We packed it in. After a Sunday morning at Casa Azul followed by seeing the largest private collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings at the Museo Dolores Olmedo, we took an UBER (safe, easy, the only way to get around in Mexico City, despite USA negatives) to the Embarcadero de Nativitas in Xochimilco for a boat ride on the last Aztec canals in Mexico City.
Sunday is definitely the day to go. You get the full experience of what it is like to party on the trajineras — the flat bottom boat that can hold huge families,
plus an entourage of mariachis playing guitars, trumpets, accordions and violins.
It’s almost like riding a gondola in Venice, Italy. Maybe better. Much more colorful.
Sometimes families bring their own cook and the smell and smoke of grilling meats pervades the waterways. Sometimes families bring their own beer and the bottles pile up for the longer rides through the canals.
It is festive, relaxing and the quintessential Mexican experience. Is it touristy? Yes. But, it’s also real because locals do this as part of birthdays, anniversaries, and any other excuse to have a celebration.
Sometimes, you see two trajineras tethered together, so groups of forty or more can jump between boats, dance, sing and generally carouse. Children find their entertainment, too, relaxing in the sun, playing games, and dancing along with the adults. Just being together.
The rate is fixed per boat: 350 pesos per hour. We went out for two hours and the next time, I think being out on a four-hour excursion would be better.
Then, we could get into the more remote areas where birds and flowers are more prevalent than people.
Hungry? A small boat will pull up and entrepreneurial vendors will sell you grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili and lime juice. Thirsty? Beer and soft drinks are delivered the same way.
Want a souvenir? Buy a fake flower crown in any color of the rainbow. Need a pit stop? Clean facilities offer service for five pesos.
On the return trip to the docking area, we had a traffic jam. Boats jammed up against each other, unable to move.
The gondoliers doing a ballet of pushing the long stick into the muck and against the next boat to jockey into a clear passageway.
Sometimes, they jumped boats to help each other out. Muscles straining, taut. Bodies at forty-five degree angles to the water.
I never heard a curse, only the sound of laughter and music from the party-goers, only too happy to spend extra time on the water as the boatmen sorted it out.
Xochimilco is the last remaining vestige of what the lake region looked like during the Aztec period, pre-Conquest 1521.
This is how people got around from one island to the next. The people who live here still do. They are gardeners, growers of fruits and vegetables. It used to be that not too long ago the boats were covered in fresh flowers. Today, they are adorned with painted wood.
The next time you are in Mexico City, allow yourself at least a half-day to enjoy this respite from city life. Perhaps I’ll spend my next birthday here, hire a mariachi band and dance the afternoon away.
For now, I’m at my other home in North Carolina, enjoying August heat and humidity, and the comfort of friends.