Recently I had the rare opportunity to visit family in Mexico. This was not your garden variety tropical vacation, and turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, like so many things that are interesting in life.
Between domestic duties and hunting and killing mosquitos and scorpions, I visited Taxco, the silver centre of the country, and marvelled at the Volkswagon taxis roaring up steep, narrow cobblestone streets that clung precariously to the mountains. In Mexico City I saw Frida Kalho’s “Blue House” and pored over letters between her and Diego Rivera, the love of her life whose face graces one side of the 500 peso bill (hers graces the other side)
I saw the ruins and pyramids of Xochicalca, about 40 minutes south of Cuernavaca, where I was staying, and which date back approximately 1200 years.
But a real highlight of my visit was a boat tour through the canals south of Mexico City to “La Isla de la Munecas”, The Island of the Dolls, perhaps one of the creepiest tourist attractions in Mexico.
Residents of Isla de la Munecas
The story goes that the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, found the body of a drowned child in the canal some 50 years ago. He was haunted by her death, so when he saw a doll floating by in the canal soon after, he hung it in a tree. He hoped to both appease her tortured soul and protect the island from further evil.
Over the years Don Julian collected dolls from every possible source: he continued to fish dolls and doll parts out of the canal and scavenged more from trash heaps on his rare trips away from home. Even, later in life, trading home grown fruit and vegetables for old dolls that he used to create a shrine to the dead child who seemed to haunt his conscience.
Apparently, in 2001 Don Julian Santana was found dead by his nephew, in the same canal that he said the little girl drowned in.
Getting to the island takes about two hours. Visitors are taken in long punt-like crafts, with a gondolier pushing the boat with a long pole. Our gondolier stopped on a number of occasions – once to “harvest” an insect pupae from the ubiquitous cactus plants cultivated along the riverbanks. The pupae, when crushed, releases a vermillion dye used to colour fabrics. Another stop joined us with a similar boat, bearing not tourists but locals who cruise the canals in food boats – freshly made tortillas, tacos, and various tasty snacks and drinks to keep the travellers comfortably fed throughout their journey.
Our gondolier harvests the vermillion-producing pupae.
I have since shown some of these photographs to people and the reactions range from horror and a refusal to even look at them to fascination and skepticism. No matter. My experience of the island fell into the fascinated category – and, I admit, more delighted than horrified. The story that accompanied the thousands of dolls displayed in various states of decay felt a bit contrived. But who am I to say? I visited this place on a sunny day with family, not alone or at night. It struck me as an artist’s or an eccentric’s creation, but again, it was sunny and I had my camera with me, so ……..
Thank you for your kind comments after my initial blog entry. It was heartwarming to know that folks read and enjoyed my first attempt. I hope this has been a fun little foray into the deeper heart of Mexico. See you next month!