National Geographic : 2001 Jul
through deserts in Iran and mountains in Afghanistan, to fabled Xanadu and the throbbing cities of China-and I know of the delights of their experience as well as its challenges.* No part of their adventure was more daunting than the voyage from Quanzhou in southern China to Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, a 6,500-mile journey that took more than two years. Something terrible was ahead-perhaps an epidemic, typhoons, or ship wrecks. Marco refers to this only obliquely, revealing that just 18 of the 600 passengers survived the voyage. Adding insult, the Polos were robbed of some of their China wealth as they traveled beyond Persia on land. MARCO OFTEN VISITED with the voyage's preeminent pas senger, a 17-year-old Mongol princess named Kokejin, known as the Blue Princess because her name meant she was like the sky. She played a role in their liberation, Marco claims, inasmuch as Kublai finally allowed the Polos to leave so they could help escort her to Persia. There she was to become the bride of Kublai's great-nephew, Arghun, Persia's ruler. Marco also passed the time with sailors, collecting yarns that would galvanize later adventurers. East of China, he wrote, lay a "great island" where people have "gold in very great abundance" and harvest large red pearls. Marco was the first European to write of Cipangu-that is, Japan. His description was well-known to Columbus, who wondered if a distant island he glimpsed in the Caribbean might be Cipangu. "According to what the good sailors say," Marco continued, there was a great spice-producing island to the south, called Java. And out there too were exactly 7,448 more islands. When European mapmakers began to adopt *See the first two articles in this series, "The Adventures of Marco Polo" and "Marco Polo in China," in May and June 2001. Escortinga Mongol princess to Persia, Marco and his sailing crew stalledon Suma traforfive months when winds died. Fearof cannibalsin the interiorpinned them to the beach on a shore where fisher men today use the off-season to burn barnaclesoff boats. "We... made on land castles of beams and of logs...