As I keep writing about family, and where I grew up, I want to write about my hometown, the hometown of my parents and grandparents. It’s called Coamo. It’s believed to be named by the Taínos, natives that lived in Puerto Rico before the Spaniards came. The meaning they gave to the name Coamo describes precisely what you see “the valley between the mountains”.
Coamo is one of 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico. It’s located in the south-central region of the Island. It became the third settlement when it was founded in 1579. Spain wanted to establish a village in the south. The name given by the Spaniards was “Villa de Illescas”, after the owner of the land, believed to be Blás de Illescas.
There’s a river that runs through our town that has kept the name Río Coamo. Many times as kids, we enjoyed a trip to the river, visiting a few good spots where we enjoyed a good day or did camping in the area. This river has also caused devastation during heavy rains, as it carries water accumulated from the mountains, all the way to the Caribbean Sea.
Eventually, as the region grew, other municipalities formed from Coamo: Barranquitas (in 1804), Orocovis (in 1825), Aibonito (in 1824), Santa Isabel (in 1841) and Salinas (in 1851). This information was obtained from the article Coamo Municipality, Enciclopedia Puerto Rico, from the website https://enciclopediapr.org/en/encyclopedia/coamo-municipality/.
Around 1661, the town’s Catholic church was built and was dedicated to Saint Blas and the Lady of the Candelaria, who are named the town’s Patron Saints. The town square then was built around the Catholic church. Coamo still celebrates festivities in honor of the Patron Saints. These festivities were celebrated in the town square for many years. Recently, as of 2018, they have returned to be celebrated there.
An event that takes place in my hometown during these festivities, and is well recognized internationally is the San Blás Half Marathon. This event brings athletes from all around the world. It started in 1960, and it celebrated it’s 59th year in 2019. This was always a big event for us, as a family. My Dad usually was working that day, running his work motorcycle, escorting the athletes or officials during the marathon. So we were there mostly to see our Dad drive by. And then wait to go to the carousels.
Another building that is nearby is the Town Hall. It was constructed around the 1860s. Two big fires destroyed many records in 1869 and 1897. The town hall was then rebuilt in 1927. This year, 2019, the Mayor inaugurated the “Paseo de las Banderas”, displaying the 78 flags for all municipalities. There’s also a sculpture “El Piraguero” displayed, representing the shaved ice vendor, since for many years there have been a few vendors always close to the corner of the town square.
There’s a museum in town, Museo Histórico de Coamo, where many pieces of art of distinguished local artists and musicians are kept. There are also many antiques, including furniture, that depicts life in the late 1800s. This place was used as a residence by the family of Don Florencio Santiago, who was Mayor during that time.
Another place to visit is The Coamo Hot Springs, know as Los Baños de Coamo. This place has been compared to the legendary fountain of youth sought for many years by Juan Ponce de León, when Spaniards started settling in Puerto Rico. The first guest house was built in 1847. Today, there is a nice hotel for guests. The hot springs are a natural source of water containing minerals, that are believed to have healing properties. A set of pools have been constructed around the spring, as it’s not recommended that people stay in the hot water for too long.
I always had the impression that I lived in a small town. As I did the research, it turns out Coamo is not so small after all. Still, the environment, the people, and the surroundings, all make it feel like we were always in a small community, where everyone knew each other. When people around town recognize us or our family, we feel at home. Of course, this has to do with my father being a well known police officer and soldier.
The community where I grew up, Los Verdes, is part of the rural neighborhood called “Pedro García”. It was named after the Spaniard who got assigned to own the lands. It’s located north of town. One of the main roads in the Island, PR-155, go from Coamo all the way to Vega Baja, town on the north coast. When we go into town, and say “I’m from Pedro García”, people know we’re from one of the farthest spots. We have to travel about 30 minutes to be in town.
When I attended middle school, instead of staying in our neighborhood’s school, our Mom preferred to send us to the school in town. There, we got to know other kids that came from other rural communities like we did. In high school, we reunited with the kids from our community, since all kids had to attend the two high schools there. Some of those friends are now the teachers working in the schools. Our kids are going to the same schools we went to. I moved away, but my nieces did go to the same high school I graduated from.
A story I always cherish is one my paternal Grandfather Alvarado told us of when he met our Grandmother. He said he was working in the construction and improvement of the main road, when he met her. He was about 22, she was about 19. He came from Barranquitas, another town north of Coamo, about 45 minutes drive nowadays. I can’t think of how long it might have taken him to go visit her. But he did come visit and they fell in love.
It’s a nice feeling when you think that you belong somewhere. The feeling of being connected to the people in your town, in your community. I love visiting town, and still being able to recognize a few places that I visited when I was young. There are still people that recognize our family. My Dad still lives in the same house. One of my sisters still lives in Coamo. A have a few aunts and uncles that still live there. That’s the place I call my hometown, where I wish I was having mi tacita de café. Salud!
Versión en español https://fullofcoffee.blog/2019/04/07/mi-pueblo-natal-coamo/