The word “overwhelming” doesn’t do much to express the breadth of life here in Mexico’s capital. I experienced another facet of the city today in the form of Xochimilco (so-chee-MIL-co), a borough with roots stretching back thousands of years to some of the area’s first inhabitants.
A floating agrarian neighbourhood, it’s made up of islands divided by canals and plied by flat-bottomed canoes, as well as colourful party boats called “trajineras.” I’m not exactly clear as to how this oasis of pre-Hispanic civilization remains, surrounded on all sides by the largest city in the Spanish-speaking world, but I’m just going to add that to the long list of questions I have about this place. It grows by the hour.
Most Mexicans and tourists who visit Xochimilco do so on board trajineras, long boats equipped with tables, benches, and occasionally mariachi bands. There are few motorized boats here, and the trajinera captains stoically pilot their ships using long gondolier-style poles. My hosts, Caroline and Alvaro, offered me this option for our visit, but added that if interested we could also borrow a canoe from the adjacent sports club and paddle ourselves around. .
After some lunch of many delicious Mexican things (guacamole, tortillas, avocado-mango salsa, quesillo, amazing tiny chilies) we set out in the canoe. The fields on either side of the canals are full of produce, and the edges home to many herons and egrets. The waters themselves are murky brown and polluted. Among the clusters of aquatic plants were plastic bags, empty bottles, a half-submerged TV, and at least one large dead dog, floating belly up, feet in the air. Despite this, it’s an incredibly beautiful, peaceful place, a stark contrast to the traffic and dirt of Mexico City proper. I could have easily spent the day on the water, paddling from island to island, watching the birds and farmers, the faint sounds of a mariachi band occasionally floating over the canal.