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During the conquest of the Americas, tales of his youthful exploits in Spain became popular legends, but their veracity is doubtful.An example is the tale then current that when he was a youth awaiting passage to the Americas, he climbed the church tower in Seville with some friends.
Whether this epithet refers to Alvarado's red hair, some esoteric quality attributed to him, or both, is disputed.After this, the Spanish referred to the river as the Río de Alvarado ("Alvarado's River").As punishment for entering the Papaloapan River without orders, Grijalva sent Alvarado with the ship San Sebastián to relay news of the discoveries back to Cuba.By means of interpreters, Grijalva indicated that he wished to trade and bartered wine and beads in exchange for food and other supplies.From the natives they received a few gold trinkets and news of the riches of the Aztec Empire to the west.Alvarado, afraid of being mocked, walked out onto the pole with both sword and cloak, and turned around at the end to return to the tower facing it.
By 1511 a system of licenses had been established in Spain to control the flow of colonists to the New World.
Alvarado commanded one of the eleven vessels in the fleet and also acting as Cortés' second in command during the expedition's first stay in the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán.
Relations between the Spaniards and their hosts were uneasy, especially given Cortés' repeated insistence that the Aztecs desist from idol worship and human sacrifice; in order to ensure their own safety, the Spaniards took the Aztec king Moctezuma hostage.
Alvarado made a triumphal entry to Santiago de Cuba, with a great display of the wealth that had been gained from the expedition.
His early arrival in Cuba allowed him to ingratiate himself with the Governor Velázquez before Grijalva's return.
When Cortés returned to the Gulf coast to deal with the newly arrived hostile expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez, Alvarado remained in Tenochtitlan as commander of the Spanish enclave, with strict orders to make sure that Moctezuma not be permitted to escape.