Musical Healing on the Canals of Xochimilco

by Ekua on August 8, 2010 in Mexico,songs for the road

By train, it takes a long time to get from Coyoacan to its neighboring district, Xochimilco. Even with my new found adoration for moving around Mexico City, as I get on to the third train of the day, I begin to wonder if it is worth it to go to Xochimilco. I don’t know what to expect once I get there other than a trip down a canal on a colorful boat.

I am by myself and not sure how that will alter the experience. A group of Americans staying at my hostel told me I definitely needed to go with a group or it would not be as fun. An American solo traveler told me she had gone alone and it was weird, but worth it the visit anyway.

I think it might be possible to find others to join up with when I got there, but when I arrive at the dock, there are a lot of empty boats and no other tourists in sight. But I figure that since I’ve come all this way, I might as well just take a boat ride.

Out on the river, I am entertained by drunk college-age kids who jump into the murky water, intrigued by the old women who row by selling beer and snacks to boat riders, and calmed by the serenity of Xochimilco and the reflections on the canal.

A family standing on a bridge smiles at me and calls out, “Tranquilo?”

“Si, si!” I reply. But I am still not fully convinced that the experience outweighs the time it took to get to get there. So when I float by a mariachi band on a snack break and they ask me if I want to hear some music, I say yes. Anything to enhance the day. The man rowing their boat sticks his foot onto my boat to get closer and row alongside.

There are five men and a girl who looks no older than 15. They straighten themselves out and begin to perform, but the girl sits out on the first song and writes in her notebook. They ask if I want to hear another song and I say yes again. Thee girl sings backup on this song. And then I say yes to another song and this time, the girl sings a solo.

You know the overused saying, “Sing like no one is listening”? This girl’s mantra seems to be, “I know you’re listening, and I don’t give a crap.” She leans over into my boat, looks me directly in the eyes, and sings with a convincing passion I have never heard before from someone so young.

Her eye contact makes me uncomfortable, but I can’t look away. It almost feels like she is challenging me to reveal my inner workings through her own revelation. She gains the attention of other boats and they slow down to listen to her voice soar to highest notes a voice can possibly reach.

Her soprano voice is one that is capable of piercing through layers—deep into sorrow, fear, unfulfilled dreams—whatever you have hidden the best and stored the furthest away from the surface. She draws it out of you and takes it into her song. And with each crescendoing note she holds, she exhales it, sustaining and growing the note, making you confront it in its entirety, ending the note only when the toxicity of whatever it is has dissipated.

Goosebumps crawl up my arms as I try to make an applause as loud as one person possibly can. The mariachi band asks if I want to hear another song, and I say no. I know it’s best to leave it at that. Back on land, I return to the train station for the long ride back to Coyoacan. Xochimilco has been worth it, even if only for a few minute music therapy session.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary R August 10, 2010 at 12:13 am

Great story Ekua. I love how when we travel, small encounters can be really amazing! Aren’t you glad you went with your gut feeling about it?

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Ekua August 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Thanks, Mary. I’m really glad I got a chance to experience Xochimilco and that five minute or so song she sang was really amazing. If I ever go back to Xochimilco, I’d want to have other people on the boat, but I think that experience was the experience I was meant to have on that day!

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leslie August 15, 2010 at 2:38 am

ekua, this is such a lovely story! sounds like a truly spontaneous and magical travel moment.

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Ekua August 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Thanks, Leslie. It really was!

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Andi August 15, 2010 at 8:10 am

I loved Xochimilco! I was even able to find a boat with my name on it!!! Great story.

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Ekua August 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

There were no boats with my name on them 😉 Maybe I can find someone who paints or owns the boats and make a special request?

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Globetrottergirls August 16, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I enjoyed this post so much! We both have fond memories of Xochimilco – it was nothing like we expected, but the canals with all the vendors and mariachis were a great experience. We also saw a very young mariachi girl (on Plaza Garibaldi)and she was amazing! Your story made me think of her 🙂

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