2015 APR – LAKE XOCHIMILCO

Traffic jamb on the lake - note the people's names on the banners in front of the rafts

Traffic jamb on the lake – note the people’s names on the banners in front of the rafts

The ancient Lake Xochimilco (So-chim-ilco) is within the city boundaries of Mexico City. The lake’s freshwater springs attracted various cultures over the centuries but it really came into its own when the Aztecs arrived around 1430. They took advantage of the shallow lake and started serious farming.

The Aztecs piled mud on reed mats and farmed on these man made floating gardens. Eventually the floating reed bed system became really extensive and as more and more mud was piled on top, the reed beds became artificial islands.

Today, while the lake itself no longer exists, over the decades its miles of canals that the Aztecs used for irrigation of their farms has been completely enclosed and surrounded by suburbia.

The ORIGINAL use of the canals - a woman selling her fresh flowers

The ORIGINAL use of the canals – a woman selling her fresh flowers

The most famous use of the lake was the Chinampa gardens where flowers were tended and vegetables were harvested. These were sold to people living in the region, using the extensive canal system to get around.

There are as many vendor boats as passenger rafts, all adding to the melee

Today there are as many vendor boats as passenger and flower rafts, all adding to the melee

When the Spanish destroyed the canal system in the 1500’s this effectively ended this way of life, however, there are still a few Chinamperos who tend their Chinampa gardens and sell their flowers.

The lake has become the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered salamander, the Axolotl. It is regarded as important to science as it can re-grow severed limbs.

The AXOLOTL                    copyright http://southerncrossreview.org/73/axolotl.html

The AXOLOTL
copyright http://southerncrossreview.org/73/axolotl.html

It’s a strange looking little creature and is struggling to survive in the canals which are becoming more and more polluted by the crowds that visit Xochimilco.
In 1998 about 6,000 salamanders per kilometers were found.
In 2003 the count had dropped to 1,000.
In 2008 the number was down to just 100.
By end of 2013 it was believed that no salamanders had survived in their natural habitat, however in February 2014 a research team did find two salamanders in the lake, after weeks of searching.

The Axolotl is a slimy little fellow with a mouth that appears to curve in a smile. It grows up to a foot long and “walks” on the bottom. It also uses its tail to propel itself forward.

Dancing to the music

Dancing to the music

Today this place is a very popular recreational place for Mexican families, lovers, and honeymooners who all come to spend the day. Brightly painted colorful trajineros take tourists and families for boat trips on the remaining canals. These flat bottomed rafts are ideally suited to move on the shallow waters.

Fun chaos on the water

Fun chaos on the water

The raft owners will decorate their rafts with your name so that people can recognize your party. In the old days they blazed your name using flowers, but today they simply write your name on a banner and hang it from the front of the raft. Nevertheless it is still an enchanting idea.

We spent the Sunday at the lake and rented a raft for a trip down one of the remaining canals. The canal is a veritable traffic jamb of flat bottomed rafts, with rafts crashing into each other and forcing their way forward.

A mariachi band will jump on your raft and entertain you

A mariachi band will jump on your raft and entertain you

Adding to the chaos are rafts of Mariachi bands that for a fee will float alongside your raft and entertain you. Some rafts hire the Mariachis for the duration of their event on their raft (birthday or wedding, etc) and they sing along lustily with the band.

I didn’t know that one doesn’t dance to the music of mariachi band. One sings along with them. The band sings historic songs, not pop songs, of which everyone knows the words and can sing along. Or the mariachi will sing a song about an event, say a lost battle, or a death in the family, and everyone listens sadly.
But no dancing.
If you want to dance on your raft you would hire a pop band, many of which are also floating along the canal.

Other rafts contain vendors selling food that is freshly cooked on their floating kitchen, as you watch.

Hot from the kitchen on the water, to your mouth

Hot from the kitchen on the water, to your mouth

Other rafts moving alongside sell everything from dolls, hats, and arts and crafts of every kind.

A vendor raft of goodies for sale

A vendor raft of goodies for sale

It was amusing to see a band of dogs sitting patiently on the banks of the canal waiting for passersby to throw them scraps of food. They had obviously sussed out the canal banks and picked their prime spot because about 8 of them sat patiently on the banks and didn’t move away in all the time we were there.

Dogs patiently waiting for a tossed tidbit

Dogs patiently waiting for a tossed tidbit

In 1987 Lake Xochimilco became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

 

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