My friend's fiance, Sergio, drove us south to Xochimilco , a district of Mexico City that claims to have the last few remaining canals of Lake Texcoco and its pre-Columbian floating gardens or chinampas built by the Aztecs.
Xochimilco is touted as the Mexican Venice. Its 180-kilometer tree-lined canals are plied by brightly colored and flower-decked trajineras, the local equivalent of the gondola and the amphibious cousin of the Philippine jeepney, complete with female names and the occasional religious praises distinguishing one from the other. We boarded one that had a long yellow picnic table and yellow chairs. There were 12 of us, it could have accommodated a few more. We were provided with a big tub of ice packed with beer, assorted sodas and juice for the journey.
As the boatman expertly guided us out from the crowded dock and into the waterway, I sat back and let the experience delight my senses. We glided gracefully past private houses along the bank, reminded me of those homes along the canals near Camden L. Vendors approached us on their own punts selling everything from jewelry to candied apples, corn, toys, ponchos, and, of course, flowers.
Xochimilco means "place where flowers grow" in the Nahuatl language. We cruised past other trajineras carrying picnicking families, tour groups, couples on dates and marimba musicians. Then there were the mariachis! Two different groups serenaded us. They attached their boat to ours and entertained us for $6.00 per song. The first group did just that, played for us from their boat. It was fun but not as fun as the second group! There were more of them, seven to be exact, six men and one woman. They called themselves Mariachi Mexico Juvenil de Luis Alberto Bustos. (Yes, exactly that. I have their business card – La Guantanamera, La Negra Tomasa, La Cucaracha and my personal all-time favorite Cielito Lindo, aaaaaayayayay!
Without warning, the strangest sight appeared before us. There on the bank was a vision that would have spooked even Stephen King. Dolls were hanging on the trees, some with limbs torn off, mostly naked, many in ragged clothes, limply hanging by the neck, heads of the dolls lodged onto ends of branches, in various states of disarray. No one had an explanation for it, not Sergio, not the boatman, not any of us. We were stumped. I thought maybe it was a Halloween thing, it was October 31, after all.
As I was typing this, I decided to google what we saw. Who knows, right? Well, lo and behold, I found an explanation! Apparently, it's calledLa Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls). The story goes that the island was haunted by a spirit soon after a little girl had drowned nearby. Don Julian, the previous caretaker, hung a doll on a tree to appease her ghost. News spread, more dolls were sent by people from around the world. Don Julian's family is carrying on the tradition at present. Where's Chucky?
Read more of Christine's journey at her blog.