History

The Mystery of an Old Map
The Search for San Bartolomé

At the End of the Camino Real

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

10. End of the Road: The Difficult Search for San Bartolomé

The Riddle: Where is San Bartolomé?
The country around Veracruz has been settled for many centuries, and there are a lot of maps to use as references. What stood out was a little town at the end of the Camino Real. It was San Bartolomé. I wondered where it could be today and what did it look like?

At the same time I wondered would there be any remnants of the Jesuits and their sheep herding business that operating from 1600 to 1767 when they were abruptly expelled from Spain and all its colonies. I had a lot of questions and was looking for the answers.

Only an Approximate Location
I could see that San Bartolomé was an important little town for hundreds of years and I wanted to visit it. The town appears on all the early maps, but isn´t on any present day road maps, or even the highly detailed INEGI maps published by the government. At least by that name.

For many months, I looked through many of the old maps from the 19th century hoping to find when the name had been changed, if that had been the case. It looked like other towns had grown in size, and San Bartolomé had shrunk and finally disappeared. At one time, it was important enough to be included on many of the old maps until around the mid 19th century.

Searching an Old Map--Looking for the End of the Camino Real

Wide Discrepancies in Distances on Land
Not only was the name wrong, but the linear distances weren't right either. Perhaps there would be a Rosetta Stone, or a link on another map that would match up with another town on present day maps.

The main problem was the wide discrepancy on these old maps in relation to real distances on the ground in kilometers. On the old map, the distance from Acazónica to San Martín(Tlacotepec de Mejía) looked close, but I later found they were far from each other. On foot or by horseback, it would have been a very long day's walk, yet on the old map, they didn't look far apart.

The Problems Calculating Longitude
Then I realized while the latitude of north and south from the Equator on these early maps was correct, the longitude west from Greenwich, England was wrong, by perhaps 2 degrees or more.

On the map below there is a 2 degree error, or about 120 miles. This made land and sea distances out of kilter, and I often wondered how the early ship navigators or even people on land, kept from getting lost. Maybe they knew they had to take a little longer to find their way.

On the Map Below
Take a look at the map below. The correct latitude and longitude for Veracruz is 19 degrees North and 96 degrees West. If they had calculated the position for Veracruz according to the map below, they would still be offshore, just north of Coatzacoalcos.

Lost in the Longitudes
An Old Map with the Incorrect Longitude
Locates Veracruz near the Present Day City of Coatzacoalcos

Searching The Old Map
The Reason for Inaccurate Distances
Using the same scale, San Bartolomé could be as much as an hour or two from Santiago Totutla.

Along the road after Totutla, it was anybody's guess at this point as to how far away San Bartolomé would be.

Later I found these discrepancies were because the way early navigators and map makers calculated longitude wasn't entirely accurate.

This was perhaps because in those days clocks or watches were not accurate and you had to "shoot the sun" at exactly high noon.
A Closer Look
Maybe Somebody Would Remember
To find high noon accurately wasn't easy, especially if your timepiece was several minutes off, or if you had set it against another inaccurate clock.

An error of about 2 degrees which may not sound like much, but when 1 degree is about 60 miles, then there could be a margin of error of about 120 miles.

San Bartolomé could be anywhere in the general area past Santiago Totutla, and the only way to find it would be in talking to people from the area.

Maybe somebody would remember.

An Unexpected Clue
Then one day over coffee, there was a new face at the table. It was Jesus, a rancher from Huatusco.

Huatusco is a town south of the the area I was searching. Since he is from that part of the country he knows the area well, especially around the small towns and villages.

Jesus said he didn't know about the old Camino Real, so I pulled out the old map to show him what I was looking for.We looked at the old map and he told me about some of the villages in the mountain area I was searching.

"What has me puzzled is San Bartolomé," I told him. "It's got to be somewhere in the area around Huatusco."

