNA, you can find links to Ancient Native Americans. Now we are talking cross-pollination on an epic scale.

This evidence tells us that Ancient Native Americans were already there in Las Americas. We will start our pathway with the Mayans. Followed by the  Olmecs and continuing towards the Incas and Aztecs.

An image of Mayan art, still stand proud after hundreds of years. Atributed to Jorge Ramirez at unsplash via facebook.

The Maya were the first Mesoamerican civilisations, and we can date them to around 2,600 BC. They were empire builders who spread themselves in the tropical lowlands of what we know as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico.

These indigenous persons were terrific. They excelled in many areas such as agriculture, mathematics, architecture, pottery, symbolic artwork and hieroglyph writing. They even knew how to create calendars.

In their time, they built many cities that would house communities as large as 50,000 people. It’s estimated; the Maya population would have reached as high as 10,000,000.

The Maya constructed pyramids, palaces, temples and plazas. Kings and high priests ruled them. Their farmers were originators of many advanced farming methods, including terracing and irrigation. We still do not fully understand why the Mayas were not subject to annihilation but gradually dissipated. The vastness of time has left us with little to know of all their ways and customs.

Author’s Note: Are you aware that the Maya created one language to communicate? Over the many centuries, it has become some 70 variations of Maya languages to over 5 million Central American & Mexican based people. Not only that, nearly all of them can speak Spanish too.

illustration of a Olmec community transporting a head stone down river somewhere in modern Mexico where they lived.  This illustration shows how active the Olmecs were prior to the Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas. Courtesy of mexican routes com.

The Olmecs (Aztec word meaning rubber people) were next to arrive in approximately 1600 BCE. This civilisation also settled in what we call Mexico. Unlike their predecessors, they were not prolific city builders preferring to live in smaller but still prosperous communities.

This society, best known for the 20-ton stone-headed Basalt (volcanic rock) statues they quarried, carved and transported, as depicted in the image above.

They did have similar interests as the Maya due to the closeness of the two civilisations. The Olmecs loved the worlds of mathematics, art, astronomy and farming. But sadly, this civilisation only was in existence for approximately 1000 years. Archaeologists believe the decline of the Olmecs was due to environmental changes to the rivers they used. Each river suffered from the build-up of silt which eventually choked off its water supply.

Author’s Note: There are no written records from the Olmec civilisation. So no one has any insight into their beliefs, customs or commerce. We can only rely on archaeological findings. Sadly we have no idea what they called themselves.

Image of Michu Picchu home to the Incas of Peru. This heritage site has outlived the Spanish Colinisation Period in Las Americas. Attributed to Jeremiah Berman unsplash via F/B.

The Inca culture dates back to the 12th Century AD. They became a powerful empire that built their civilisation high up in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian mountain regions. Their numbers grow to over 16 million, and they lived in a landmass area of some 2500 square miles.

They were, like the Maya and Olmec civilisations, dynamic and intelligent. In their time, they create an army to defend them. They built hanging bridges, roads, aqueducts, terrace farming and tunnels. They invented dried foods, scary artwork, panpipes, flutes and colourful wovens.

Today we are aware of the city of Machu Picchu, and many of us every year visit this New 7 wonders of the world heritage site.

All the Aztec male population were required to be trained warriors who were prolific in the practices of ritual cannibalism. Curtesy of Random com via pinterest.

The Aztecs. The last of our four native civilisations settled in Mexico in the 13th century AD.

These fellas were a pretty brutal bunch. All the male population, required to be trained warriors. They were prolific in the practices of ritual cannibalism.

Often they would slice open their victims, remove their hearts and spill the victim’s blood on the temple altars. They were not opposed to drowning their victims. Nor starving them, or if in a hurry, throwing the poor victim from the most significant height possible.

Author’s Note In modern Mexico, you will find the Aztec descendants referred to as Nahua. They live in small rural communities, earning their living from farming and selling their craftworks. In numbers, there are an estimated one and a half million Aztec descendants today. You will be please to know they have cut back on the ritual and cannibalism practices.

Four great civilisations are gone. Where and why did they go?

Author’s note: Time for another well-earned break. How about another pot of coffee? I am drinking mine while sat here on an Andes ridge.

Now that we are all refreshed, let’s focus on the arrival of the Spanish and the colonisation of las Americas.

World history for generations has always led us to understand the French, Portuguese, and the Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot on Las Americas soil. But in fact, it was an Italian who was first. His name was Amerigo Vespucci. An explorer who voyaged twice to what was known to him in those days as “The New World.”  

