We tend to romanticize the age of exploration, like it was all grand exotic frontiers and tiny people tying sailors down with ropes. What we don't hear about so often is the scurvy and the starvation and the months of endless walking through landscapes full of awfulness. And that's too bad, because it actually makes their stories that much more badass.
5The Gulf of Mexico Kills 600 Spaniards
Six hundred men set off on this adventure. Four made it back. Not 400 -- four.
In the early 1500s, the Spanish were nuts about gold in the Americas and were determined to drag as much of it back as their galleons could carry. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca was an explorer with one hell of a sexy name who set out with 600 men to stake a claim in Florida, none of them realizing it would be one of the most ill-fated expeditions in gold-hoarding history.
If only he'd remembered: God loves the mustache, but abhors the goatee.
Before they reached the Gulf Coast, 100 men had already deserted the expedition during a layover in what is now the Dominican Republic. It turned out those guys had the right idea. Not long after, the expedition was smashed by a hurricane that killed 60 men and a fifth of their horses. Finally, they arrived in Florida, and the easy part was over.
Now short on supplies and starving to death, the Spanish invasion next had to fend off the waves of native attacks. After miserably failing to conquer the Apalachee people (because damn it, they came here to conquer somebody), the 240 or so survivors were reduced to melting down their weaponry and remaining supplies in a desperate attempt to build some boats to escape this nightmare. And they succeeded! Just long enough to get hit by another hurricane!
Or at least something that rocked them like one.
Only 80 of the original 600 were still alive when the storm wrecked their makeshift fleet against the coast of Galveston Island, Texas, which for evident reasons they named the Island of Misfortune. Absolutely stranded, the remaining men lived among the natives, who thankfully decided to enslave them rather than kill them this time.
In the end, only four men survived to trek across Mexico until they made it into Spanish-colonized territory, 10 years later and not a penny richer. But they did have an entire life full of nightmares to look forward to.
Unfortunately, they never did figure out how to thaw Alvar from the carbonite.