Monday, June 27, 2016

Xochimilco



Xochimilco is one of those weird cases where the internet picks up a certain aspect of a moderately well known site, and that aspect becomes better known by tourists than the original site itself. La Isla de las Muñecas, or "Island of the Dolls" started popping up on Pinterest boards and various blogs and websites a few years back, as one of the creepiest places on earth. It was one of the things that inspired me to start making a Mexico City itinerary, a few years before I actually went.



However, by the time I made it to Xochimilco, my interest in the Island of the Dolls had waned. The man who used to hang the dolls out died back in 2001 and many of the original dolls have apparently been blown or washed away. It takes a few hours to reach the actual island, though local trajinera punters have recreated a smaller version closer to the docks. (If you really want to see the original, make sure you're signing up for the 3+ hour Eco-tour.) 




But now Xochimilco had piqued my interest. My mom mentioned the "floating gardens" as one of the things she missed doing while visiting Mexico City in the late 70s, and pictures of the canals looked like a photographer's colorful fever dream come true. The area is one of the few places that reminds you that all of Mexico City used to be located on or near water. On weekends, families still come out with coolers full of food and beverages, ready for a picnic on the water. Vendors along the waters edge and in small boats sell food, flowers, drinks, and other fun things.  




I decided to visit Xochimilco on Friday, my last full day in Mexico City. Aside from the Mexico-Canada game I wanted to catch on TV that evening, it was the only thing on my agenda for the day. The worrying bit was that I was down to 500 pesos. Got change at the front desk of my hostel and headed off. The metro ride south of the city was nice, going above ground after the first three stops. At the last station, I got off to change to the train - first I followed a Gringo couple, figuring they were going the same direction as I was, which was a poor assumption to make even on the outskirts of a world-class city. I figured it out, and headed back the other way before tripping - hard - on the stairs. Ow. Then, both booths were closed and the automated ticket machine didn't give change - something I only discovered after putting in a 100 for a 3 pesos ride. Noooo... I freaked out for a moment before doing the calculation in my head and realizing I'd only lost about $5 US. Annoying, but not world-ending.




Down to 400 pesos, I got on the Tren Ligero, snapping pics as we passed Azteca Stadium. Arriving at Xochimilco, felt like entering a completely different part of Mexico. I - as an obvious tourist - was helpfully directed by a guy on a bike who would pedal ahead to the next corner before waving me on. There was an intimidating wall of men at the dock, but they let me through with no comment. (Mexico City, for all its PDA, was short on catcalls or lewd remarks - Brooklyn still wins in that regard, with Buenos Aires coming in a very distant second.) The tour operator showed me all the different options, starting - he claimed - at $400. I knew better, having done my research ahead of time. When I told him I only had money for the cheapest tour, at $350, he quickly and almost dismissively got me on a boat all by myself. (I'd kind of been hoping to run into some other tourists to split with.)


The guy - kid - rowing was probably high school-aged and kept bumping into things. To be fair, everyone was bumping into things, but it seemed like he was getting more dirty looks from the other punters as our boat careened toward theirs. I figured he was relatively new or infrequent addition to the fleet. Still, I had way more fun than I'd expected people watching, taking pictures, listening to songs other people had paid for, buying some esquite, and finally getting a flower crown. Then, I was penniless, almost literally. I realized too late that I should probably tip my trajinera punter, but he didn't seem to expect one. :(



Also, I'm pretty sure I saw a dead body. As we neared the dock, I spotted a man lying in the bottom of one of the boats moored toward the very end of the dock, his face covered with a hat. True to form, the kid bumped our boat into the one the man was resting in. The guy didn't move, confirming my suspicions. I've seen a dead person in public before, on the subway in New York, but it was still unsettling - life and death side by side in Mexico.



While the stalls lining the dock had fun and colorful souvenirs, being short on cash made me nervous, so after a quick (paid) stop at a nearby restroom, I walked straight back to the Tren Ligero. I ended up giving my card, with 94 pesos still on it, to a policeman at the other end, after swiping the card and showing him the balance, saying "mira", "accidente," and "quieres?"

That evening I watched Mexico beat the Canadian soccer team over several tacos, another Michelada, and a ridiculously large Margarita at La Cervecería de Barrio on Avenida Juarez, and despaired as my own team struggled with Guatemala. (#klinsmannout) It was a nice ending to a wonderful trip. Mexico City is such an underrated destination; hopefully these posts give you some idea of how much so!

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