Xochimilco ("the place where the flowers grow"), a village to the southwest of Mexico City, is best known today as a Sunday getaway for residents of one of the world's largest cities. Scores of brightly painted boats, many named after women, carry visitors through the canals powered by a boatman at the rear using a long pole.

During our Monday visit, Xochimilco was somewhat subdued, with most of the boats unused. Nevertheless the narrow canals were so crowded that it is hard to imagine the scene on Sundays when all the boats are out.

Although it is worth visiting Xochimilco for the relaxing boat ride alone, the most entertaining part for me was the opportunity to see just how resourceful the Mexicans can be in offering services. While on the water, one can buy flowers (Xochimilco is a prime flower-growing region), collect all sorts of souvenirs, listen to a full-sized costumed mariachi band, and even order a freshly prepared hot meal (which, I am pleased to report, was excellent).

Aside from its charms as an urban retreat, Xochimilco is also a reminder of Mexico's pre-Hispanic era. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan occupied an island in the middle of a large lake. Flowers and vegetables grown in floating gardens at Xochimilco were transported to Tenochtitlan through an intricate series of waterways. Xochimilco also served as a resort area for Aztec nobles who, like the modern residents of Mexico City, felt the need from time to time to escape the urban pressures.

[More photos in the Pop-Up Slide Show below.]


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Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum:  Dolores Olmedo Patiño was a philanthropist, art collector and benefactor of Diego Rivera. She bequeathed her hacienda and art collection to the Mexican people and in 1994 the estate was opened to the public as a museum. A visit is worthwhile just to see the estate itself. Various birds, including peacocks, roam the grounds. But the most surprising discovering was a small group of Xoloitzcuintle ("show-low-eats-queent-lay") dogs, an indigenous Western Hemisphere breed that has been traced as far back as 1500 BCE. It is nearly hairless and is said make a devoted pet (the Aztec rulers kept them as pets). In addition, of course, the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum displays works by Rivera, Frida Khalo and others. (7 Photos)  [Preview This Slide Show]