Drowning rocks Mexico's idyllic floating gardens - GulfToday

Drowning rocks Mexico's idyllic floating gardens

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Mariachis onboard a "Trajinera" offer their music to visitors in Xochimilco, Mexico City. AFP

Noe Carmona is poling his small boat around Mexico City's floating garden district, Xochimilco, trying to sell roasted corn to tourists in the colorful gondolas that lazily ply the canals.

It's afternoon, but clients are scarce, and he has yet to make a sale.

Visitor numbers have plunged by 80 percent since a young man drowned here on September 1, authorities say.

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Visitors aboard "Trajineras" sail in Xochimilco, Mexico City. AFP

"I'm thinking about looking for another job," says Carmona, a lithe man of 32 who supports his three children doing this his profession since he was eight years old.

"I used to make about 2,000 pesos ($100) a day. Now I'm making about 200 or 300," he said.

She sells handmade sweets, but has left much of her stock at home, fearing it will go unsold and spoil. Her sales are down by 90 percent, she estimates.

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Workers receive life vests from the city hall in Xochimilco, Mexico City. AFP

Xochimilco, a maze of canals and artificial islands created centuries ago by the area's indigenous peoples, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws around one million tourists a year.

An idyllic splash of green improbably tucked into the sprawl of this capital of nine million people, it is a perfect place for a relaxing getaway with family and friends.

Floating mariachi bands serenade visitors, and vendors in small boats drift past selling food, drinks, flowers and handcrafts.

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Aerial view of 'Trajineras' in Xochimilco, Mexico City. AFP

But then, like a large rock thrown into a peaceful pond, "the incident" happened: an intoxicated 20-year-old fell off a gondola and drowned.

Xochimilco is still struggling with the ripple effects.

Rules and reality

Zaldivar's office presented gondoliers at the Nuevo Nativitas docks with 116 life jackets on Saturday, then pasted the new regulations inside their boats.

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Aerial view of 'Trajineras' in Xochimilco. AFP

But rules are one thing. Reality is another.

There are not nearly enough life jackets to go around just two or three per gondola, even though the boats have a capacity of 18. The release forms passengers are supposed to sign if they do not want to wear life jackets have not yet been printed.

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Men row for visitors aboard "Trajineras" in Xochimilco. AFP

Authorities have increased patrols in Xochimilco since the drowning, but even Zaldivar admits they are largely relying on visitors' goodwill.

"It's impossible to have 1,100 people out here supervising every gondola in Xochimilco," he says.

He acknowledges there is a fragile balance between safety and fun.

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Food vendors aboard a "Trajinera" sail in Xochimilco. AFP

For some visitors, life jackets and booze limits undermine the carefree liberty that Xochimilco is all about.

Locals are split over whether the solution is more regulation or less.

"This is a first step, but they need to do more... like provide first-aid training," says Amaury Iniestra, 23, who sells handcrafts at the docks.

The authorities have proposed such training, but say they still have to work out the details.

There is consensus on one thing, though: tourism has yet to bounce back.

Agence France-Presse