Now commissioned to finding new routes to another continent called Asia. On discovering this new landmass, he quickly realised it was not in any way part of Asia.

Amerigo Vespucci, our Adventure Touring Warrior, was born roughly 1451 to 1454 in Florence. He, the third son of a prominent Notary called Ser Nastagio and his wife Lisabetta Mini (No, I did not make up her name, but it does sound like an Italian scooter name like Lambretta.)

The Vespucci family were well connected to the Medici ruling family of Italy. The Medicis ruled as a dynasty for over 300 years. When Amerigo reached his twenties, he was a banker and an overseer of the family outfitting ships business.

His early success enabled him to move in various circles, such as in France and Spain. In this period he learned of a new field called exploration.

Subsequently, in 1496 he met another famous explorer (later known as another Adventure Touring Warrior) named Christopher Columbus.

From this meeting, our Adventure touring Warrior embarked on one of two voyages in around 1499 as part of four ships to see what they could discover. During this voyage, Amerigo finds the mouth of the now known Amazon River.

A couple of years later, now sailing for the Portuguese as Spain had lost interest. Our illustrious hero became genuinely famous when discovering the coastlines of present-day Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Patagonia.

Image of a drawing of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer & discoverer of a landmass that was named Las Americas in honour of Amerigo. Image curtesey of famous explorers.

Author’s note: Just think how much quicker he would have been on a BMW R 1200 GC Adventure Motorbike ……..sorry, I digressed; let’s get back.

Let’s continue our article’s pathway to the Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas with Christopher Columbus.

Image of Christopher Colombus, curtesy of the history channel. It was his discovery of the western side of the New World that allowed Spain to make the decision to Colonise what the called the Las Americas.

If you ask anyone, who discovered North and South America? You will hear the name of Christopher Columbus. But guess what, when he set foot on land in 1492. He thought he was in China!

He wasn’t; Columbus was on the island of the Bahamas. Alternative routes to the well-protected Muslim-controlled routes was his mission. The poor fellow was supposed to reach Asia by these new routes.

Just like his friend Amerigo Vespucci, Columbus was Italian, having been born and raised in Genoa. By the time he reached his twenties. He had sailed on many trading voyages, survived a burning ship after French privateers had raided it. By swimming away towards the coast of Portugal.

Columbus became a husband, father and a widow in quick succession. Later, he decided to move to Spain to continue his life at sea.

He convinced the Spanish Royalty – Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand to sponsor three ships to sail West and discover the new trading routes.

Author’s note: Previously rejected by the powers in Italy and Portugal. Initially, when he approached Spain, they also rejected his ideas. Only to change their minds later.

Imagined how they felt. When later, news reached them of his poor management and harsh treatment of the Bahamas’ inhabitants while he was looking for gold. Colombus died in 1506, stripped of all his titles.

Following Columbus’s first voyage to the New World, both Spain and Portugal commenced establishing colonies. It did not take France and England long to follow suit. Aso, to a lesser degree, followed Germany and The Netherlands.

The six European powers, now in competition for  Indigenous lands and territories. Thus competing with each other in gaining enormous chunks of “Las Americas Oro.”

Each of the six European powers having three life-changing goals for all concerned:

  1. To profit through resourcing extraction. In other words, by obtaining more significant amounts of wealth and riches than the others.
  1. Lay claim on more landmass than the others.
  1. To colonise more land and spread the conversion of the indigenous inhabitants to the catholic religion.

Thus began the era known as the Colonial Period of 1492 to 1810. Wars, famines, diseases, massacres, despots, and injustices prevailed for the next three centuries.

Author’s Note: Colonialism uses brutal subjugation of all indigenous people in any independent area. The Colonial powers claimed these conquests were justified. By quoting they had the legal and religious obligations above any indigenous person’s culture or ownership of land.

They believe in these actions; Now they are obligated to civilising all the “barbaric and savage” nations they encountered.

It did more to shape Las Americas than any other era before or after. By conquering, exploiting, and enforcing a language and culture not belonging to the local indigenous people. The repercussions of this Colonial-era are still felt over 200 years after it ended.

The Spanish colonisation of Las Americas, spearheaded by the Conquistadors (Conquerors) was led by the Crown of Castile.

Illustration of Spanish Conquistadors carrying their Spanish Castille Flag during the Spanish Colinisation of Las Americas. Courtesy of Nishiuye.

