While Paolo borrows Naomi’s bike to ride around the city (with pitstops for a screening of Rogue One and a few cervecitas), Naomi, Ocho and I head off on our own adventure.
A 90-minute journey by metro and light rail brings us to Xochimilco, the magical neighborhood where you can rent a trajinera to cruise the canals that once occupied much of present-day Mexico City. There’s floating food stalls, floating Mariachi Bands, places to buy plants and a general air of holiday levity every day of the week.
We hire a gondalier named Julio Vallarta who’s been steering trajineras through these waters for 30 years. First order of business: procuring a giant bottle of beer that will keep him “fuerte” for the duration of the trip. Because we’re not just cruising the canals today; we’re going to the mystical Isla de las Munecas.
Right at the 8-trajinera party flotilla, left at the gaggle of ducks, disembark while the boat goes through a little rusty lock powered by an unseen hand (“Panama Canal!” Sr. Vallarta yells over and over.”), and then into the quiet canals of the nature preserve where there are tree nurseries and snow white cranes and old timers steering boats and graceful trees on floating gardens. Dogs bark, rats scurry. Heart of Darkness meets African Queen.
At last we reach our destination. A man greets us and tells us the story of his uncle Don Julian Santana Barrera, a drowned girl, the dolls gathered and displayed to soothe the dead girl’s ghost and the death of Julian in 2001 at the same spot where the girl drowned so many years before. Whether the tale is fact or fiction, the hundreds of dolls definitely possess some intense juju!