We live in a world where we can’t conceive that a trip from point A to point B might take longer than a couple of days (even to the other side of the globe). Thanks to air travel, the world has become interconnected, but over a hundred years ago—back when my grandparents immigrated to Ecuador—covering long distances in a short amount of time was unthinkable. So how exactly did people travel from say, Europe to South America in the early twentieth century?
That was what I set out to discover when writing my latest novel, The Spanish Daughter, where my protagonist must travel from Spain to Ecuador in 1920 to take possession of a substantial inheritance.
I asked my father for an answer since he himself had traveled on a ship from Europe to Ecuador in the 50s. He mentioned that he had sailed aboard the Reina del Mar, a ship traveling from Liverpool to Guayaquil with stops in Spain, Bermuda, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and the Panama Canal. It sounded perfect, didn’t it? Except that upon further research, I discovered that this vessel was built in 1956, way after Puri’s story takes place. My dad also recalled that his parents had taken a ship from Palestine to Ecuador at the beginning of the century, but said steamer didn’t work for my novel since it traveled via Italy instead of Spain.
Through more research, I found two steamships that my protagonist, Puri, could’ve taken. The first one was the Valbanera, a Spanish steamer able to carry up to 1,200 passengers that operated between 1905 until 1919—the year it sank. Known as the Spanish Titanic, the Valbanera covered the route Barcelona to Havana with stops in Málaga, Cádiz, the Canaries, Puerto Rico, Santiago de Cuba. Since Puri is from Sevilla, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think she could’ve boarded this ship in Málaga, which is only 129 miles from Sevilla.
The Valbanera has an interesting history. Due to the growing migration of Spaniards to the Americas in the early twentieth century, the Valbanera was built in 1905. It was named after the Virgin of Valvanera (different spelling), the patron of the region of La Rioja, from where the naval company owners were from. Though it didn’t have the luxuries of its contemporary, the Titanic, the Valbanera was a regular and reliable transportation from Spain to the Caribbean and the southern part of the United States. Unfortunately, a hurricane hit the steamer in the Florida Keys in 1919, causing it to sink. Since The Spanish Daughter was originally set in 1919, I used it for the first leg of Puri’s trip. However, another more relevant historical fact forced me to move Puri’s story to 1920. I saw no other option than to take a small literary license and embark Puri aboard the Valbanera nonetheless.
But what would she do once she reached Havana since the Valbanera didn’t continue south?
The solution to my conundrum came through a British steamer called the Andes. Most people think of this ship as a war vessel that served the Royal Mail Line in both world wars. However, there was a predecessor to this famous ship also called the Andes, which actually transported passengers from the UK to Argentina and vice versa. Throughout its life, the Andes served as a luxury cruise liner, a war and immigrant ship, and finally, a hospital ship.
The Andes was Puri’s only option, but instead of circling the eastern part of South America and making her trip unnecessarily long, I decided to have the ship cross the Panama Canal, just like my father’s ship had done.
Unfortunately, real life doesn’t have the flexibilities that fiction does. When my grandfather expressed an interest in visiting his family 50 years after he’d left, my dad offered to take him on a plane, to which my grandfather declined. He was terrified of airplanes, but my father couldn’t take three months off work to travel by ship. And so, both my grandfather and grandmother never visited their homeland or their family again.
About the Book
As a child in Spain, Puri always knew her passion for chocolate was inherited from her father. But it’s not until his death that she learns of something else she’s inherited –a cocoa estate in Vinces, Ecuador, a town nicknamed “Paris Chiquito.” Eager to claim her birthright and filled with hope for a new life after the devastation of WWI, she and her husband Cristóbal set out across the Atlantic Ocean. But it soon becomes clear, someone is angered by Puri’s claim.When a mercenary sent to murder her aboard the ship accidentally kills Cristóbal instead, Puri dons her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity, hoping to stay safe while she searches for the truth of her father’s legacy in Ecuador. Though freed from the rules that women are expected to follow, Puri confronts other challenges at the hacienda—newfound siblings, hidden affairs, and her father’s dark secrets. Then there are the dangers awakened by her attraction to an enigmatic man as she tries to learn the identity of an enemy who is still at large, threatening the future she is determined to claim.
About the Author
Lorena Hughes is the award-winning author of The Spanish Daughter and The Sisters of Alameda Street. Born and raised in Ecuador, she moved to the United States when she was eighteen. Her previous work has won first place at the 2011 Southwest Writers International Contest in the historical fiction category, earned an honorable mention at the 2012 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and placed quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakout Novel Award.Named one of 9 Rising Latina Authors You Don’t Want to Miss by HIP LATINA,she’s the coordinator of the UNM Writers Conference. Lorena lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.