The highlight of any trip to Mexico City is a visit to the canals and gardens of Xochimilco, one of the original breadbaskets of the Americas and once the agricultural hub ofTenochtitlán, a metropolis of 235,000 inhabitants. In the Aztec's Náhuatl language the name Xochimilco means "garden of flowers."
Xochimilco is divided into a traditional area and a newer ecological parknorth of town created in 1993 as part of a multi-million dollar "ecological rescue project" spearheaded by the federal government. Both areas offer excellent bird watching.
The more touristedcanals are lively, particularly on weekends. Brightly-colored, squarish boats (trajineras) carry up to a dozen passengers. Families visit the park en masse and boats carrying musicians serenade younglovers. There are always plenty of vendors (in smaller canoes) with food and drink, souvenirs, and music. Hire a floating mariachi band. Three songs for 200 pesos!
The Floating Gardens
Today, as incenturies past, canals surround raised agricultural fields called chinampas. Since the Valley of Mexico was originally wetlands, the chinampas were the most productive means of agricultural production.Chinampas are formed by alternating layers of aquatic weeds, muck, and earth packed inside rectangular cane frames firmly rooted to the lake floor. The "floating gardens" are anchored to the lakebottom by trees planted along the edges of the fields.
The Xochimilca people founded their city at the southern tip of the valley between the eighth and tenth centuries. Another tribe, the Aztecs (orMexica), founded Tenochtitlán and the Aztec empire farther north. Soon after the Aztecs' arrival, they conquered the Xochimilcas, whose chinampas were used to provide the food for the growing Aztecempire.
In the late 1500s, before the Spanish conquest, chinampas covered nearly 22,230 acres on the lakes of Xochimilco and Chalco. Every 2.47 acres could feed about 20 people, supporting most of...