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Pioneers - Then and Now

By Edited Feb 20, 2016 2 3

Fantastic! Wonderful! Incredible! A host of such adjectives and exclamations described the feat of Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin when they stepped on the Moon on 20 July 1969.

The whole world followed the passage of their odyssey right from the take-off till the final splash-down in the Pacific, on radio and TV.

The first-ever moon-landers were applauded all over the world. Their names became household words everywhere. But travellers and explorers in early days were not that fortunate.

Let alone the hazards, uncertainties and hardships the early pioneers had to face, sometimes their accounts even were challenged.

Ridiculed and Unrecognized

Marco Polo(80730)
Marco Polo, his father and uncle were the first Europeans to reach China, a no mean task in the 13th century. During their travels of 24 years they saw many lands and things unknown to the Venetians of the day. But on their return to Venice in 1295, their relatives and friends  refused to recognize them at first.

After much effort on the part of Polos, Venetians conceded to the extent of recognizing them but they just refused to believe what Marco Polo said about the exotic lands and things he had seen during his travels.

How can there be a stone that burned or a cloth that did not burn in fire, they argued. Here Marco Polo was describing coal and asbestos he had seen in China. But people hadn’t seen or heard of such things and they could not accept what Marco Polo was saying.

In his time, people’s disbelief in Marco Polo was so total that his very name became a synonym for anything unbelievable or a fib. Even on his deathbed, Marco Polo was asked to recant which of course he didn’t, saying: "I have only told the half of what I saw!"

18th Century Scottish traveller and travel writer, James Bruce, is another example of a pioneer who perhaps did not get the recognition for his achievements and explorations in North Africa.

In 1768, Bruce had set out on a very long and arduous journey. After travelling through Arabia, Egypt and Ethiopia, he reached the source of the Blue Nile. On return to England he published his findings. But his claims were challenged and he was embroiled in controversy which raged on for a long time.

Cut Off From Civilization

Ferdinand Magellan

Modern technology makes it possible for the present day pioneers to be in touch with the civilization all the time even if they are in remote areas during their adventures. But no so the old timers. Their fate often remained unknown and obscure for a very long time.

For three long years, the people of Spain had no way of knowing anything about the first round-the-world expedition that had set sail from Spain in 1519.  It was in 1522 when a handful survivors of the initial party of about 280 sailors returned that the world came to know that Magellan, the leader of the expedition, was killed in the Philippines in 1521 though his ship Victoria had succeeded in going around the globe.

George III of England did not know for more than a year that Capt. James Cook had taken possession of Australia and New Zealand in his name in 1770.  HMS Endeavour  carrying Captain J

Capt. James Cook
ames Cook sailed onto the Australian shores on 11 June 1770 but it had been damaged by striking on the Great Barrier Reef. It took Cook more than a year to repair the ship and return to England.

Now you can reach anybody anywhere in the world by just tapping a number on your cell phone but Admiral Robert E Peary was not that fortunate. He had no way to tell anybody that he had reached the North Pole on 6 April, 1909. The news of his achievement reached the world only after Peary had trudged through snow and rime for five months to reach the nearest telegraph office in Labrador.

Thwarted In Their Quest

The first Moon-landers were sure that no one had reached the Moon before them – at least not from the earth. But imagine the desolation of an adventurer who after toiling hard and long to achieve his goal, finds that he has been beaten by somebody else by

Robert Falcon Scott
reaching there first.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott is a classic case of such a frustrated pioneer. This British Antarctic Explorer left England on 1 June 1910. After suffering many privations, Capt. Scott along with his companions reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912 to find that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten him to the South Pole by 21 days. The sequel to this unfortunate adventure was that on their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

And to cap it all...

Given the level of their knowledge, or say the ignorance, of the Venetians of 700 years ago, it is believable that they should doubt Marco Polo’s words.

But can you imagine anybody saying that the first moon-landing never happened and that it was a colossal hoax?

But that is what happened, not just after the epic voyage but years later. Sounds unbelievable? Then read this



Jan 24, 2012 10:13pm
Unfortunately, there remain idiots who believe the Moon landing was a hoax, but that is their problem (I'm sure they also believe the Earth is flat,etc.)

Polo is one of my all-time favorite adventurers, and the fantastic tales (seemingly fantastic) were understandbly not believed (a rock that burns? Yeah, rioght, Marco. We know it as coal of course. A cloth that wouldn't burn? Made from asbestos -- I'm tellin' ya, the Chinese rocked the technological world then).

Great informative piece! And fun, too. A thumb.
Jan 25, 2012 7:55am
Thanks for your kind words.

Yes, you are right - there are people who actually believe the earth is flat. But it takes all sorts of people to make the world.

The Chinese sure were way ahead. The Chinese ruler Kublai Khan had established a mint to print paper money which was accepted as legal tender throughout his realm. That was in Polo's time and he has mentioned it in his book which was of course not believed at that time
Mar 7, 2012 3:50pm
Informative and enjoyable reading.
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