"It Might Be San Bartolo"
He thought for a minute, and said,

"You know, there's a place called "San Bartolo". It's also called "San Bartolo Axocuapan". You might check there."

This was the first solid clue I´d had in a long time. So, when I got home, I began to look for "Axocuapan" in my collection of modern maps.

There it was, in small print: "Axocuapan". It was the next little town past Totutla which on my old map from 1831 was called "Santiago Totutla". That had to be it.

Planning the Next Trip
By now, I had enough information and was ready to take a drive up into the mountains to look for San Bartolo Axocuapan. Now I knew where to look. It shouldn´t be far from Santiago Totutla.

Working Map of the Camino Real from Tlacotopec to Totutla, and Maybe San Bartolo

Burned off Croplands
Through the Scorched Badlands
Maybe I had finally located the end of the Camino Real. I wasn't sure. The only way to be sure would be to drive up and take a look around.

I had been to neighboring Totutla before, and according to the map it couldn't be far from there.

Then one day I had some free time and decided to go take another drive. It didn´t look like more than an hour or two away from Veracruz.

This time of the year the people burn off the land before planting, and the area is parched in many places.
A Place Where Snakes Can't Hide
The Best Time is During the Week
The best time to take these trips into these remote areas is during the week, and not on the weekends.

Although it's uncomfortable, the very hot dry months of March through May are also good.

It's when most of the foliage has dried up and you can see a lot more of what´s underneath the jungle like foliage.

There's also less danger of snakes hiding under any greenery of tropical plants.
Red Tile Roof and Welcome Shade
The Route for the Trip
It was early May, and the monsoon rains were still a month away, and it was time to go looking again.

My route would take me along the old federal highway to Paso de Ovejas again, then just before you get to Puente Nacional there´s a little crossroads at Conejos.

There you take a left and head across the now scorched badlands to Santiago Totutla.

Although this stretch was only about 45 minutes, the heat factor that day would be about 120 degrees.
A Green Tree That Found Water
Before the days of air conditioned cars, this trip must have been a tough one.

Taking the Old Road
On the drive along the old federal highway through Paso de Ovejas, I was wondering what I might find that day.

At the same time, I was thinking about Psalm 23 and shepherds and wondered if the early Jesuit sheepherding friars thought about this route, too.

I also remembered they cared for the sheep in the mountains where I was going during almost 5 generations, from the years 1600 to 1767.
Another Green Tree
That's longer than many cities in the US have existed.

I also wondered if, after all these years, the Jesuits might have left anything that could still be seen. Maybe somewhere along the way there would be some special indelible marks that couldn't be erased.

A short while later, after turning left at Conejos, and I stopped at one of the little stores and picked up a liter of water to drink along the way.

In spite of an occasional green tree, it looked like it would be a very hot day in the world outside my air conditioned car.

Painted Rocks

More Painted Rocks
Rocks Painted White
Along this little used highway, there were a number of hard scrapple little villages with lots of painted white rocks.

This usually meant they were "ejidos", or communal owned lands set up in the 1930´s and 1940´s under the Agrarian Reform.

The local people tell me the government pays the ejido people a small amount for local "make work" type projects.

The government pays for the paint so the people paint the rocks.

The Framboyan Trees Bloom on the Hottest Days in May

The Dry Lands
Passing the Panoaya River Canyon
From the maps at home, I knew that off to the left would be the huge ravine or canyon and on the other side was the Camino Real that I had already explored.

As you get closer to the mountains, off to the left you could catch glimpses of the deep canyon.

I imagine I wasn't far from the bridge over the River Panoaya, I had visited a couple of weeks before.

It looked like the canyon was a least a mile deep. From the highway, you couldn't see the bottom.
Coffee Beans in Coffee Country
Into the High Country
Abruptly, the road started up a slight hill and the slow steady climb up into the mountains began.

In about 5 minutes the land had changed from parched dry corn fields to tall trees with low coffee trees planted beneath them for shade.

