Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

Fernando became aware that his arrival point, Port Tampa, was a small town distinct from Tampa itself. Soon after the train had emerged from the moderately sized maritime complex, the scenery abruptly changed to flat, vast, emptiness. Never before had he seen mile after mile of empty land, broken only by occasional stands of curious looking pine trees. After the euphoria of seeing Zapato after so many years, Fernando's face must have revealed the renewed sense of trepidation and concern that this unfamiliarity had caused him.

"Gaitero, no te preocupes tanto, hombre! Tampa no es toda salvaje y selva." Ignacio had assured him that Tampa was not entirely wild and a jungle. Fernando hesitatingly smiled, though he was already nostalgic for the vibrant, urban atmosphere of Havana, or the verdant, mountainous familiarity of his native Asturias.

Fernando turned his focus to a family seated a few rows ahead of Ignacio and him. He was fairly certain they had not been on Mascotte from Havana. As they spoke amongst themselves, Fernando knew they were speaking a language other than Spanish or English. He whispered to Ignacio.

 "Sabes que idioma están hablando la familia esa?" He had asked if Ignacio knew what language they were speaking. Ignacio discretely leaned forward slightly in order to hear them.

"Siciliano.... y probablemente llegaron en el otro barco desde Nueva Orleans. Reconozco el idioma porque hay muchos en el barrio de Ybor y también trabajo con algunos. Como muchos epañoles llegan por La Habana, mucho de ellos entran por Nueva Orleans, donde hay una colonia Siciliana grandísima"

Ignacio explained that they were speaking Sicilian and probably had just arrived from New Orleans. Fernando remembered having noticed another passenger ship at the Port Tampa docks. Ignacio recognized the language because many had settled in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. Apparently, New Orleans was "their Havana" in that as most Spaniards traveled to Tampa via Havana, many Sicilians entered via that huge port city, home to a vast colony of fellow countrymen.

Approximately 40 minutes had passed since leaving Port Tampa. As the train rounded a slight curve, Fernando noticed that the stark landscape had given way to the trappings of a modest, but growing, small city. As the train proceeded, more and more buildings came into view. Shortly before crossing a river, he noticed, to his right, the morning light reflecting off of a series of silver metal minarets. These most unusual looking structures were atop a sprawling red brick building equally exotic.

"Zapato, que coño es eso?"

Fernando, pointing to the strange building, had asked Ignacio was it was.

"Un hotel, para norteños ricos que quieren escapar la nieve y frío del norte".

Zapato told him it was a hotel for rich northerners wanting to escape the snow and cold of northern winters. Fernando was intrigued by both the building and the idea of the wealth that would sustain it.

"Ybor City station in 8 minutes!"

Ignacio nudged Fernando, indicating to gather his belongings. No translation was necessary for either of the Spaniards. As the train came to a stop, they descended the car onto a modest, wooden platform. The air was crisp and refreshingly cool. The new arrival inhaled deeply through his nose. A wonderful blend of familiar aromas, those of baking bread, roasting coffee, and fresh tobacco leaves renewed his spirit.

El Gaitero Candamín was quickly beginning to feel at home.


This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020