We decided to give ourselves and our legs a break from our continuous walking. An Uber was the ideal mode of transport to take us further south of Mexico City to the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. Our Uber driver dropped us off at the marketplace, about a 15 minute walk from the dock of the canals and we instantly felt like fish out of water. Unbeknown to us this area is a tourist trap and right now in Xochimilco there is no one that looks more like tourists than us. I stumble frantically on google maps, trying to figure out the correct direction to the docks, but it is so easy to walk around in circles here and it’s really difficult to navigate through the torn up lanes with no names. We are approached by a man on a bike, he is wearing an official badge around his neck, at first we brush off his advances to follow him then after short deliberations we decide he might be the only way we can discover this attraction.
He guides us to a beaten up bikecab (rickshaw) and we cautiously climb in. The bumpy ride only lasts five minutes and costs 20 pesos (70p). We are ushered on to one of the colourful hand painted trajineras and an English guide explained our trip options and outlines the costs. I had been keen to visit Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls), our guide explains we can stay here at this boating platform and visit the replica island or his college can take us to the original island, which sits on another canal a short trip away. I have never been one for imitation so I persuade the girls into getting another bikecab to the next Canal. The ride is rough and long. We complain about pot holes and the mess of our roads in Britain, but our roads are a dream compared to here. We are all hanging on for dear life, roaring with laughter and disbelief of our current situation. As our driver takes over an autobus he gets a puncture and we are quickly taken off and shuffled into another cab, this time pulled by a moped. We share the cab with a slight Mexican female and at times we have to get out and walk as the moped is incapable of pulling us over the mashed up concrete and bricks of the road.
Arriving at the new dock, the trajineras look old and tattered, the paint has cracked and is peeling away, there are no other tourists around. With no English guide it is up to us to negotiate and our guide is looking for 2500 pesos (£100) to see the Dolls, which is a 5 hour round trip. I quickly disagree, I had read online that it should be no more than 20 pesos per hour and anyway I only had 1500 pesos cash. I offered to pay 1000 pesos which they quickly declined. I tried to explain that was all I had unless the can swipe my credit card, after all it was a long way to travel and not get to see anything. The guide passed me his mobile with an English translator on the other end asking me to get back on the moped and go to the ATM with the guide- Absolutely not! I told him unless they except 1000 pesos for the trip then we were leaving and I asked to get off the boat. The translator confirmed no don’t worry £1000 pesos will take you to the Island of the Dolls.
The trip down the Xochimilco Canal was beautiful and relaxing and just what we needed to recuperate from our hectic few days. The only negative was that we were promised food and drinks vendors that sell from the banks yet we didn’t pass any at all. As we arrived at the Island of the Dolls, we paid a further 40 pesos each to enter, a cost which wasn’t outlined to us at the start. The island was nothing like I had seen before. Legend has it that a young girl drowned and died on the banks of the island and a man named Julian tried yet was unable to save her. He found a doll floating in the water, presumably the girls and tied it to a tree as a mark of respect. He visited the island everyday and placed more dolls upon the trees. It’s thought the spirit of the young girl haunts the island and the dolls have been known to wink, blink, laugh and whisper to each other.
We sailed without fuss back to the dock, taking in the amazing scenery and wildlife. As we reached the shore I ordered our Uber home and climbed off the boat. Our guide motioned me back onto his moped which I politely declined explaining we had a car on the way. He shook his head angrily and passed me a piece of paper with 1500 written on it. I calmly disagreed and said we would pay no more, after all the English translator had explained 1000 pesos was enough and I didn’t have anymore cash. He continued to talk frantically in Spanish, all I could understand was ATM, I explained I couldn’t withdraw funds so unless he had a card reader I physically couldn’t pay any more money. After 15 minutes our Uber arrived, unfortunately he didn’t speak any English but luckily a young man was passing on his bike. He told me that our guide was telling our Uber driver to let him in the car and that we should quickly shout No! and get him to drive away.
I felt a sudden feeling of relief as we drove off, my back and shoulders sunk into the safe, comfy seats of our taxi, please get us home safe. As we hit the main road I noticed our guide at the side of our car, on his moped making his way into the centre of Xochimilco and I had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t over. As we reached the banks of the first Canal he was there waiting, I screamed to the driver to keep going. He ran along side the car trying to gain entry but failed. After 15 minutes I reassured myself we were safe but I was wrong. He appeared again on his moped, this time he stopped in front of the Uber, disallowing as to pass. NO PASSE he shouts as five other mopeds surround the car. He tries to open the doors as our Uber driver reacts quickly to lock them, he is trying to calm the situation down as the men spit and slur at us motioning to get us out the car. I notice a bank around a 100m walk and I tell mum I need to get there to get them money. All I have with me is a prepaid credit card which I have been using on a swipe and sign basis as I don’t have the pin at hand. I am so frightened to leave the car that my whole body starts to tremble. I have read stories of kidnaps and murders of tourists for money. The guys outside get more heated as they demand the driver to move into a ditch at the side of the road, the guide shows him the sign of a gun and enough is enough. The Uber driver calls the police as we try to figure out how to get out of this situation from the back seats.
A policeman passes on a motorcycle and I desperately wave my hands to get his attention. The men move him off and I realise that here even the police can’t help us. After waiting for around half an hour the English translator turns up. He is calm and notices my distress. I explain to him we have no money and no pin for the credit card so we can’t pay anymore. He translates this to the men and they eventually let us go, without money or the pin we are worthless to them. They will no doubt move on to their next victims.
It’s a different world out here, a world I have never lived before. I have always thought of myself as an open person with plenty of life experiences, I have never been concerned with travel or new opportunities. I discovered today I am guarded and protected in the world that I live in, my world where I am safe from harm and not under a constant threat of violence or worse. I have learned just how big the world really is.
Long Live the VEF and God sent you an important message QUEEN, learn from it.