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

Research and the Ruins
At Paso de Ovejas

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

2. An Old Map: A Clue to the Past

This is a trip you can do in a day and all you need is a car and some time. Here´s how this search began.

The Quiet Portales of Paso de Ovejas
The Mystery of an Old Map
This year I had been waiting for the dry season to arrive.

It´s when the jungle turns to dry grass and the people in the countryside burn off the vegetation, and you can see more details of the old haciendas among the rocks.

In the months of April and May it becomes bone dry, and the heat factor on many days sometimes reaches 110 degrees.

Most people stay inside, but that´s when I get my old maps out, and it´s time to go exploring again.

About 2 years ago, I found an old map of the area around Veracruz from the 1830´s.

Since then, I have been pulled back to the area around Paso de Ovejas like a little child quietly tugging at my sleeve. It seems the tugging never goes away.

I also needed to get away from the busy city streets and out into the peaceful rural countryside and explore more of the old trails near the port of Veracruz.

An Old Map Dated 1831

A New Focus
As I looked at the old map, I began to see the present day highways and the familiar place names that were recognizable, like Veracruz and Jalapa, although in those days Xalapa was spelled with a "J" and "Vera Cruz" was two words. These official spelling changes happened during the times of Benito Juarez who came 30 years later.

Then I took a closer look, especially at the road that ran between Veracruz and the mountains. Today on the modern road maps, it is a rural country dirt road through the badlands and it was sparsely populated off the path of the many tourist attractions in the area around Veracruz.

The Third Camino Real in Veracruz

The Next Step
My next step was to update the map with the known place names of today. Some of them were easy, and others weren´t that easy to find. San Martín became San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía. The local people still call it San Martín.

Finding San Bartolomé
But, San Bartolomé had me puzzled for many months. I talked to people who knew the small towns around Totutla but they couldn´t tell me where the settlement was. San Bartolomé appeared on other maps of the 19th century but it was lost, at least on all the recent maps. For now, I left San Bartolomé for later investigation.

Later I discovered that San Bartolomé today is called "San Bartolo Axocuapan" and it´s about 5 minutes past Totutla. For some reason, I think San Bartolomé sounds better. I also realized the map is not to scale. Or maybe it was related to walking distances rather than linear distance.

Updating the Old Map

Map of the trip

An Old Engraving
Preparations for the First Leg of the Trip
When you plan a trip you want to know what to expect, so next I went to the INEGI office here in Veracruz.

They have all the highly detailed maps of the area. I bought the 3 maps that covered the area from Paso de Ovejas to San Bartolomé.

Next I made copies and stitched them together to get a better of what to expect.

It wasn´t very attractive but it was enough to see where I would be going.

From what I had read in the library at the Casa de la Cultura on my first trip to Paso de Ovejas, I would be traveling the Old Camino Real that was authorized by the king of Spain in the year 1600. I thought to myself, that was almost 400 years ago.

Now that my homework was done, I could hardly wait to leave.

Map for the Trip Part I

3. Paso de Ovejas and the Old Church

Map to Paso de Ovejas
Organizing the Next Trip
A long time ago, I found it´s always a good idea to find a local guide or a friend who grew up in the area who can go with you on these trips.

It makes these trips a lot more fun and interesting and they know a lot of the legends in the area.

Over the months, in Veracruz I had met several people from Paso de Ovejas who had invited me there for a visit.

So, in April I had the time and decided to take up their invitation and follow up on my idea to follow the original Camino Real that´s not that far from Veracruz.
"Los Portales" at Paso de Ovejas
Most of the area is still relatively untouched by civilization, and I wanted to see what it must have been like during the early days when Mexico was called New Spain.

A Second Trip to Paso de Ovejas
After the first trip to Paso de Ovejas, I began to hear stories of some ruins of an old church right on the plaza. Many said it was the chapel of the Jesuits, and nobody knew when it was built.

"It is right across the plaza from Los Portales", they had told me.

"Hmm..," I thought to myself. I wondered how I could have missed it on my first trip. Now I had time to do some more exploring and was ready to go.
Hidden Ruins on the Plaza
A Call from a Friend
Last week a friend who grew up in the area around Xocotitla and Acazónica called to invite me to ride along on a visit to see some friends in Acazónica.

He said he knew a lot people in the area who might know something about the area along the old road I was looking at.

We agreed to meet in front of the AU bus station in Paso de Ovejas the following Sunday morning.

Promptly at 10 AM he was waiting for me in front of the local bus station along the highway.
The Old Belfry
We went straight to the plaza to look for the Chapel of the Jesuits.

The Old Belfry
"There it is", my friend said. "Is this what you were looking for?"

