All adventure seekers, non-believers, wannabe ghost busters, grim ghost-story enthusiasts, psychics, dream analysists, or simply brave-hearts who just LOVE to unravel the most spookiest experiences by visiting the creepiest locales ever and later boast about them, this is You’re place!
Into the dense labyrinth of the canals of Xochimilco, Mexico, there rests a small island, The Isle de las Muñecas, which literally means, the Island of Dolls, inhabited with hundreds of dirty, castrated, and mutilated dolls, some hanging from the trees, some rotten and putrid and possessing insect nests in place of limbs.
If you’re ready to venture into this creeptastic island ignoring the forewarnings of the locals, here’s how to reach the, ‘man-made spook-land’. Firstly you’d have to hire a ‘trajinera’, which is a special wooden boat that can steer the canals and the journey will take you two hours on each way, approximately. Once you set afoot on one of the most unnerving locales on Earth, you’d be greeted by hundreds of lacerated, petrifying baby dolls with their blown out heads or empty sockets. They are everywhere, hanging from the trees like dead corpses, or heaped up on the ground, bound together on wooden fence posts or hanging like laundry left to dry. Their lifeless eyes stare back at you from the half-empty sockets, their skin coarse, scabbed and peeling away, while their dirty hair hangs like cobwebs and their pudgy limbs are strewn all around the place-arms and legs bestrewed about chaotically, and the guillotined heads punctured on palisades.
Now as all such haunted places bear some haunted legends, here’s how this Island grew to become ‘spooked’!
According to the local legends, a very, very long time ago there lived a hermit in isolation, though some say he was a local farmer of the name, Don Julián Santana Barrera. The tale of troubles starts in 1950, when he had seen one of the three young girls playing on the island, drown in the canal, and later began finding dolls in the very place. He concluded that the place was haunted as no such phenomena could occur naturally, and was truly a sign from an evil spirit. Terrified, Don Julián started collecting dolls, searching them in the canals and trash near the island and even trading for them, only, to protect himself from the evil spirits and the girl’s ghost. He would hang the castrated dolls on the trees and wires stretched between trees like creepy Christmas ornaments and even kept some in his own cabin. Over half a century, he collected more than 1,500 of these little horrors and the oldest one still hangs there in the shed by the entrance and from afar it looks like a hanging rotten corpse of an infant.
Over time, even those dolls that weren’t already damaged and broken were tormented by time and exposure. Eventually when tourists got to smell something eerie in this place they readily got attracted to it and began paying a Barrera, a small fee for taking photographs of the island.
However, as according to the Barrera superstition or belief, whatever you might like to think, Don Julián, who lived on the island for over a decade ,all alone, drowned in 2001, in the same manner and at the same place, where the little girl died, whose ghost he hoped to keep at bay. Later, however, it was confirmed that he died of a heart attack, and now a small white cross near the waters, marks his grave.
Now, his cousin Anastasio, lives on the island, running it as a tourist attraction. He claims, “The spirit of the little girl is still here”, and that it’s important not to remove the dolls.
At night, as according to him, the dolls come alive and move their heads and whisper to each other. “It’s very spooky, but I have gotten used to it”, he assures.
What more to experience?
Now, that you have heard the legends, got the warnings from the locals, held on to your spirits and bargained with them and convinced them to bring you on the island on a trajinera, and met the spooky plastic beings, it’s time to know what more can you do on this trip to Xochimilco, instead of just getting scared.
- Xochimilco, the Venice of Mexico,is best known for its chinampas that are artificial islands created by the Aztecs to serve as floating gardens where food crops were grown for the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. Though the Island of dolls is one secluded from these, a visit to the other floating gardens, the yonder days’ agricultural breadbasket of Mexico City is worth it! It is one of the last remnants of the ancient Lake Texcoco, and is a perfect destination for young lovers and enchanted travellers seeking a romantic afternoon, on the gondolas, eating, drinking and dancing to the mariachi music all along the way.
- Travel to the suburbs of the Mexico City on a small-group tour to the ancient Teotihuacan Pyramids. There are a number of packaged guided tours for that, however, if you’re not a group person and would like to visit it individually, get yourself a guide and leave early in the morning for the pyramids. Here, you can climb the Pyramid of Sun, just before the sunrise to witness the breath-taking experience, this place is best only during the sunrise and sunset. Also visit the butterfly temple and see the Temple of Quetzacoatl, and the Shrine of Guadalupe and explore the ancient Mayan ruins at the famous archaeological site. Then, meet the locals of the typical Mexican town of San Martin de las Piramides, visit the ancient monuments while travelling like a local by public transportation.Also,drop in the cactus factory where they produce candies and creams from various varieties of cacti. And, then end the day at a local home, chatting with their family while sipping on the region’s best pulque, an alcoholic beverage sacred to the Aztecs, whose historical significance and procedure of production will be told to you by your guide.
- Embrace the tipsy-trail to Mexico’s Corona brewery and learn about its history and get first-hand beer-making experience. You can even get to taste the sinful array of popular ambrosias-Modelo Especial, Victoria, Corona, Pacifico, Negra Modelo, Cerveza and commemorate this tour with an indulgent experience in company of a few bottles in hand, limes and a nice place to sit by the beach!
- Unleash the foodie within you and embark on a Mexican food odyssey, round the city. This gastronomic tour would take you through the markets of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Oaxaca and streets of Puebla to taste sample specialties. You can also learn to make mole in cooking classes and even attend the Mexican barbeque and a pulqueria,or even indulge in a taco crawl through the streets of Mexico. Dining at a traditional cantina, tasting the tender meats at a pit-barbeque, and eating tortillas fresh off the comal (griddle), will follow!
Though all this wasn’t entirely a part of the spooky island, but elements of it lay scattered in this land, the culture, the folklores, the tribal beliefs and customs, the music, and the Aztec influence. This 3-hour trip to the Island of dolls, through the quiet green pastures with farm animals grazing and birds chirping, brings along with itself a huge list of surprises. Though a scary venture far from the smog and frenzy of Mexico City, upholds the very indigenous essence of the entire place. The local lores, especially the ghost stories and tales of supernatural ,the indigenous music in the drunken haze of the ‘pulque’, sets the entire eerie backdrop of mystery, harmonically entwined with the nature.
“Ghosts are very real,” Anastasio says. “Some of them are old, like La Llorona, others more recent, like my uncle’s dolls. It’s important to pay tribute to them.” The story of La Llorona is set in Cuemanco, one of the docks from where the gondolas embark, houses numerous crosses and plaques dedicated to her, where she is known as the ‘Weeping Woman’. According to the local legend, she had killed her own children to be with her lover, who when rejected her, she committed suicide by drowning herself. It is said that when the islands are cloaked in fog, there she arrives weeping and crying out for her kids.
This tradition of passing out legends of horror and supernatural to generations after generations as a gesture of paying tribute to those yonder souls is typical of this place and makes it so uniquely breath-taking.
If you are absolutely sure not to get a heart attack in that eerie ambience, then this place will surely reveal its weary beauty to every traveller ready to pay the much deserved tribute. Although open to all tourists, most locals are always reluctant and scared to take people there, especially after the dusk, as they believe that the ghost of Don and the little girl, inhabit the dolls. A place beautiful in its own strange way, it is to be ventured only at your own risk. Hence, the choice rests upon you, as to whether you take them as mere superstitions, products of man-made fears, or as unfathomable, strange truths.