In honor of Día de los Muertos also known as Day of the Dead, America Fotografía presents a special article by guest writer and fellow traveler, Debrah Eastwood. She wrote this entry while in Mexico, where she bravely ventured by boat to the chillingly ominous Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Xochimilco.
Debrah is currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I hope she shares more wonderful stories and photographs of her travel adventures with us again soon. Gracias y viaje seguro!
Isla de las Muñecasby Debrah Eastwood
“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
— Tim Burton
Spiderwebs, hanging limbs, gaping eye sockets, and blackened smiling doll faces nailed to walls. Another twisted art installation? Actually, no. A true life nightmarish place that does and has existed for decades. I am on a stupendous Mexican trip right now, and although my tourist priorities are food, sun, colours, music, beautiful people and amazing folk and religious art, I also wanted to check out the quirky side of Mexico if possible. While in Mexico city I discovered that a place exists called La Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls. Say what?
I shifted priorities and headed to Xochimilco, a beautiful town on the outskirts of the chaotic capital. Chilangos (Mex City locals) mainly go to Xochimilco to get out of the city and chill. Everyone brings alcohol and a boombox of some sort and parties on a barco on the gorgeous canals that weave through floating gardens built by the Aztecs, where flowers and veggies still grow.
I got a neon barco named “Lupita” on my own. Carlos, the kid punting it on the canal thought I was lying or crazy when I told him I wanted to see the island of the dolls, he said not many people go there, and especially not on their own. It took us about two hours to arrive, but the ride was so serene and the other barcos floating by were all colourful and musical and beautiful like Mexico itself, that I was lulled into a good mood.
We floated beside a garden on which dogs were chasing our barco. I was so distracted by them that I didn’t see the garden in front of us. The barco hit land and I saw the first few willowy branches drooping down with dolls entwined in them, and by the water’s edge, a doll’s head on a stake. We had arrived.
On the small island, a visitor’s guide led me to a dirty cabin that was adorned with hanging dolls and doll parts and spiderwebs. I sat on a wooden bench across from a focal point where one larger bespectacled doll had her own little throne, surrounded by keepsakes, bracelets, scapulars, and prayer cards with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The cabin really creeped me out, the smell of old dolls hanging all around me mixed with termite infested wood made me want to puke.
The guide proceeded to tell the story. He pointed at a photograph of a smiling old man named Don Julian Santana (who passed away a few years ago) who had once witnessed a tourist girl fall off a barco into the canal and drown. Since this traumatic incident, he saw the girl’s ghost on the island where he lived. He felt the need to appease her spirit somehow, or better yet, to scare her ghost away. According to him, the best way to do this was to collect dolls from the canal and from trash cans in the city, and hang them all over the island that was once his home. He continued adding to this collection for 25 years before he passed away.
The doll on the throne was nicknamed Antonina and was Don Julian’s favourite. Since his death all visitors would go to her and leave keepsakes and ask her for miracles, and apparently some were granted. Previous visitors would also claim that one or many of the dolls moved their eyes or limbs when they were they were stared at. The guide asked me if I had any questions, and by this point I was just thinking about moving limbs and spiders crawling on me so I said “no, gracias!” and went around quickly taking pictures, trying my best not to stare at the dolls lest a crusty eye looked my way.
Story and photos in this article courtesy of Debrah Eastwood. Photograph of Debrah by Reuben Wu.
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