I stopped the car for a minute and got out of the car for a minute to look at the low coffee trees. There were even little red coffee beans on the little trees.

The weather was crisp and cool, and there was the slight scent of a spice in the air. Later the people told me it was cinnamon from the trees planted in the area.

So different from the beastly heat of the coastal flatlands of the Gulf of Mexico, this was truly a different world!
Passing through El Capricho
The Pico de Orizaba in the Background
The Majestic Pico de Orizaba
After awhile, you can see the mountains up ahead with the majestic Pico de Orizaba Mountain in the background.

With its snowcapped peak it is an unmistakable landmark that can be seen from Puebla to Veracruz, at least on a clear day.

The Aztec name for the mountain was "Citlapetl" and it was considered a sacred place.

Someone also told me it is the second highest mountain on the North American Continent. Mt. McKinley is the highest.

El Pico de Orizaba is also an extinct volcano and might erupt at any time.

Silently, I thought about Mt. Saint Helens in Oregon and hoped it wouldn´t erupt on on my trip.

Santiago Totutla
Climbing steadily, I passed El Capricho, the junction crossroads with its small sign to San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía where I had visited the year before. I knew that Totutla wouldn´t be far. Totutla is a long slender town about 2 kms. long that follows a ridge along the highway the highway. As the road climbed slowly through town, I looked at the people.

In contrast to the coast, the people looked busy and reflected their Aztec heritage when their ancestors first settled this area in the 11th century displacing the native Totonaco Indians from the coast. I was told many people still speak Nahuatl, the language of the conquering Aztecs.

El Pico de Orizaba
Getting Closer and Closer
After the busy little village of Totutla, the road continued to climb up into the mountains.

The paved highway was good, yet from the original map from the 1830´s, it looked like San Bartolomé Axocuapan would be another 10 miles away. Yet on the modern detailed map it was probably another 5 minutes away.

Calculating an accurate longitud must have caused early travellers a certain amount of problems because you never knew if the next town was 20 miles or 5 minutes away.

Or perhaps in those days, time was less important, or they had good guides who knew the way.

El Pico de Orizaba
Looking for Evidence of Sheep
Now, I was looking for any evidence of sheep.

Perhaps the land might look like Scotland with no trees and a lot of green grass.

Even though this was the end of the dry season, I rounded a curve and saw a steep mountainside with lots of green grass.

I must be getting close to the original grazing fields started in the 1600´s, even though few people remembered it today.

It was a beautiful day, and the former grazing fields were still slightly green at the end of the dry season.

So, I pulled off the highway to take this picture with the Pico de Orizaba in the background.

The high country was crisp and clear.

It also felt like I must be getting close now.
Treeless Mountain Fields for Grazing Sheep

San Bartolomé Axocuapan
Axocuapan
Up ahead I noticed the sign of what I was looking for.Maybe this would finally be San Bartolomé Axocuapan, the end of the Camino Real started in the 1600´s.

Along the highway there wasn´t much, but off to the left I noticed a steep concrete road leading further up the hill.

About half way up the hill I noticed I was entering small village.At the top was a large paved open area with a small church at the end.

This was the plaza and at last, I had finally found San Bartolomé!

The Local Cemetery
The Local Cemetery
Up ahead on the right, I noticed the local cemetery.

Cemeteries sometimes provide clues to the past, so I went past the entrance to the town, and pulled onto the dirt road leading to the cemetery.

It was a quiet place, high above the heat of the tropical coastal lands about 20 minutes away.

There was a coolness in the mountain air that was pleasant in the peaceful quiet of the country cemetery.

After getting out of the car, I walked through the disorganized arrangement of the tombs looking for dates.

Like most of the public cemeteries in Mexico, the old dates were around the turn of the century.

Before the 1890's, and maybe before that, the burials were conducted by the church on church property.
The Local Cemetery
A Little Unkempt
As I wandered around the cemetery, there was a certain informality in the organization.