Apart from Brazil, British America and smaller regions in the Caribbean and South America. You will find the Spanish Conquistadors did much to achieve their leader’s ambitions.

When the Conquistadors began to learn of the immense riches and hear stories of great civilisations. It didn’t take them long to set sail. By crossing the Atlantic ocean and commence claiming wealth and territory for themselves and their masters.

Unbeknown to those involved at the time, they also brought diseases such as Smallpox.

This disease alone would wreak the ecosystem and decimate entire civilisations more efficiently than an army of Conquistadors could ever do.

European diseases like smallpox were lethal to North & South American Native Indigenous civilisations. (Image: By en:Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590)/Public domain)

Under the Conquistadors repressive rules, much of the indigenous culture was destroyed by fire. Ignited by the accompanying zealous catholic priests. They believed that the work of the devil was at play.

Does this mean the Conquistadors saw themselves as evil men during the  Colonisation of  Las Americas?

Many of the Conquistadors roots originated from the poor areas of Spain known as Extremadura. They were Renaissance men of that era. For them, the pursuit of material wealth. Combined with the desire for glory and the justification that they were doing the right thing for their god and the catholic church, mattered the most.

So no, they did not see themselves as evil men, more as men on a divine mission to colonise the habitants of las America.

Many have become household names in las Americas for both good and bad reasons. Such names as Hernando Cortes (Conqueror of the Aztec Empire). Francisco Pizarro (Conqueror of the Inca Empire.) and Pedro de Alvarado (Conqueror of the last remnants of the  Maya Empire.) 

The Conquistadors, with the catholic priesthood and the Castile officials, commenced claiming much of the lands. The indigenous communities effectively became legalised slaves for these new masters.

Many indigenous upper classes, such as the community leaders, nobility, priests and influencers, were slain. With these elders dead. It did not take long for the marginalisation of whole native populations to take effect.

As we saw earlier, it is a situation that still affects the indigenous descendants in the 21st Century Las Americas with their struggles.

The native history is rewritten by describing the Indigenous forefathers as tyrannical and bloodthirsty. Our history books, in comparison, show the Spanish conquests and colonisation as some sort of needed liberation.

In truth, all the Colonists, whether from Spain or the other five European nations, had no intentions to build or farm the land. They had the indigenous labour to do what they considered below their station in life.

Never did the colonists contemplate long term decisions, thus wasting the possible growth of the economy and culture. 

With the Indigenous history compromised, it has become difficult for these Latin Americans to get a real hold on their past.

After the colonial era, there followed many years of rebellions and unrest to gain independence in many countries of Las America. 

The first country to do so was Colombia in 1810, and the last country was Suriname in 1975.

An image supplied by  the article author of his copy of Bolivar American Liberator Marie Arana book. Bolivar was and still is the hero of Las Americas. He spent his life rebelling against the Spanish Conquistadors and through his daring and courage six South American countries were liberated.

Author’s Note: A fantastic and truthful book to purchase and read from end to end is The History of Bolivar by Maria Arana. This written account of Iron Ass will give you a perfect pathway to discovering the journeys to liberate many parts of Las Americas from Spanish Colonial rule.

Author’s note: Time to stretch those legs and rest your eyes from the screen. Head for a comfort break and a tiple of your favourite nectar. Today I will open a bottle of Chilean red. See you again in ten.

At the beginning of this article titled the Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas, I asked the question:

Has there ever been a famous person who rode his motorcycle and explored many parts of this vast continent? How did it change his life?

The answer is YES, and his name was Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna.

An image of  the 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle that belonged to Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna's friend. The motorcycle was called La Ponderosa. Image Curtesy of pinterest.
An image of a 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle belonged to Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna’s friend called “La Ponderosa” (The Mighty One).

In 1952 this later famous Guerilla Leader was just a 23-year-old non-political medical student living in Argentina. He and his friend Alberto Granado, a biochemist, set out on a motorcycle adventure trek that would take them nine months to ride from Argentina to Miami.

They passed northwards through Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela. Finally, returning to Buenos Aires again. When the trip finished, they discovered they had journeyed over 270 days, an impressive distance of 11,722 miles (18,865 Km).

And not all by motorbike alone, they had to resort to every mode of transport available at that time. The motorbike only got them to Chile.

Author’s Note: Che and Alberto had a wicked sense of humour and were willing creators of audacious pranks. On one occasion, they introduced themselves as internationally renowned leprosy experts. A local reporter wrote of them in his newspaper, and our heroes made good use of the paper clippings.

