Boat parties in the UK are usually tacky money hustles that target classless stag and hen do’s or corporate ‘pizza parties’. Mexico City does them in typically Mexico City fashion.
I had wanted to visit Xochimilico for a while. It is a part of the city where the vast lake on which the whole metropolis is built still shows through. Rather than being a series of canals, it is a collection of landmasses built into the lake. The locals have made the most of this by constructing hundreds of colourful flat-bottomed barges that are used for any kind of festivity you can think of and punted through the water.
I posted in one of the group chats a few days ago asking whether visiting alone was worthwhile, after all, renting a boat, no matter how many of you, only costs about $350 pesos an hour. The general consensus was no, go with a group, get your tunes on, bring snacks and drinks, and make a day of it. Through my question, I was invited to two different events.
The first invite was to an organisation that calls themselves Le Fete Sauvage. A very cool name for what are, no doubt, hostel party organisers. They collect backpackers from all over the place, organise parties, and have raucous, booze and sex-fuelled events. If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel before, you know the type. A brief look at their insta confirmed it. It would be a lot of fun for sure and I can almost guarantee they would all speak English. I followed them and decided to keep them in mind.
The second invite came from a Mexican lady called Karla. She said she was going to go along with a bunch of her mates for one of their birthdays. They were mostly Mexico City locals and were just going because it’s something locals do often. Like a northerner’s visit to a Tobey Carvery, or a Londoner’s visit to a food bank. A way of having a nice afternoon.
I pencilled them both in for Saturday and proceeded to go out and have a knees up on Friday night. It began with a Pulque.
After arriving at a rooftop Pulqueria in the Insurgentes district, I grabbed a seat and had a look at the menu. At this point, I had no idea what Pulque was, let alone why the bar was called what it was. Funnily enough, as an aside, it was next door to the pool bar I had visited way back when my post about the dangers of backroom poker games.
I was a little early, as is becoming habit. I have adjusted to the Mexican time zone, I have not adjusted to Mexican time. As I looked at the menu, I spotted a drink I hadn’t seen before, and it was really cheap. Like $35 pesos a pint. I ordered a flavoured one, which I just referred to as a colour, and a shot of mezcal, just in case the colourful one didn’t have an ABV.
The red pulque showed up and it was quite something. It came in a stein and had a pretty impressive weight to it. It was thick, reminiscent of a mixture of yoghurt and PVA glue, and had a slightly tart smell. I grabbed the glass and swilled it back. It was absolutely delicious.
The liquid was cold and slightly sparkling. It had an effervescence on the tongue like a lightly sparkling wine and a sharpness to it that made it feel much brighter than the texture actually should have permitted. The liquid was thick to the point of very nearly being viscous. It didn’t stick to the side of the glass, or the inside of the mouth, and wasn’t cloying in the least. It felt heavy, but due to its tangy flavour and fizz, it went down like a smoothie. It was a completely new texture to me and I didn’t hate it, in fact, it was fantastic.
It wasn’t the original flavour, it was blended with passion fruit, mint, and lime. My second one was a litre. It came in many different flavours, and the many pulquerias around the city make their own different blends. As I sat there with my first one, I had to know more. I put a few questions to uncle google and decided to become an expert.
It turns out it does have a percentage, it’s about the same as a beer sitting at a respectable 6%. That was a relief, although a shot of mezcal, especially when it’s 60ml, is always welcome on my table. It also does not travel so has about 48 hours from fermentation, which also only takes a few hours, to be consumed. This limits its spread around Mexico because they don’t have a lot in the way of rail infrastructure.
It is made from the heart of the agave plant, so in a way is the sister to the much-loved Mezcal sitting right beside it. It had a huge part in Mexican drinking culture until American influence tried to tar it as a hallucinogenic that was causing the downfall and disrepair of the local people. They did this to push their own beer. In actual fact, it has a lot of the same probiotic qualities as Kombucha, the drink loved by smelly harem pants wearers everywhere.
It has a lot of health benefits including diarrhoea relief, high calcium content, gut and intestinal care, help with kidney issues, and high melatonin. These are all things you need after living off nothing but al pastor and cow intestine tacos for a week. Don’t judge me, they’re delicious.
I had a few of these, said hello and goodbye to a bunch of people, declined an invitation to a reggaeton festival, and said yes to a karaoke night. They’re kind of big here and I wanted to see what the deal was. It was shit, I drank a litre of mojito, sang Flawless by George Michael badly, and left.
Me and two others ended up at a bar we had spotted called the Centro de Salud or health centre to you and me. It was just an open door in the side of a building surrounded by a lot of people wearing studded leather and face tattoos punctuated by more studs. It looked a lot more live than Karaoke.
Entry was $30 Pesos and upon going up the stairs it was very clear this place was just a townhouse that punks had taken over and turned into a club. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder pit from wall to skull-adorned wall. The bars were tucked into old kitchens and coat cupboards, there was a literal bucket of free for all crisps, the DJ booths were behind steel cages, and pounding 80s goth and disco was making the thin floors shake. The three of us grabbed our incredibly cheap drinks, which were served in litre-sized beer bottles and shouldered our way through.
