Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was born in 1490 in Jerez de la Frontera, where the sherry comes from. Jerez is now a suburb of Greater Cadiz and about halfway between Gibraltar and Portugal so de la Frontera may read peculiar to modern travellers, not least because there are dozens of towns and villages with the of the frontier suffix. Cabeza de Vaca [= cow's head, great name] lived in exciting times. Before he went to school
- the Reconquista was completed with the capitulation of the Emirate of Grenada [Jan 1492]
- the Sephardim were expelled from Spain [Jul 1492]
- Cristóbal Colón sailed the ocean blue: leaving Palos de la Frontera [Aug 1492]
Young Álvar was connected and secured a paid position on a 1526 expedition to explore "La Florida" and points West on the North American mainland. It was pretty much a disaster: storms, disease and confrontation took toll on the band, but Cabeza de Vaca and his diminishing party inched along the coast to Galveston Island where they lost the last of their makeshift vessels. The restless conquistador set off into the interior with three companions; trekked through unexplored regions of Northern Mexico as far as the Pacific and rocked up the Mexico City in 1537. From the 600 who left Spain, only 4 returned which is a 99% attrition rate like that of the Georgia Flu. Cabeza de Vaca wrote it all up in a best-selling Relación. I mention the fictional pandemic because many of the tribes and people described in the Relación had disappeared completely when organised Spain formally conquisadored the region . . . quite possibly decimated by novel viruses caught from the Europeans.long list of lovers as well as his wife Eleanor: Missy LeHand, Daisy Suckley, Lucy Mercer, at least. Although the cuckold's horns are traditionally given to a man whose wife has been bonked by another . . . the Cabeza de Vaca connexion is too good an opportunity to use them here to recognise another form of shafting.