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Mexico Travel - Xochimilco
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THE FAMOUS FLOATING GARDENS OF XOCHIMILCO ARE often included in the trip to Cuernavaca, but they are well worth a separate visit. The best day for Xochimilco is Saturday, market day, when the open square is lined with luxuriant displays of flowers and attractive grass mats, the local specialty.
Xochimilco can be reached either by tram or by bus from the Zocalo. The tram ride is interesting and fairly comfortable, but the bus ride is far from satisfactory. The tram route parallels the main road from Mexico City to Xochimilco, passing the Country Club on the way and a pretty section of the country. Of course, an excellent way to travel is by automobile, but this is rather expensive, for you will have to keep the machine waiting during your sightseeing tour to bring you home.
It is customary to start out on the excursion in the morning and have lunch at one of the restaurants at Xochimilco. Either the Moctezuma or the new Carta Blanca is pleasant for lunch. If you are making the trip by automobile, you can go directly to either one of these restaurants and hire your boat there. If you are going out by tram, you will find men waiting at the tram line to guide you down to the boats. The average rate for a boat is from 2 to 3 pesos an hour, but it is well to arrange a definite price with the boatman before you start.
In Xochimilco there is a huge church containing some excellent pieces of sculpture and several impressive-looking altars, but there are so many other interesting things to see here, that you can well afford to omit the church on this excursion. Just glance at the sculptures over the entrance as you go by. They are exceptionally fine.
Xochimilco is generally called "The Floating Gardens," although a more accurate translation is "The Place of the Flowers.". Many years ago, it is said, the Indians made a floating garden by floating large mats, covered with thin layers of earth, on the water of the great lake, of which Xochimilco is today the only remaining section. But, in the course of the centuries, trees grew on these floating islands, the roots anchored them to the bottom of the lake, and now it is a district of islands among canals. It is about as lovely as anything you will ever see. Xochimilco was formerly a playground of the Aztec nobles, and even today the Indian boatmen and gardeners the Aztec language and preserve to some extent the Aztec culture.
The flowers are most abundant in February and July, but at almost any time there is plenty to see. Your first impression of the gardens will undoubtedly be that they are just another commercial venture, for when you leave the landing stage, you will be literally bombarded by musicians rowing up beside your canoe and wanting to play to you, photographers insisting on taking your picture, and flower vendors trying to sell you posies. Once you have managed to get past them, you can go on to one of the most delightful excursions you have probably ever taken anywhere. Your boatman will pole your canoe slowly through the canals at an average rate of speed of about two miles an hour, or less, under bridges reminiscent of Venice, and through backyards!
The inhabitants of Xochimilco are as charming and delightful as the gardens. Small boys splash in the canal just as they do anywhere in the world, and as you sail through these narrow, winding waterways, glimpses of the natives working in their backyards, in their gardens, or in front of their little houses, greet you on all sides.
As a special treat, I suggest that you hire a large canoe with a table in the center. You can either bring your own box lunch or buy hot foods and cold drinks from one of the floating lunch carts in canoes that ply the canals. If you like, for a few centavos, a marimba orchestra, also in canoes, will follow alongside your canoe and play to you while you are having lunch.
The whole setting is exquisitely romantic-the fresh flowers, the fragrant odors, the sentimental Mexican airs. Except for the occasional music, the place is delightfully quiet. (No motorboats are permitted on the waters.)