Dispatches From Mexico City: Finding The Network

Author: Ty Trumbull
Author: Ty Trumbull

One of my favorite places to visit in Mexico City is Xochimilco. Broadly speaking, Xochimilco is a neighborhood in the south of the city. But when most people talk about the area they’re referring to the canal system that makes it famous.

Boats painted in bright colors, called trajineras, float past man-made islands, or chinampas. The system has existed since prehispanic times and during the Aztec period was the main transportation method.

The area is famous to tourists and locals alike. Revelers board the boats on a regular basis to drink cervezas and sing along to the mariachi bands that float by. You can buy the local drink, pulque or the Mexican version of corn on the cob, elote.

It’s a lot of fun.

A Sight To See

We had a good excuse to visit this past weekend as friends were visiting from Canada. So we filled up the cooler, loaded everyone into an Uber and made the trip south.

As you pull into the parking lot of the embarcadero (pier) you see hundreds of people milling about, drinking beer and enjoying the afternoon sun. Hundreds of brightly colored boats, each with individual names, are lined up in the water.

You negotiate the price of your trip with the pilotos. The young men who push the gondola-like boats are unusually strong thanks to their job. They propel the boats through the water by pushing giant poles against the riverbed.

Our group decided to take the four-hour trip. The middle of our excursion would stop at Isla de las Muñecas or Island of the Dolls. That’s an interesting story in of itself. In short, the legend says that a loner farmer found a drowned girl in the water off his chinampa. He began hanging dolls around the island to protect him from her spirit. Over years visitors have brought more dolls to the island. He died in 2001. They say it happened in the same spot where he found the girl.


Staying Connected

We made our way through the canals, bumping into other trajineras along the way. I began to wonder what the place looked like in Aztec times.

These water routes were the main way of transporting goods. They were essentially networks, long before the digital networks we use today. I’d bet it wasn’t just produce being shipped around either. The news was a valuable commodity in the past, and it likely flowed from town to town as freely as the food.

These canals kept people and communities connected. A lot like the Internet and sites like ChannelE2E do today.

In the distance, you could see the mountains surrounding the city. The volume of laughter increased as the pulques were drunk. And stories were passed around as the sun began to set.

As a society, we talk a lot about how new technology is revolutionizing the world. And that’s probably true. But the ideas that lie underneath that tech, the base concepts, those are much older than we sometimes realize.