If you are visiting Mexico City, or even live there, a fantastic excursion to do during the day is to visit the historic canals of Xochimilco, pronounced (So-Chee-Mil-Co), and known as the Venice of Mexico.
The name Xochimilco means “garden of flowers” and is truly a very apt name. It is one of few places where historical Mexican culture, which dates back to the Aztec times, and agricultural practice which was in place centuries ago are still in force and use today. Back in the Aztec times, floating gardens, called Chinampas, were built on the surface waters of Lake Xochimilco. Cane was used for the exterior structure, and mud from the bed of the lake was filled inside the containers and anchored in place using trees. This was such a fantastic use of resources available at the time and the intelligence and foresight of adapting to harsh environments is really impressive. It remains a very sustainable and productive source of over 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables even today and it is still so successful that in 1987, UNESCO even named it a world heritage site.
There are actually three Xochimilcos. The first is the touristy Xochimilco in the area of Nativitas, which is full of colourful Trajineras (wooden boats). While you relax on the boat, you are serenaded by musicians and have a variety of food and drink vendors to purchase from. It is a very fun activity as well as an important source of ecological tourism.
The second type is a productive Xochimilco, in the area of San Gregorio, which is slightly more harmful to the ecological environment. This is where flowers sold in the markets in Mexico City are grown, however the methods used have evolved into industrial methods and sadly artificial fertilizers and pesticides are in use here.
The third Xochimilco is where we took a leisurely ride on a colourful Trajinera through the gorgeous canals in Cuemanco, whilst taking in the beautiful surroundings. The owner of De La Chinampa, Ricardo Rodriguez, was on the boat with us and he told us all about the Chinampas. We started our journey from the Cuemanco docks and our tour lasted around 3 and a half hours.
It was hard to believe that this tranquil, idyllic place was part of Mexico City, as it was so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. This part, where lots of produce is grown, doesn’t use any artificial fertilizers or pesticides at all and everything grown here is purely organic, from soil to table.
We were treated to a delicious variety of food whilst on our Trajinera ride, which included Tamales, salad, cheese, tortilla chips and freshly made guacamole, using the produce from the Chinampas, as well as sipped on cafe de olla, which is traditional Mexican coffee served in earthen clay pots. If anyone knows where I can buy these clay pots please let me know as dashing for my flight on my last day meant I didn’t get a chance to shop!
Some of the chefs from Mexico City’s restaurants featured in the Latin America’s Top 50 restaurants, list including Pujol, , purchase their produce from Xochimilco, as well as locals who are health conscious and into organic produce.
We soon made a stop to have a look at one of the Chinampas, where a farmer was plucking organic radishes from the vibrant green grounds. It was fascinating to see the farmland and the colour and richness of the soil.
The rustic, earthy feel and the look of the produce was enough for me to resort to purchasing organic produce when I got back to the UK. What is even more amazing is that they run an e-commerce type service where you can actually order the produce online and have it delivered.
Fresh organic vegetables make a world of difference in taste and are so much healthier than non-organic vegetables. In Kenya, where I grew up, we are used to having a supply of fresh organic, and also sometimes wonky, vegetables available. I am so glad that wonky vegetables are being used more and more and not wasted in favour of perfect looking vegetables. At the end of the day they all taste exactly the same and once chopped up, you would not even know what it originally looked like!
A great deal of work is being done to preserve and ensure the ecological restoration of the Chinampas through selling the organic produce through e-commerce, the ecological tourism side, as well as raising awareness of the produce available and the Chinampas themselves.
As the generation who currently work in the Chinampas are predominantly slightly older, there is a threat that the younger generations will choose jobs in the city in favour of working on the Chinampas. Hopefully by raising awareness, as well as an increase in the demand for organic produce, this dynamic will change in the future.
It is truly a beautiful place within Mexico City – a real gem and I whole heartedly feel blessed to have been able to visit it. If you are visiting Mexico City, this, or the touristy Trajinera ride, is definitely a fantastic activity to do, and one which is slightly different in terms of excursions available in the city.
For more information or to book a tour, email to: ricardo[at]delachinampa.mx or go to http://delachinampa.mx/nuevaImagen/
My tour was courtesy of Mexican Tourism Board, however all views and photos are my own.