Xochimilco and la Isla de las Muñecas

Published: April 10th 2014
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We got an early start this morning so we could have a full day to enjoy the ride. Everyone showed up at the house promptly and we loaded up the food, drinks, and kids into the van. We managed to fit 15 of us into the minivan which is no record for Mexico but it was a personal best for me. I cringed at the thought of all the children wedged into the back cargo area. Our daughters sat in the middle row on our laps. I had already messaged one of the trajinera companiesin Xochimilco so we knew which embarcadero we were headed for, the very last one it turns out, Embarcadero Nativitas. They offered us a discount, the boat ride all the way out to the Island of the Dolls for 1350$ pesos. The boats are called trajineras and they each have a capacity of 20 people plus the operator. They are rented out by the hour up to the maximum capacity. In the afternoons, they do have a couple boats that will take on individuals for 100$ each. We were met in the parking lot by our guide who brought us to the trajinera. There were 10 chairs on each side of a long table that ran the length of the boat. They loaded a plastic half barrel to use as an ice cooler and offered to run to the local store and buy the beer and ice for us which we were happy to request. It was fairly quiet still since we have arrived early around 11am. After everything was loaded, we were on our way.

The boat isn't powered by any type of motor. The operator pushes us along using a long pole so you can imagine how exhausted the poor man must be after a five hour boat ride! I felt a little sorry for him considering how many of us there were. The kids spent most of the time in the bow of the boat with their own sticks paddling in the water. Speaking of which, it is your typical Mexican canal water, laden with every imaginable pollution and yet a whole community lives and thrives here in this system of canals. There are hundreds of vendors floating up and down the canals peddling their wares like elote (20$), micheladas, caramelized apples/popcorn/chips (15$), potted plants and flowers, souvenirs, and everything in between.

It was very relaxing, the weather was perfect, and there was enough room for everyone to spread out without being cramped. The operator said that people don't usually request to go all the way out to the island since there are embarcaderos that are closer to the island. There is a mock island of dolls in the general tourist area but it doesn't compare at all to the true island.

There were various boats carrying the complete mariachi band with members in full mariachi dress. They come with a pretty price tag too, 100$ per song, but it fits the tourist bill. The tourism here is a nice blend of Americans and middle class Mexicans. When one song equals an average day's wage, you know that it is targeted for the tourists and not the commoners. We elected to go with the floating musicians who offered 4 songs for the same price and the ladies were able to talk them into playing 5 songs for us for the same price. Everyone was dancing on the front bow of the boat and having a great time! The non dancers sat back in the chairs with a cold drink in hand and sang along, if we knew the words.

On the way out to the island, the boat had to be lifted over the concrete walls to the next canal. The operator pushed the boat onto the submerged platform, everyone climbed out and walked across while the boat was lifted up, and moved over to the other side before it was lowered back into the water.

There are "rest areas" set up along the canals so people can disembark, use the facilities, buy sodas and food, relax, and get back on the boat. It was 5$ to use the toilet and use the bucket of water to flush it. I wonder how many foreign tourists haven't figured that part out yet. There were four young teenagers who were diving off another boat and swimming in these lovely waters. We also found three young boats who were fishing in the canal too using a stick and string with tortilla on the hook. We were marred to the side of the canal while we waited for our operator to refill the beer bucket so they asked if they could come abroad and fish from the bow. I'm not sure what they were planning on doing with the fish if they caught any.

La isla de las muñecas was everything that I had anticipated when we reached it. There were hundreds of dolls in all stages of unlife strung up all over the island. The legend is that a young girl was found drowned near the island. Don Julian Santana collected the dolls to appease her spirit and protect himself. He collected dolls and was given them by people from all around. Ironicaly, he was found drowned in the same area some fifty years later... There was an additional charge to get on the island and walk around but we decided to skip that. Only one of the younger girls with us was crying and hiding in her mom's shirt but she doesn't like dolls in the first place. Everyone else was standing on the edge of the boat examining all the dolls.

On the way back, the canals are lined with plant nurseries. Some even have boats floating around with small potted plants that you can buy. I asked our operator to pull up beside one that had some beautiful lilies I had noticed on our way out. I was able to get two lilies for 30$ each and an Indian Paintbrush for the girls for only 10$. I wish I could get a truckload of flowers to take home.

All in all, I'd say we had a great trip and I look forward to returning again. I don't think we'll do the long trip out to the island again but I definitely think we'll do the shorter 3 hour ride around the canals and celebrate a birthday or something. They even try two boats side by side so you can have up to 40 guests, that sounds about right for us! Next time we'll bring the stereo, bbq, and lots more food and drinks. Salud!

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