When we arrived, we noticed that behind a taco business was a prominent structure that looked like what was once the old belfry of a very old church that was now in ruins.

We parked the car and went in for a closer look.

The End of the Jesuit Trail
Across the plaza, the largest building that remains is called "Los Portales", or the Portals.
A Closer Look
The Portales covers the whole block front and back.

It was the end of the Trail of the Jesuit sheep herders. and was the center of the sheep and wool trade.

It is said there were 25,000 sheep being raised in the mountains, and several thousand would be brought down each year to be sheared.

I could just imagine the wide area out front full of sheep.

As we got closer, we could hear the flap-flap-flap of several pigeons taking flight.

It was as if they were giving a warning to others that intruders were approaching.
A Safe Haven from the Outside World
A Quiet Garden and a Safe Haven
Since the area was open, we walked in to take a look around the chapel of the old Jesuit monastery.

This must have been once been a peaceful Spanish garden for many generations of friars and sheep herders alike.

This must have been a cool and safe from the discomforts and terrors of the outside world of those days.

I knew what the hot, dusty and sometimes dangerous Camino Real road was like from Acazónica to Paso de Ovejas.

This must have been a welcome sight and a safe haven for the people of those days.
Inside the Ruins of the old Church
The Tapered Columns
Wool and Taxes for the Crown
In the area around Los Portales, the sheep were being sheared and Royal Agents were overseeing the operation to be sure the taxes were collected properly for the king of Spain.

In the huge secure patio in the back, the wool was piled in bales to be sent by teams of mules to the port of Veracruz for export to Spain. In those days it was at least an 8 hour trip to Veracruz.

However in 1767, the Jesuits were exiled in an over night order and the wool trade in Veracruz abruptly ended and all their properties were abandoned.

The buttress columns and walls were all that was left of what was once the headquarters for the wool operation.

I thought to myself that 25,000 head of sheep must have been a large operation.
A Quiet Courtyard
Around the Corner
After looking at the inside of the old church, my guide asked if I wanted to see the courtyard on the other side of the walls.

We walked outside the ruins and around the corner to a small store where my guide knew the lady who owned the property on the backside.

She said that when they remodeled the floor of the patio, they found several skeletons they thought were from the days of the Mexican Revolution.

I quietly looked at the walls for any bullet marks a firing squad sometimes leaves, but didn´t see anything.

I remarked that Paso de Ovejas must have been founded shortly after the Camino Real was authorized in 1600.

The lady said, "Yes, Paso de Ovejas is a very old town with many legends."
A Juicy Mango
An Invitation for some Fresh Mangos
Later she invited us into the living room and brought some fresh mangos she had in the refrigerator.

I had forgotten that May was the beginning of the mango season.

These are the sweet yellow "Mangos Manilas". There is no graceful way to eat a mango. The juice and sweetness get on your fingers and it drools down your chin. But that´s the way you are supposed to eat mangos.

The lady gave us some paper towels, and later we washed our hands and faces in the wash stand out back in the patio.
A Curious Onlooker
Time to Move On
When we finished the mangos, I went back out to the patio for one last look at the details of the windows.

And there were pigeons flying around the ruins.Then, I noticed one of them was looking down at me.

Maybe his ancestors were part of the communication system for the Jesuits along the old Camino Real to Paso de Ovejas.

Now it was time to go and we thanked the nice lady for the mangos.

She told us she hoped we would come back soon, and tell them more of the legends about the area.

Although it wasn´t that far away, we still had a lot of ground to cover if we were going to make it to Acazónica that day.
Camino Real Bridge to Veracruz
An Old Story about an Ambush
On the way out of town we drove past the fragile old bridge towards Veracruz that is now only used for pedestrians.

As we turned on the to the dirt road towards Acazónica, I wondered what might lie ahead.

I asked my friend, "Have you ever heard of a place called Mata de los Toros?"

"Sure, it´s about a mile south of town", he replied. "It´s on our way and we can stop if you want."
The Mystery of an Old Window
My friend told me there were people in Paso de Ovejas still alive who as children remember it.

I wondered if it was the same story another friend had told me in Veracruz. She had spend her childhood in Paso de Ovejas and is now very old.

She told me that she used to wander among the rocks and the remains of an old wall where the Zapatistas were hiding to attack a convoy of Carrancistas.

Later I found that along the Camino Real road at Mata de los Toros where 300 Zapatistas ambushed 1,500 Carranzistas on horseback towards the end of the Mexican Revolution.I was looking forward to seeing the place where it happened.

At the same time, I wondered if there were any houses or buildings left from the old days when the mule trains traveled this old road.The road was 400 years old, and you never know what you can find, or the stories you will hear.

Soon we would find out.