The Mystery of an Old Road Map
The Search for San Bartolomé

The Pigeons of the City

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Introduction: The Back Roads Around Veracruz

This is a trip you can do in a day. All you need is a car and some time.

Hereīs how I got started on this one.

The Back Roads of Veracruz
Mysteries of the Roads around Veracruz
Over the years, Iīve discovered the back roads around the port of Veracruz are very old, and hold many mysteries.

These roads may look like just any dirt road, but in the area around Veracruz they are different.

Here you can travel the same roads that were traveled by mule trains carrying riches, and businessmen in stage coaches, revolutionaries, and bandits over many centuries.

There arenīt many signs and you may have to do a lot of your own homework for yourself and in my spare time, this is what I like to do.
In the Flatlands Towards the Mountains
Looking for the Clues
Sometimes the clues to these mysteries are right in front of us.

They are the things you find along the way that were brought over from the Old World.

Although they were probably at one time the trails used by Indians, now they are mostly dirt roads, and in other places, they are still trails just like they were hundreds of years ago.

These are the roads to enjoy exploring; visiting the little villages and listening to the stories the people tell you.

At the same time, around the next bend, you never know what you are going to find next.
Around the Next Bend
A Simple Project
This started as a simple project and became more interesting and complicated as it went along, so I decided to divide it into several sections to make it easier to read.

It's about a trip along the Third Camino Real in Mexico established in the year 1600.

1. The Pigeons of the City
2. The Mystery of an Old Map, Paso de Ovejas and an old Church
3.The Site of an old Ambush at Mata de los Toros
4. The Hacienda de los Morales and El Limón
A Descendant from the Old World
5.La Hacienda El Angostillo
6. San José Acazónica: The Headquarters for the Jesuits along the old Camino Real
7. La Hacienda el Coyol
8. The Mystery of an Old Bridge in the Wild Country
9. Tlacotepec de Mejía: A Way Station along the Camino Real
10. Found at Last, San Bartolomé Axocuapan: The End of the Trail

A Vast Museum
The area around Veracruz is a vast museum.

When you are driving the backroads around Veracruz, you never know when you will find clues to some of the mysteries of the past.

Behind the Rise is Probably Where Bandits Used to Hide

1. The Pigeons of the City

Downtown Veracruz at Noon
After Morning Coffee
Each day, I enjoy having coffee around mid morning at a small restaurant in downtown Veracruz.

Itīs a time to enjoy being with friends and talk about old buildings and the gothic legends of pirates of the Caribbean that sometimes go back 400 years.

This is the charm of Veracruz which, like old New Orleans, is one of the unique cities in the world.

I try to finish up with downtown errands before 12 noon. Like in many cities of the world, traffic in the downtown area builds up and it gets congested.

Besides that, itīs time for a bite of lunch and an afternoon siesta.
El Callejon de la Campana
A Shortcut
The historic downtown area of Veracruz is easy to navigate since itīs only about 6 blocks by 10 blocks.

Walking in old downtown Veracruz fills me with energy. I donīt know where it comes from.

One day, I was talking a shortcut along one of the small narrow streets called the Callejon de la Campana.

In the small plaza, there is a bell hanging behind what used to be the Dominican Convent. It is where the past comes alive.

Although today the Convent is used as a parking lot, many of the exterior details have been preserved and the cupola is still beautiful to look at.
The Former Dominican Convent
Clues to the Past
When I walk through the old areas of Veracruz, I sometimes look for clues into the past.They are in front of you, but most of the time you donīt notice them.

In the Callejon, I paused for a moment, and looked up at the details of the cupola.

It looked like some "city pigeons" were playing "king of the mountain", jockeying around trying to get the prized position at the top.

Since these city pigeons are everywhere, I didnīt pay too much attention to them.
City Pigeons
About City Pigeons in Mexico
As I walked along looking at the pigeons, I remembered several things an old man sitting on a park bench in the plaza told me about pigeons in Mexico.

The first thing was that they arenīt from here, and were brought in from Europe.

"These are the same European pigeons I feed crumbs to every day of the year," he told me.

"They are my friends and are especially happy to see me when the weather has been bad."
City Pigeons
Pigeons Donīt Migrate
"Pigeons donīt migrate and stay close to where they were born."

Then I remembered I didnīt see them in the countryside.

"Yes, in the "campo" they have too many enemies like owls, and chicken hawks. They arenīt fast flyers."

The Life of a Pigeon
Later, I checked with a pigeon expert and found some interested things about pigeons.
City Pigeons
The nesting period is 18 days, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and the female at night.

He went on to say,

"When the little ones are born, the parents begin to make a kind of "lechita" or special milk in their throats, and the babies feed by poking their heads into the mouths of their parents."

When they first begin to fly, they may just fly around the block, and later disappear from sight for awhile.

But they will always return later.
City Pigeons
An Internal Navigation System
Because of some internal navigation system, they never get lost and always find their way home.

Scientists are still investigating this trait in pigeons.

Pigeons in the New World
"If these city pigeons arenīt native to Mexico, why were they brought over from the Old World?" I asked the old man.

"Mire Ud. Seņor, in those days, pigeons were trained to carry messages. The were also a source of food during difficult times."
City Pigeons
He tossed a few more crumbs to his "friends" and said,

"My "amiguitos" who live around the churches and former military forts are the descendents of a noble family of "palomas" that were part of the early communications system that worked for over 300 years in Veracruz."

"When I feed the pigeons, I think about the wonderful adventures their ancestors must have had carrying important messages for the churches and the military."

Maybe these were new clues to look for on my next trip.
City Pigeons
New Exploration Tools
Then I began to wonder if city pigeons in the countryside might be the remnants of an earlier civilization in some of the old forgotten ruins around Veracruz.

On my next trips out into the countryside near Veracruz, I would now begin to look for city pigeons that might be the descendents of the first messenger pigeons brought to America by the exploring conquistadores and the friars from the Old World.

At the same time, I wondered if this might be just another urban myth told by an old man who had nothing better to do than to feed the pigeons every day in the park.

I decided to find out for myself if this were true or not.

2. Looking for Clues to the Past: A Trip to Paso de Ovejas >>>

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