Hello dear readers,
I’m here to tell you about one of the most “mexican” experiences I’ve had to date. It didn’t involve guacamole (which is really not much of a thing here) but it did involve canals, tequila, mariachi bands, and my housemates. I spent Saturday cruising around the canals of Xochimilco in a trajinera, a covered boat that doubles as a floating party for chilangos of all ages. One of my housemate’s mom was visiting from Brazil and she and her boyfriend, who is Mexican decided to organize a trip. There’s a set price per hour (jokes there is a set price posted but everyone pays far less than that thanks to endless haggling) so the more the merrier. Basically, all of mexico city used to a be a series of lakes that the Aztecs partially filled in to build their cities. They planted crops on the canals on floating plots called chinampas. Most of the canals are filled in now but Xochimilco, about an hour from where I live, in the south of the city is the last remaining series canals. The area also has a lot of the city’s agriculture and is the place to buy planting materials, flowers and crafts. We arrived to the embarcadero around 4 and I was surprised to find basically an outdoor mall. There’s food, booze and crafts for sale, though of course you can bring all of those things from home. We grabbed food from one of the stalls (first time eating street food other than fruit and I’m still alive) and the boys (who took the subway cause there wasn’t room in the car) picked up booze and mixers on the way. Of course, if we had neglected to fuel and shop, we could have purchased almost anything from one of the floating rafts that swims besides the trajineras selling everything from mega micheladas to esquites to quesadillas. Seeing a floating raft with a full grill and a tortilla press alongside your boat is quite a surprise and really brings the term informal economy to life. After eating we boarded our boat where you can rent a speaker that works with any phone and your paddler gets going.
Floating along the canals, I heard mariachi music (there are music boats that charge by the song and we haggled with them to perform a mexican song that everyone mexican on the boat sang along to), sounds from other boats, a combination of english, spanish and portuguese and light rain at times. I saw plant shops offering access to their bathroom for 5 pesos, a brilliant business arrangement, and little side canals that I can imagine people selling goods on hundreds of years ago. We ate esquites, corn kernels with lime and salt and queso fresco purchased from a boat and black beans and chips while sipping on tequila and fresca. I observed all sorts of groups, multiple generations of the same family, celebrating some event, birthday parties, big groups that tied two trajineras together and even one couple who had a whole boat to themselves, not very romantic when you consider the lack of privacy in a crowded canals. For Penn people, picture a totally inverse version of Owls brunch. You start off a little skeptical and focus on the people watching but then you’re dancing and enjoying the whole experience. We got home well after ten pm and fell asleep quickly after (I’m lying, I watched orange is the new black) but I am so so grateful that I was able to take a ride on these boats. It was fun, it was communal and it’s something that I could never have imagined on my summer calendar.
Don’t take my word for it though, it’s picture time:
Lastly (a new thing I’m trying to add), IF YOU GO
-Bring small change (bathrooms cost 5 pesos and a lot of the food stalls don’t have change).
-Bring water because that’s always more expensive and harder to come by than you think.
-Haggle the “listed price.” When I was there, the listed price was 350 but I think we paid a little over 200 per hour and an extra hour was cheaply arranged with our paddler.
-Put your bag/valuables on the center table not on the chair on the edge. There are a lot of boats surrounding you and it’s good to be cautious.
-Be friendly! Boats will be very close together, especially around bathroom stops so it’s polite to toast with someone or even climb over to say hi.
-Obviously drink responsibly. We saw a few people who had overdone it and while being mildly drunk on a boat is quite fun, being too drunk on a boat would be acutely miserable, I imagine.