It looked like people still came here on Sundays to bring flowers to loved ones who now lived here.

After looking around a bit more, I went back to the car to drive up the hill to explore the town of Axocuapan to see what was there.

City Hall in Axocuapan
San Bartolomé Axocuapan at Last!
The entrance to the little town of Axocuapan was across the highway, straight up.

The road was made of cast concrete which was unusual for small towns like this.

On top of the hill there was a flat area. At one end was the village church and at the other end was a small building which was the town hall.

I wondered to myself if this was the San Bartolomé I had spent so much time looking for.

It had been a long search and I wondered if I had found the little town on the ancient map.
Coffee Drying in the Sun
The little town didn´t look like much more than a typical small mountain village.

A Small Store
Nearby was a small store with coffee beans neatly spread out to dry in the noon day sun.

I stopped the car in front of the store, and went to the window and ordered a coke from the cheerful lady inside.

People in the neighborhood stores in small towns always know the nearby area well.

Coffee Drying in the Sun
A Friendly Store
Maybe I could find someone here could tell me something about this once important community at the beginning of the Camino Real.

"Is this town also called San Bartolomé?", I asked the lady.

She looked a little surprised and told me to wait a moment while she called for her husband. She said he would know something.

As it turned out, she was right.

It was then that I met don Miguel Suarez and his friendly family for the first time.
Don Miguel´s Family
Don Miguel´s Family
Don Miguel Showing Us Around Town
Don Miguel Suarez
Don Miguel, with his wife and grandchildren in the background, listened intently as I told him about my long quest for the old Camino Real, and the story of the Jesuit sheep herders.

After awhile, he replied politely:

"I remember many things about the past in this area, but I don't know about the Camino Real, or the Jesuits and their sheep business, señor."

"San Bartolo Axocuapan is a very old town, and for many years was the seat of municipal powers, until it was taken from us by a Representative in the State Assembly in Xalapa several years ago."

"I also remember when I was 22 years old, I saw my first "camion" or motor vehicle. Back in my early days, there were no highways and we walked the trails everywhere."

"In those days, mule and burro caravans brought us everything we needed from the outside world."

Flowers at Don Miguel's House
"But let me show you our church. It is named after San Bartolomé. We still call our town San Bartolo. It´s the same thing."

In front of his store, coffee in various stages of processing was drying in the sun on cloth mats. We walked across the plaza towards the church.

It was a beautiful day, and the sun felt good in the cool climate.

I knew that down on the coast it would be another blazing hot day with the heat factor over 100 degrees.
Flowers at Don Miguel's House
Axocuapan is a small village situated on top of a high hill.

It is the highest point along the federal highway. The top of the hill in the village is a clearing that is the small plaza with the town church on the east side overlooking a beautiful view.

Down below in the distance the town of Huatusco can be seen.

At the same time I saw that San Bartlomé was at one of the highest points in the area, and it must have been chosen as a strategic military location which would easy to defend.

The Church at Axocuapan
People would think twice about attacking a high hill like this.

"On a clear day you can almost see the Gulf of Mexico," Don Miguel said.

The Village Church
I looked at the outside of the church trying to place a date on it. The columns on the facade looked "modern" which is to say 19th Century.

At the same time, what we were looking at was the latest remodeling job done on the original church which was probably built around 1600.

The Church Bells Off to One Side
The saints also looked modern. As I recall, even the oldest ones had glass eyes which would date them after the year 1900.

"Come, let me show you this," said Don Miguel.

The Old Church Bells
Outside next to the church, were the ruins of a belfry. Two very old bronze bells were temporarily housed under a "palapa" or straw roofed affair on stilts.

"Here you can see the dates," Don Miguel said.

We moved closer to the old bells, and they were similar to the ones I´d seen on the coast. Made in Puebla.

