I want to have a powerful Mesoamerican civilisation by the 1100s; one that decides to sail east and discover Europe. Earlier versions of the story had them contacted by Zheng He in the 1400s, but I want to move the setting farther into the past and do something with the fabled Toltec society. So I need to provide them with the means to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and become a country as powerful as the China of that time.
So how do I buff them, and make them able to traverse oceans? There are a handful of obvious picks: I am making the American horse survive and become a suitable draft animal. I am also going to move the Rio Grande south a bit, and provide a fertile plain ripe for agriculture and an even larger population (not that the Valley of Mexico was ever underpopulated to begin with, but it can help the advancement of a state in Anahuac to have a northern rival to eventually conquer).
But the biggie is seafaring. Early Europeans had the gentle Mediterranean to cross, and plenty of reason to cross it in order to trade with the countries on the other side. I think the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico can function in much the same way, but I need a reason for my country to traverse it, and learn navigational skills from a thousand round trips to Cuba and the other islands.
What can I put on those islands to make them desirable to sail towards?
My idea: guano! That second fertile plain I added; if over-exhaustive agriculture can make it lose its fertility after time, accumulated bird poo can do wonders as a fertiliser, and my Mesoamericans would have to mine those guano islands in order to avoid starvation. More interestingly, there is a real string of islands going farther and farther east, until it stops with the Atlantic. So back to my original idea: that expedition that discovers Europe? It could have been a quest for more guano islands!
What I would like to know is how reasonable this scenario is; and particularly the agriculture and guano part. If it isn't; is there anything I can add to those islands, to make them a desirable destination, in order to have a seafaring Mesoamerican nation by the start of the 12th century?
Specifically, out of scope are:
- Getting a state as powerful as China in Mexico. I think that's a solvable problem; just alter the climate and geography until it's paradise on Earth.
- The trans-Atlantic expedition. Their path has been addressed in the linked question, and their specific motivations would be story-based.
In scope is:
- Having my powerful Nahuatl state possess seafaring technology. For that I surmise they need a motivation to routinely traverse the Gulf of Mexico, which the Aztecs historically did not. Getting them that motivation, or that technology through some other means, is what the question is about.