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We should note, that just as in the Pacific, ships were not able to go straight eastward across the Atlantic from the Caribbean, because of the prevailing winds and currents. Spanish ships first made a rendezvous at Havana, then sailed close by the Gulf Coast through the Bahama Channel in the Gulf Stream along the coast to the Carolinas, where westerly winds returned them to Spain. As previously noted, many were wrecked on the mainland coasts. (Ref. 267 )

South america

Northern and western south america

The first South American contact of the Spaniards occurred in 1501 when the Bay of Santa Marta and the Gulf of Cartagena in Colombia were explored. According to the chroniclers the natives were then living on the seacoast on a 90 mile strip below an altitude of 3,300 feet, engaged in gold metallurgy. The Spanish called them the Chairamas, whence came the name of the Tairona society, which may mean a place where metal is melted. The actual mines may have been located farther west and the Chairamas may have obtained it from the Taumacos, who dominated the gold bearing regions. Nevertheless, the fighting between the coast Indians and the Spaniards was bloody and the latter never did really conquer the area, as the Taironas withdrew to the mountains where they finally disappeared, probably from disease and hunger. The ruins of their original settlements have been in part excavated and have revealed stone buildings reached by roads and paved stairways some of which were 60 feet wide and by bridges of stone blocks. There were rock carvings and farming terraces and artificial mounds, perhaps for ceremonial use.

In the next 25 years several Spanish towns were established along this northern coast of South America. In 1528 the Welsers of Augsburg even appeared in Venezuela, but Spanish ill-will and terrible local atrocities brought their financial enterprises to failure. (Ref. 62 , 292 )

Before the days of the Spaniards some of the desert coast land of Peru was inhabited. Every 25 miles or so the desert is cut by a stream or river, which has created an oasis and made life possible. In the past some of these were the sites of very large cities, but during Hispanicization provincial life turned away to the central Andes and the coast remained practically bare. Like Mexico, parts of South America were densely settled at the time of European discovery. The Andean population was about 25,000,000 to 30,000,000. The people of Peru were mainly vegetarian, although there were some fish and occasionally communal game hunts for deer, llamas, guanacos, bears, pumas, foxes and vizcacha. Guinea pigs were raised in nearly every household along with ducks. The chief foods, however, were maize, potatoes, squash, beans, manioc and sweet potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, avocados and chili peppers. Maize would not grow above 11,000 feet but potatoes and other tubers such as oca and guinoa, would. The potatoes were preserved by combined freezing and drying methods and the result was called "chunu", of greatest importance to highland People

It should be noted that because the Andes Indians had the custom of replanting the smaller potatoes and eating the larger ones, potatoes at that time were generally only peanut-sized. The large potato of today is the product of centuries of more enlightened horticulture. (Ref. 222 )
The slave workers of the silver mines of Potosi (now in south central Bolivia) subsisted almost entirely on chunu. That city was founded in 1545 at the altitude of 13,780 feet and by 1,600 had 100,000 people. Although the Spaniards spent most of their time looking for gold, silver was the real treasure of South America and soon the quicksilver mines of Huancavelica in Peru did not supply sufficient mercury for the amalgam processing in all the American silver mines and additional supplies had to be shipped from Spain and Yugoslavia. (Ref. 292 )

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Source:  OpenStax, A comprehensive outline of world history (organized by region). OpenStax CNX. Nov 23, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10597/1.2
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