When anybody asks what they should do when visiting Mexico City, my favorite suggestion is always, “Go to Xochimilco!” Or, better said, ride a trajinera in Xochimilco. What’s a trajinera, you ask? Stick with me.
Prehispanic City Planning
Xochimilco is on the very south side of the city. Its claim to fame are the canals that still exist there. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Mexico City was a floating city, much like Venice. When the region was settled, those living in the area built it, quite literally, from the ground up. They made rafts out of reeds, raked mud out of the lake bottom, put it on top of the rafts, and eventually made thousands of man-made islands. This was Mexico City in its hey-day. The streets were canals.
Then the Spanish arrived, drained the lake, and put their medieval city planning to work (the kind of city planning where people dumped their trash out their window so it could rot on the street). We’re still wishing the Spanish had listened to Moctezuma’s city planners. Sure, go on with your world domination, but for pity’s sake, keep the lake!
Anyway, the canals and floating islands (which will now be referred to as chinampas) still exist in Xochimilco. The flat-bottomed boats (which will now be referred to as trajineras) can be rented by the hour and are a huge tourist draw. So much so that the docks, canals, and trajineras at Nativitas are getting a bit icky.
De La Chinampa Tour
When my sister-in-law suggested that we take a tour with a company recommended to her by someone at the Waldorf school she works for, leaving from docks a bit farther south from Nativitas, we said, “sign us up!”
And what a tour we had!
First of all, it was a 5-hour tour. Lunch and drinks were provided. The lion’s share of the lunch came right from fields grown on chinampas right in Xochimilco. The whole point of this company (delachinampa.mx) is to promote the organic products grown on these small farms in Xochimilco. Our tour guide said that only 2% of the fields in Xochimilco are currently being cultivated. If that figure were increased so that a mere 10% of the fields were being used, they claim that the entire population of Mexico City could be fed from products produced on that land. Just imagine the positive environmental impact that could have!
Furthermore, they believe in selling produce at a living wage. Most fruits and vegetables in Mexico are taken to a central de abastos. The central de abastos then sells fruits and vegetables wholesale to those who have fruit/vegetable stores, stalls in markets, corner stores, etc. The central de abastos sets the prices. Even if it costs a farmer 10 pesos to produce a kilo of carrots, the central de abastos can say (and often does), “we’re buying these carrots at 3 pesos a kilo–take it or leave it.” And farmers have to take it. There isn’t much of anywhere else to sell to.
Yes, De La Chinampa’s produce is considerably more expensive than other produce found elsewhere in the city. But it’s an investment. And if it catches on, it’s an investment that would reap huge dividends for everyone.
So if you live in Mexico City, think about getting together with friends, family, and neighbors and having some organic, Mexico City-grown produce delivered right to your house. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that community sponsored agriculture existed in Mexico City.
But if it catches on, wild dreams could come true!
How to Get There
The DeLaChinampa Tour leaves from the docks at Cuemanco (Periferico Sur, Sin Número, to the side of the Olympic rowing training center). It takes visitors through a ecologically protected zone, making it a more peaceful and refreshing time than the boats that leave from Xochimilco’s city center.
Truth be told, DeLaChinampa’s tours are on the pricey side. They are an educational tour–you’ll learn much more than on a regular, chartered tour, they do feed their passengers, and it supports a worthwhile project. But if the price is prohibitive, trajineras can be chartered at Cuemanco by just talking with people on the docks. It looks like prices are $400 per hour (per boat, as of April 2018) but that’s subject to change.
At Cuemanco (and, I believe, the other docks) the price is set. The trajinera owners have formed a union and the prices are posted. It used to be that haggling was the norm–not anymore. Despite that, do tip the man who rows you around the canals–he’s unlikely to own the trajinera, and he works his butt of (well, his arms) to make sure his passengers have a pleasant time. Also, if your Spanish is good enough, be sure to pick your trajinera driver’s head and ask him lots of questions. I’ve found that they’re all very knowledgeable and love to explain Xochimilco to interested passengers.
However, most people ride the canals for a unique scene for a party, so the trajinera rowers do stay quiet if they get a boatload who is not interested in learning about the area.
This website lists a variety of docks in Xochimilco (with their addresses). So if you find yourself in Mexico City, do yourself a favor and take a trajinera ride in Xochimilco!
I’m participating in the South of the Border Bloggers’ A-Z Challenge. This post gives us the letter X!
Disclaimer: I am NOT receiving any monetary compensation for advertising DelaChinampa. I truly think they’re a fabulous organization and more people should know about them.