Finding fun at the tourist madness of Xochimilco

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Xochimilco – a quintessential tourist trap, in which a non-mexican will likely get lost in and pay dearly for each and every step around it.  It is crowdy, loud and saturated in seasoned sellers of just about everything.  I would have never come here. Period.

But when the opportunity came up to do it with the locals, the way they actually enjoy it (and they do), we jumped with two feet in.

The trip down to Xochimilco from DF is not a short one. First the metro line to the end, then another train to the end, then about 20 min walk to the lake. Then a walk through the food area, where you can lose even more time. Tacos, quesadillas, refreshments of great variety make it hard not to stop. I decided to try the barbacoa, which is not a barbeque at all, but lamb cooked in a hole in the ground until its falling off the bone.

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The flavour is great, but the Mexicans rarely bother to clean up the meat and I had a few hard bits in my tacos.

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Another great delicacy that comes all the way from the Aztecs is corn truffle. In not so romantic terms, it is fungus that infects the corn cobs and is now used productively. The taste is unsurprisingly earthy and not dissimilar to a mushroom, although the appearance is, well, judge for yourselves.

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Full and loaded with drinks we loaded the trajinera, the long decorated boat that holds 25 people.

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Food is never far away, it just floats by your boat and waits to be ordered.

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The channels are crazy in a calm sort of way. Lots of bumping, pushing and shoving. The men that drive the boats swing the long woods around and masterfully drift around the madness.

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Mariachi bands float on smaller boats and wait to be hired for entertainment. Then they either jump on your trajinera and perform, or just kind of attach to it and play their seductive tunes. They add the exotic cherry on top of the experience.

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Frequent stops for bathroom breaks and possibility of buying ice creams and drinks make sure everything goes smoothly and the drinking public is relieved accordingly ;)

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These areas were the food gardens of the old Aztec capital. Floating on this lake, they were an important clog in the workings of the city. After the Spanish occupied, things slowly started to decline and today its hard, but not impossible to image what it must have been like in its heyday. People still grow flowers and keep houses on the banks of the channels, but it is this boat tourism that keeps it all going.

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The air is filled by the music that pulsates from each boat. Ours is no different and by now the beer has had time to loosen the voice cords and dancing is bobbing us along the water. In few hours I am sure we got acquainted with all the popular songs amongst the youth of Mexico. And it was gooood.

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So, you are inspired and want to do it? Here is my advice of how to, if you want to make the best of it and get out of their happy and deeply satisfied.

Don’t go by yourself. Find a group – you can share the cost of the trajinera with them and you will not feel like a lone bore amongst the crowded noisy groups around you.

Preferably find a group of locals – go on Couchsurfing, search on expat forums etc. It will minimize the risk of being overcharged (official price is 350 pesos an hour) and will save you a lot of trouble of choosing and finding a boat.

Bring some food and drinks – yes, there are things available on the boats, but there are cheaper and better options before. The locals bring picnic baskets and we even saw a few of them had a barbeque on their boat.

Have music – our group had organized speakers and used phones to dj the experience.

Have the right expectations – this is not a refined experience. This is no Venice. It is a few hours of crazy, loud, bumpy riding amidst colorful boats and eating and drinking Mexican families and young people.

It is only calm at the end of the business day ;)

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It has to be one of the funnest ways we have spent $9 so far. It is as well a proof that sometimes and under certain circumstances, we can find enjoyment even in the biggest tourist traps.