Smokey dark rooms sprouted from heaving corridors, if it wasn’t for all the beer-soaked leather in the building, nobody would be able to slide past each other. We dipped into a few rooms and boogied the cobwebs of a socially dead karaoke night off our bodies.
Apologies for the out-of-focus pictures, my eyes were out of focus also.
I woke up with a hangover and a sizeable hole in my wallet.
Safe to say, the idea of a party boat, be it with locals or louts wasn’t on the cards. It was the Chinese lunar new year, so after some writing work for the new company, I went to Chinatown. It was great, but someone in the crowd tried to rip my card off with a card machine, I got home with three failed transactions. Thank you Revolut. I was a bit gutted id missed the river fiesta, but I’m here for a while, so there’s always next time.
Turns out the trip with the locals was actually on Sunday. I had woken up late, being the first morning for a while there hadn’t been demolition works going on by my head and got a text from Karla. I had an hour to get to the end of the number 2 metro line, it was a 30-minute ride. I got my shit together and set off.
I needed more cash, I wanted at least $1000 pesos in my pocket just in case and I only had about 500. The first cash point I went to was covered in human shit and the second didn’t like my card. It was already one, and I was supposed to be there by then. Guess I’m getting the hang of Mexican time after all.
I made it all the way to the end of the line and there were about 15 folks waiting for me, it was quickly evident that today was going to be a Spanish immersion day. This was going to be fun, they were instantly welcoming and the sun was blazing, they were all old hands at the boat game so a local experience was on the cards. I had made a good decision after all.
Another train ran us all the way to Xochimilico, right through the outskirts of the city. It just doesn’t stop, there is a phenomenal amount of life here, all just getting on with their daily stuff. The half-hour train ride had me meet the people I would be spending the day with. One Chilean, one American, one Columbian, and the rest Mexicans. The Americans Spanish put me to shame, but, as I explained to them all, I’d prefer it if they didn’t pander to my English and just spoke slowly and like I was 5. I’m able to count to five at least.
The town itself was an immediate tourist cattle drive. Thankfully the people I was with already knew the drill. On the walk down to their preferred ferry spot we picked up booze, snacks, a kilo of Carnita, and plenty of water. The conversation was busy and everyone was in a great mood.
The Carnitas cost $250 pesos and consisted of a kilo of roasted and then freshly fried pork shoulder. It comes with perfectly cooked fat and is so tender it falls apart. This is then loaded with fresh tortillas, guac, salsa, onion, and coriander. It is an ideal picnic for the whole boat that actually served for two meals by the end of the night.
The actual harbour was a carnival of sound and colour. The boats are explosions of greens, blues, yellows, reds, and everything in between. They are huge, wide-bottomed barges made of wood. They have a curved roof over a table and bench that runs the length. Every craft is named, and every one is painted differently.
I left the negotiations to them and within minutes we had a boat loaded with a speaker and a ferryman. We got three hours on the water for $60 pesos each. We stood by the water as, with a series of whistles, El Hefe guided our chosen barge through the soup of other boats.
The day was a delight. The rivers were absolutely crammed with ferries playing host to every different kind of day out you could imagine. There were boats of entire families, three generations deep, enjoying their Sunday Barbecoa together on a table laid with a tablecloth and Horchata for the children and Pulque for the adults. There were sunburnt Americans knocking back Modello and belting out Calvin Harris. There were Latinos dancing along to salsa and cheering each other on across the water. It was chaos, but everyone there was having a wonderful day out, be it civilized or not.
Between the boats sped tiny little three-person barges, zipping between the leviathans of festivities. They sold ice-cold Micheladas, freshly grilled Elote, frosty Mojitos, Tacos, Nachos, and anything else you could want all by the side of your party pontoon. The nippy little craft didn’t just provide food. There were floating mariachi bands who, for a price, would push alongside you and serenade your day. The whole thing was intoxicating. Rum and mezcal flowed, salsa helped reawaken my atrophied hips, and the sun shone.
The day was beautiful and ended with us all going back to the birthday boy’s house. We reheated the rest of the Carnitas, chatted into the night, and finished off the rest of the drinks. They nattered away in Spanish, putting asides in English when something was directed to me that was a little too complex. I held onto the conversation by the skin of my teeth, but I think I did okay with basic responses in Spanish.
It’s hard not being able to express myself in a language. A lot of my humour and personality comes through in the way I use my words, as I’m sure most peoples does. It’s an odd feeling not really being able to be the person you have built yourself to be, it makes you think a little about what a personality really is if there are no words to express it.
Yakult is the liquid of the gods out here, I wondered why everyone drinks it. You can buy it by the single little pot from roadside stalls. Nosh down one plate of late-night Maciza taco after a barrel of mezcal and feel the absolute gut-healing magic that is Yakult. I figured out how they do it. Oh, That and pulque, duh.