On another occasion. They were chased out of town by an angry mob after discovering that Che attempted the seduction of a married woman.

Che’s clear vision of South America being a motley collection of separate nations changed. Now seeing it as a single entity that desperately needed a new direction into a continent-wide liberation strategy.

His political consciousness started to stir as he entered Chile, a copper mining country. Where he encountered an increase in exploitation, injustice, suffering and poverty,

While they were visiting Chile’s primary source of income, the large open-pit copper mine at Chuquicamata. They met a homeless couple searching for mining work. Their communist leanings made an instant impression on Che. Also, as I said earlier in Chile. The “La Ponderosa” motorcycle broke down, leaving them no choice but to hitchhike the rest of their journey.

When they were in Peru, they discovered the descendants of the old Inca civilisation, often seeing them riding in trucks with their animals. Che and Alberto were always happy to accompany them and felt a closeness with many indigenous people.

It was in Peru that Che wrote the following observation:

“A beaten race that watches us pass through the streets of their town. Their stares are tame, almost fearful, and almost completely indifferent to the outside world. Some give the impression that they live because it is a habit they can’t shake.”

An observation by Che Guevara.

Later they travelled into the Amazon Rain Forest and spent three weeks treating patients in a leper colony. Here, he witnessed the miserable way the sick had to live, with no clothing, no medicines, and almost no food.

On his last evening with the leper colony, he wrote of his experience when they threw a parting party for him:

“An accordion player with no fingers on his right hand used little sticks tied to his wrist, the singer was blind, and almost all the others were hideously deformed due to the nervous form of the disease, which is very common in this area. With the light from lamps and lanterns reflected in the river, it was like a scene from a horror movie.”

A quotation from Che Guevara’s motorcycle diaries

 Soon he was to give his first political speech to a selection of nurses and doctors on the need to unify the whole of Latin America.

Che and Alberto continued onto Colombia and Venezuela. They separated as lifelong friends. Alberto is to start working at a Leprosarium and Che to continue to Maimi via Mexico and Cuba. Later Che returned to Argentina. 

A black and white photo showing a smiling Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna with his trademark beret. His motorcycle journey through a large part of Las Americas cemented his anger against the Spanish Colonists for their handling of the Indigenous people especially in Peru.

With all that he saw on his journey, Che realised he was a changed man. Later he wrote the following in his diaries:

“I will be on the side of the people. I will take to the barricades and the trenches, screaming as one possessed. Staining my weapons with blood and be mad with rage. Cutting the throat of any vanquished foe I encounter.”

The formerly Cuban Guerilla Leader Che Guevara.

Author’s Note: If you want to know more about the effects of Colonising Las America and its indigenous people. I recommend purchasing your copy of Che’s Motorcycle Diaries via this link:

The Motorcycle Diaries (book)

Summary of The Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas.

At the beginning of this article titled The Spanish Colonisation of Las Americas, I wrote a question that is often asked from generation to generation:

Question  – Am I Hispanic or Latino? 

Here’s what I found. If you have a Spanish language background, you can refer to yourself as Hispanic. Whereas if you hail from Latin America, then you can say you are Latino.

Las Americas’s history is vast and full of events, and famous historical characters. You now have millions of pathways to choose & explore.

Today I have shared some of mine. I end this article with some useful links to MotoDreamers numerous motorcycle adventure tours in South America.

Are you ready to book your place on the up and coming South America tour?

10-DAY BEST OF PERU MOTORCYCLE TOUR – Motorcycle Tour

EIGHT MAGICAL PLACES IN PERU THAT AREN’T MACHU PICCHU 

16-DAY ANDES EXPEDITION COLOMBIA – Motorcycle Tours Colombia

10 MUST-SEE DESTINATIONS IN COLOMBIA TO ADD TO YOUR BUCKET LIST 

10-DAY BEST OF COLOMBIA MOTORCYCLE TOUR – Motorcycle Tours

9-DAY DISCOVER COLOMBIA TOUR – Motorcycle Tours

MotoDreamer have more South America Tours coming up. Here are three more of them:

10-DAY BEST OF BOLIVIA MOTORCYCLE TOUR – Motorcycle Tours

Beyond Bolivia’s Death Road 

10-DAY BEST OF PERU MOTORCYCLE TOUR – Motorcycle Tour

52-DAY TRANS AMAZONIAN CHALLENGE

Soon you will see added tours to Mexico, Cuba and beyond. I know you will be interested, when the time is right let Mike and his MotoDreamer team know by giving them your details below.

Adios por ahora.

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