So many people visit the Island of the Dolls, a tiny island that sits in the Xochimilco canals of Mexico City, that enterprising locals have created a second, mock-up island that's easier to get to. The trip to the original island is almost two hours long. The price tag is $100.
The journey, however, is worth it. More than 2,000 dolls populate the attraction. Some hang from clotheslines, blackened by years of weather. Others are stabbed into trees, like infant Christs. The family that runs the island regularly installs new dolls--the shiny plastic heads of the recently initiated disturb in their own way. Even the boat ride to and from town feels just right. A thin kayak ferries you through thick weeds. Herons fly silently above the water, stabbing for fish and frogs.
Placing the origin story of this achievement of terror is difficult. Today, the place is a money-maker and kitsch pervades. The proprietor, a relative of the Island's original owner, will give you a history of the place, but if you want to film anything with fancy equipment, be ready to pay.
The history I was told goes something like this: A man named Don Julian Santana lived on the island. A young woman died nearby (maybe she drowned, maybe she didn't). The woman's spirit did not leave this world along with her body. Santana took a liking to the spirit, and as a gesture, started leaving dolls out for her. He did this for decades, collecting dolls wherever he could find them. Then, in 2001, Santana drowned. Supposedly in the same location the girl did.
You can find more lurid accounts, but that's what they say inside the shrine left for her. Regardless of its beginnings, and despite its commercialization, the Island of the Dolls will leave an impression. It's very quiet, and most of the dolls look at you lovingly.
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