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Xochimilco is home to La Isla de las Muñecas – the Island of the Dolls. The story basically goes that some local fellow named Don Julian Santana, upon leaving his wife with their kid, moved to an island in Xochimilco, became a bit weird and spent 50 years fishing broken dolls out of the canals and trading yet more for the produce he grew on the island. He would then tie them to or hang them from the trees on the island, and let them decay. He said that this was to appease the spirit of a little girl who drowned in the canals, but this is apocryphal. Then he drowned in the canals, and is buried on the island.

Is this more creepy than the Cappuchin catacombs in Palermo, claimed by the guidebooks to be the creepiest place on Earth? Sadly, no. Firstly, Don could have chosen a real island, that you need to view from a distance in all directions. The island he chose only has real canal frontage on one side (though dramatic it is), with tiny drains on the three remaining, the back end facing solid land. This somewhat diminishes the mystique. It is also slightly too open-air, robbing the sense of foreboding that a dense canopy of trees would provide. It also suffers from what the afore-mentioned catacombs suffer: it's just not as big and with as many bodies as in the image your mind conjures up.

Still, it turns out that dolls decay in a way one would expect real bodies to. Their eyes cloud over. Crevices become filled with dirt, adding dark circles around the milky eyes. Pigment is bleached from the skin and hair. The hair becomes matted or filled with cobwebs. Clothes become filthy and rot off. Those attached to trees become infested with colonies of beetles or caterpillars, the later constantly moving. Often they have been posed in a fashion that adds to the sinister effect of the above; arms have been raised in some beckoning gesture, or legs turned up as though writhing. Most have been hanged by the neck, or strapped up by the neck, and some are just impaled heads. Being that most dolls are modelled as infants or women, their being in this condition adds starkly to the sinister air of the place.

Xochimilco is also the only natural habitat of the axolotl, pronounced ah-ho-lot-ey, or Mexican walking fish. One of my fondest memories of being a kid is going to the Croydon market and seeing these things in pet stalls, so it is quite special to visit where they come from. But sadly, although they are in fish tanks all over the world, in the wild they are pretty much pooched, owing to doofuses thinking they can dump goldfish in any body of water, which then eat the young and the food of the walking fish.

The axolotl has the interesting ability of staying larval all its life and turning into a salamander only if the water level is reduced, though this is really only possible for wild ones; the captive ones have a reduced instance of this trait, and most die in the attempt. Even if successful, the process reduces their life by two thirds. Don't do it kids. They also regenerate limbs rather than scarring. These features make them interesting to study, hence there are many more in captivity than just those in aquariums.

There is an Axolotl museum near the Island of the Dolls, but it consists of a shed with a few fish tanks in it, some weird taxidermied souvenirs, and a guy who talks about the conservation of the axolotl. As I said before, pooched. There is no removing the carp and other introduced fish, just control. And, even if they could remove them, some doofus would just put more goldfish in. Anyways, the museum may be poxy, but it costs about a dollar to visit, and it is better than the axolotl exhibition at Mexico City zoo, which is just a field with a single fish tank in it, with one axolotl swimming about.

I suppose I should now put up pictures of creepy dolls.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
Cool post dude! Sounds pretty interesting to see all that stuff, and I think Martin had a Mexican walking fish at one stage.

If you want another song about dolls, check out 'Creepy Doll' by Jonathan Coulton.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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