Arriving at the Xochimilco canals was like seeing an explosion of Skittle colors — a rainbow piñata of boats. Rows and rows of trajineras (gondolas) waiting for hundred of passengers which would no doubt be arriving shortly. Each doned a unique name; Viva Lupita, Margarita, Carmelita…
Ms. Julietta was waiting to take me on a ride.
Xochimilco lies 17 miles south of Mexico City and is best known for its network of canals and chinampas (artificial islands). This canal system attracts locals and tourists alike to take a leisurely ride on the colorful boats, manned by quiet gondoliers.
It’s like Venice, but not really.
We were here with Go Eat Give, a nonprofit organization dedicated to merging culture, culinary and volunteerism with travel. This was going to be quite a bit of culture immersion, with a dash of culinary.
The trajineras were stacked back to back and side by side, we had to walk through one to get to the next. Each boat had seats for about twenty passengers and our group filled them all. We departed down the long channel, slowly being pushed with a thick, long stick.
It was a busy day on the water, at times a traffic jam of trajineras.
Other vessels passed us along the way, some carrying families who were celebrating a members cumpleaños (birthday) and others packing college students enjoying a day away from studying. There was dancing, singing and laughing aboard them all.
A trajinera filled with a lively mariachi band pulled up along side of the Ms. Julietta and offered to entertain us for peso tips, we graciously obliged. They belted out powerful Mexican folk music that could be heard all along the canal.
It was turning into a party on Ms. Julietta.
Vendors on their small canoes passed up by, peddling flowered head bands, blankets, glasses of micheladas (beer bloody mary) and elotes (corn on the cob). It’s hard to pass up an ear of grilled corn slathered in a creamy chili and lime sauce with cheese, it’s a classic Mexican street food or in this case ‘water food’.
Our lunch was catered by a local restaurant and brought on board prior to departure. Mariachis played in the background as we ate soft tortillas frilled with refried beans, peppers and cheese. A plate of very addictive chicharrones (fried pork rinds) was passed around and cervezas were plentiful.
We had all the essentials of the perfect day — friends, music, food and beer.
After a couple hours we returned to the dock, where souvenir shops in the mercado area waited for our purchases. I skipped the shopping and headed straight for the the Danza de los Voladores (dance of the flyers) show that was happening in a courtyard nearby. This Mesoamerican dance ceremony, consists of flyers climbing to the top of a 30-meter pole. Secured by ropes they then launch themselves to the ground, mesmerizingly spinning around the pole all the way to the bottom.
I got dizzy just watching.
You can negotiate with the boat owners upon arrival or arrange your trip through your hotel. If you do not make prior arrangements, arrive early as they tend to get very busy. A boat ride should cost around $350 pesos ($21 USD) per hour for the entire boat, not per person. If you want to save a little money, you can bring your own food or a picnic.