My first trip to Mexico was with my friends Jazz and Liesl. Waking early in the capital one morning, we faced the heat and set out by subway for Xochimilco. On the way, we were serenaded by a group of musicians performing on the train, with every set of eyes in the carriage on us. Arriving at the embarcadero, we stood in awe at the rainbow of brightly colored boats we found ourselves surrounded by. With names like Rosita, Lupita, Magnolia and Teresita, the long boats were decorated with hand-painted lettering.
The waters of Xochimilco form a series of canals, where flat-bottomed boats called trajineras have negotiated the waters for hundreds of years. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, floating down the canals is a Sunday institution for locals in Mexico City. Frida Kahlo even used to spend her time there. We arranged a private boat and gondolier for ourselves, setting off into the floating markets.
The sun was shining as merchants paddled up next to us, offering all kinds of wares – from tacos, toffee apples and corn on the grill, to dazzling sombreros, fresh flowers and embroidered ponchos. A lady made us micheladas, a spicy local beer; artfully popping Victoria lids off with a soda bottle, in a motion suggesting she’d done it a million times before. Sipping our drinks, we passed homes and nurseries on the banks that somehow defied the water level.
Arriving early, it was quiet on the canals – but the longer we spent, the more festive the atmosphere became. Families appeared, shopping for toys and listening to xylophone players with their small children. Huge groups celebrated birthdays with loud music and chatter, waving at us as they passed. We hailed a mariachi band ourselves and were treated to an incredibly memorable performance.
Wearing matching outfits, the band joined their boat with ours and the lead singer climbed aboard. They continued to sing and play throughout our entire interaction, from the moment they sidled up beside us, posed for photos, accepted their 100 pesos and floated away again. I loved that the lively mariachis put so much effort into their outfits and yet their gondolier wore tracksuit pants. A brilliant contrast, and only one of many during our magical day in Mexican Venice.