The inscription on one bell said:

"San Bartolo Asocuapa El 24 de Agosto de 1895"

In those days, they probably didn't pay too much attention to correct spelling. It should have been "Axocuapan".
A Closer Look
The Saints Day of Our Town
"It is the Day of San Bartolo, the patron saint of our town, " said don Miguel.

"We hope you can come see us because it is a great celebration and people come from far away to be here."

The inscription on the other bell had the date: November 9, 1895

It's the day of San Teodoro. I made a note of the name and knew I had some more homework to do.

Messages on the Bells of San Bartolo

San Bartolome Zoquapa--Many Different Spellings, and a Coat of Arms for the Town

A View of Huatusco Down Below
Standing at the End of the Camino Real
Standing high above everything in the cool mountain air, next to the old church high above the coast in San Bartolomé Axocuapan, I realized that I had finished what I had originally set out to do: to explore and document the beginning of the Camino Real established in the year 1600.

In the process, I had met a lot of new friends, like Don Miguel standing beside me now looking down at the town of Huatusco in the distance.

I remembered the warm times with Rodrigo´s family looking at the old family photo albums at the hacienda el Coyol, making the slow ardous trek down into the tropical canyon looking for the mysterious bridge in the jungle, walking the ambush site at Mata de los Toros, admiring the very old religious statues at the small church in Acazónica, and walking the ruins of the old Jesuit chapel in Paso de Ovejas.

San Bartolomé Back towards Veracruz
All that remained was to find the rest of the road from Acazónica to Veracruz. It would mean exploring the edge of the wild country. Perhaps it would be an old dirt road south of Angostillo or El Limon, and working away from the semi arid lands towards the areas where there would be more water. It might be as simple as that.

Searching the Old Map Again--Looking East Along the Camino Real from Acazónica to Veracruz

Searching for El Cacahuatl
Another Mystery: El Cacahuatl
In looking at the old map again, I realized that other mysteries remained in my search of the old Camino Real.

Now it would be to find the rest of the road from Acazónica to Veracruz. I wondered where was el Cacahuatl today and what I would find there.

Perhaps it would only be a pile of rocks like at Santa Anna´s old hacienda at Manga de Clavo, or maybe I would find some pigeons.

I put the old map away, saving this for a project for another day.

An Unexpected Email
Several weeks later, Rodrigo was researching some old land deeds in Xalapa, and sent me an email that he had found el Cacahuatl mentioned in the boundaries of the Hacienda Mata Cazuela. I got out the INEGI maps again. It looked close. Rodrigo also said he had some relatives at Mata Cazuela.

Why don´t we plan another trip to visit Mata Cazuela? I had heard the old atrium cross was still in front of the old chapel there. And now the adenaline was flowing again. The hunt was on again.

More later...

11. Perhaps a Blind Alley, but a New Search Begins (Still Under Construction, but keep checking back...)

Achilchotla
Achilchotla
One day when feeling satisfied that I had found the end of the trail, I was looking at the old map again.

Not far from Axocuapan was the name of a town that was hard to make out. It looked like "Achilchotla".

Later on another map dated around 1850, I could clearly make out the letters. It was "Achilchotla".

A New Search Begins
For several months, I had "Achilchotla" on my mind. It was one of those very old villages that had to exist, but under another name. So, in the meantime, I would leave this search on my list of pending items.

It was a hot day in August, in the middle of the rainy season. One day, over morning coffee at the Casita Restaurant in Veracruz, my friend, Jesús from Huatusco was back. This time, I asked him if he had ever heard of a little town called "Achilchotla".

"Where did you get that name?", he asked.

The old map was always with me, so I brought out the old map and I showed him. It was just past San Bartolomé.

"It could be "Chilchotla"," he said.

"There is a town called Chilchotla in the area, but even though it looks close to San Bartolomé, it is not very close. It is in the mountains of the state of Puebla, and it would be better to approach it from that side."

As simple as that.

