Keeping the trajinera floating down the channels of Xochimilco
Hidden in plane sight of all who visit the traditional channels of Xochimilco, is the work of those who with their hands keep these iconic forms of transportation alive, the trajinera.
Silent and robust, the trajinera shifts harmoniously from pre-Hispanic times through each of the channels that survive today, and since the days of Porfirio Díaz stand out for their striking colors and their traditional covers with female names.
It is there, on the banks of the Nativitas jetty – south of Mexico City – where the workshop of Don Demetrio Cortés Romero is located, who for 26 years has been dedicated to keeping alive, and giving back the strength and color, to the trajineras.
In sharing a few minutes of his day, Don Demetrio pauses his work to reveal that there are only 15 workshops that specialize in the repair of trajineras, of which three are new thanks to young people who begin to venture into this craft.
The job “is not easy, in fact it is very difficult, that is why many young people are not encouraged and leave the job to find an easier job,” he explains.
It is for this reason that this tradition is inherited from teacher to disciple and not from father to son, because “young people now seek better life choices, and a heavy jobs like this is not very attractive for them,” he adds smiling sitting beside the barge that he’s repairing.
“This happened to me, I used to work in the field growing corn, beans, tomatoes and chilies, but then Don Pedro del Monte invited me to work in his workshop 26 years ago and from there I learned the trade,” he says. Loving memory of his teacher who died four years ago.
Now, he is among the 15 workshops working in Xochimilco to keep tradition alive, which, although it does not seem, requires dedicated hands because the average life of a trajinera is four to five years, after which it requires maintenance.
The fact, boats made from wood tend to suffer from the impact of weather, and they are in contact with water, so wood is often rotted or damaged by the hustle and bustle of the work between channels.
Don Demetrio reveals that oyamel and pine woods are usually used for the bottom and the arms (side walls) while for the front and back, or visagra and contra, are oak, since it is a harder wood and resists the blows that usually occur during their handling by the channels and docks.
It also requires patience and the help of at least two people, since the woods used are very heavy and disassemble and reassemble is strenuous and usually takes three to five days and even a full week, depending on the magnitude of work required.
Finally the owners of the trajineras decide the color in which their boats should be painted, being the most traditional is the blue, the red, the yellow and the green.
To repair a trajinera, he explains, “we need to bring the wood from Xalatlaco, and it is usually expensive, since each plank costs up to one thousand pesos,” so the repair costs five thousand pesos.
As far as the traditional cover, now they are usually painted, when before they used to be made of fresh flowers given the abundance in Xochimilco. With the passage of time the flower covers became expensive so they stopped doing this traditional work and now they are simply painted.
On the other hand, he acknowledged that there is also the idea of entering with recycled material instead of wood, which proves to be more resistant since a trajinera of this material can last up to seven years.
However, he warned that repair is not easy, so that at the end of its useful life the owner would need to replace with a new trajinera, so that in the long run, the wood trajinera continues to be more affordable, allowing its maintenance and long repair term.
In order to achieve good buoyancy as well as good performance, it is necessary that the water has at least a depth of one meter, since from the 80 centimeters there is a risk that the bottom of the boat could get stuck when coming into contact with the muddy bottom.
This in the long run exerts considerable pressure on the boat that ends up being damaged in a shorter time than expected, especially if it is considered that the largest trajineras can measure up to 10 meters long by 2.50 wide, but it seems that this is one of the many problems facing the traditional pre-Hispanic precincts.
In fact, Don Demetrio reveals that there has historically not been a decline in water levels such as the present one, which in some areas is up to 50 centimeters, due to an incident in one of the channels and caused the water to drain.
“Historically the level of the channels had not gone down more than 10 centimeters in the last years, but now it feels that it has lowered a little more and it shows,” he adds.
From his experience as a local inhabitant, this situation could represent a danger, considering that in the lower places the water can get down so much that people begin to use the dry basins as dumps.
For this reason he expressed his confidence that later this situation will be reversed and the channels will return to their usual level, since if there is something that Xochimilco can not afford is to lose the main source of its tourist attraction.
Even so, there is no lack of those who take advantage of this attraction and come to enjoy Xochimilco, whether to celebrate their birthdays, wedding or another reason, with a tour that allows you to visit the chinampas to eat, relax and enjoy the magic of the place.
NTX / EGL / EVG
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