Friday, July 26, 2013

Heading to the Island of the Dolls, Part One

I hadn't gotten a lot of sleep when the sound of a typewriter woke me up before seven. I'm out of practice at sleeping in tired old budget hotels. You have to do it for several nights running before you stop wondering about how many people have slept on the old pillow or if there are bedbugs. When you're tired enough and been doing it long enough, you don't care. If there are bedbugs, you'll know soon enough.


What the hell? How long had it been since I'd heard a typewriter used in the wild? (Burma, actually, in December.) They must need it for filling in some form with printed "Fill in here" blanks. My room was near the lobby and the hotel office.

I tried sleeping a while longer, but even when the typewriter went silent, I couldn't. I got up. I had to get out of the room early today. I was going to attempt to visit the Island of the Dolls.

I'd spotted a blurb about Isla de las Muñecas in Lonely Planet, but it had said something about being hard to get to, so I'd quickly scrolled past it when I'd been browsing the Mexico City section of my guidebook. But then I'd been in the San Miguel town photography center early last week and had met a woman named Jo Brenzo who'd created a book on her photos of this little island. She was running a photo trip to the island in September, but I'd be gone by then.

Later that day, I'd read about the island and was intrigued. An island of decaying old dolls! That sounded nightmarish. Positively creepy. And also, like a total pain in the ass to get there. You had to take the metro to the light rail to a short walk to a boat dock, where you had to then negotiate a pleasure boat pilot into taking you to this island rather than on a mariachi-serenaded jaunt around the scenic canals.

I found some on-line accounts by people who had done this. But none of them were that recent, and the official hourly rate for the punts had gone up since then—350 pesos an hour! And this would take a nebulous amount of hours. Some said four, some said as few as two. And those people who had pulled this off had not been going alone. They'd all had someone to split the bill with.

Still, I figured, I could go on down there and see if someone would take me for cheaper than the hourly rate, or maybe convince them to go straight there and back, with just a half-hour on the island. How long could that take? I committed to myself to spending no more than 500-600 pesos for this, and agreed with myself that if it ended up being a hundred dollars or close, I'd walk away. I only carried 700 pesos in my pocket to avoid the temptation of spending money I shouldn't spend.

I headed out of my room after a quick breakfast, leaving my "luggage," which was just my collapsible supermarket bag with some clothes in it, at the front desk. I caught the metro all the way to the end of the line at Tasquena—enjoying the approach of the walking, talking dollar store en route as vendors peddled wares through the train cars, though I was less keen on the oddness of blind people wandering through the cars blaring music from speakers around their necks, and selling CDs—where I followed the signs to the Tren Ligero, or light rail.

I hit a snag here. All I wanted was two tickets, one to go and one to come back. But it didn't seem that singles were available. The ticket machines sold a minimum of 13 pesos worth. "But I only want two," I'd told the clerk. She'd shrugged.

I put a twenty-peso note into the machine, then instead of a fare card, I'd gotten a flash of FAULT (or maybe falta), and then the machine spit out a receipt with the big word ERROR on it.

"You've got to be kidding me," I snarled at the machine. Then suddenly, a bright, young customer service agent was at my elbow.


I showed him my receipt. He took me to the ticket window, explained the situation, and the clerk nodded. She shoved a blank form out from under the glass.

A long blank form. With many boxes to check and explanations to fill in.

"No," I said. "Absolutely not. I am turista! No form. Turista!" Were they going to send 20 pesos to my home address in six weeks? No way.

The ticket agent spoke to the customer service rep, who nodded and walked me to the turnstile. He had a quick word with the guard, who motioned me past the turnstile and handed my receipt back to me.

I was on. But I didn't even want to think about the return trip yet. Would I need to do a repeat performance on the other end?

1 comment:

Marie Javins said...

Directions off one website:

How to get there

Visiting the Island Of The Dolls isn’t easy. The island is located in the Xochimilco borough – around 17 miles south of the centre of Mexico City – a region that’s criss-crossed by a huge network of canals that represent the last remnants of the ancient Lake Xochimilco.

The only way to get around Xochimilco’s canals is to hire a trajinera; a wooden, vibrantly painted boat that’s propelled using a long stick, much like a Venetian gondola. And if you want to get to the Island Of The Dolls, be prepared for a long trip – it takes at least two hours to get to the island and two hours back, so make sure you pack plenty of suntan lotion or you’ll be burned to a crisp.

Rather than going to the main part of Xochimilco to catch a trajinera, get a cab to the nearby Cuemanco landing, near the Parque Ecológico De Xochimilco. Dozens of boats will be available to hire, but make sure the driver understands you want to visit ‘La Isla De Las Muñecas’ – otherwise you may end up with a standard trip around the canals.

Prices for two people can be expensive – up to £70 – because the boats in this area take up to 10 passengers. But if you can get a group together it makes for a cheap day out – and an experience you’ll never forget.