"Chilchotla de Rafael García"
Later I went back to do some more research and found that the old name for the town was "Chilchotla de Rafael García", and it was now in the state of Puebla. Then on a detailed map, I found the name of the town was now Rafael García.

Who was Rafael García? I found out he was a powerful governor in the state of Puebla 1868-1869 during the times of President Benito Juarez.

I put that on my list of things to ask Don Miguel the next time I was up in San Bartolo Axocuapan. Since he knew all the back roads in the area, maybe he knew where the town was and perhaps had even been there.

Don Miguel Knows the Old Legends
Another Trip Back to San Bartolomé
A little while later, I had another opportunity to visit San Bartolomé and talk to don Miguel Suarez again.

When I drove up in front of the store and parked the car, it felt like I was at home again. When Don Miguel heard me ordering a coke from his wife, he came out smiling and held out his hand in welcome.

"It is good to see you again, my friend," he said. "What brings you back up to Axocuapan?"

Briefly, I told him about my search for Achilchotla, and wondered if he knew where the town was located.

He said, "Yes, I know of Chilchotla. It's not called Achilchotla any more."

"Do you know where it is?", I asked.

"Yes, it´s way over there", and he pointed at the higher mountains to the west of us.

"It´s about two mountain ranges over."

I looked at the area he was talking about, and it looked like it would be an all day hike back into the high mountains covered with forests.

"Is there a road or a trail to get there from here?", I asked.

"Yes, but it is a very difficult road. It would be better to go Orizaba and on to Esperanza, Puebla, then go north up into the mountains from there."

Another Challenge: To Find Chilchotla de Rafael García.
It sounded like a real challenge, and mentally I put it as next on my pending list of a new place to explore when there was more time.

Later I read a short note in the news that the government was trying to solve problems caused by deforestation in the areas around the little town Rafael García, Puebla.

At the same time, I wondered if these lands had been cleared back in the 17th century to raise sheep for the Jesuit operation? At the same time, it sounded like an interesting detail and I wanted to find the little town. It may be that the deforested land might be the only legacy left by the Jesuits when they left in the year 1767. Or maybe the ruins of an old chapel or convent. It was a trip I was looking forward to. Now, I needed to find the time.

A Country Lunch in Totutla
Lunch in Santiago Totutla
Santiago Totutla is a small mountain town where the road follows a ridge, and the town has built up about two blocks on both sides of the road.

The whole town follows the road and is about 2 miles long. The mountain weather here is always fresh and it just feels good to be here.

Each time I had passed through the town, I had seen a small restaurant that specializes in barbequed chicken or "pollo rostizado". They also serve a soup that is hot as blazes.

With chicken you can never go wrong.

Over the months I had made several trips back to the area to talk to Don Miguel, and one day, I went with some friends, and we stopped for lunch in Santiago Totutla.
The Best Part of Historical Explorations
Near the End of the Road
My friends on this trip were from the coastal area of Veracruz, and rarely ventured into these mountains.

During lunch we talked about the old Camino Real that linked the mountains to the coast.

This was the best part of my historical explorations which seem will never end.

Over the months of searching the old Camino Real, I realized that today there isn't much left that you can see from the early days of the Jesuit sheep operation.
The Entrance to a Small Town
The Search List Continues
After lunch, on our way back down from the mountains to the port of Veracruz, we passed the junction to Tlacotepec de Mexía, then the cross at the entrance to the next town.

I wondered if perhaps this symbol might be something the Jesuits had left, and that perhaps their legacy can be seen everywhere, but in some intangible way.

It is something that you see in the eyes and hearts of the people who still live in this area of Mexico.Or perhaps it had nothing to do with the Jesuits and their sheep business.

I still have these questions, and plan to continue my explorations of the small villages around where I live.

You never know what you will find, or the legends you will hear from the old people that are no longer in the history books.

This is what I like to do in my spare time. It´s almost like being on vacation. In the meantime, my list continues to grow.

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