February 10, 2011

A Mexican Ghost Story: The Island of Dolls

This week, we have been finding some of the more unusual places to visit in Mexico. Tourist attractions don't get more unusual than this: La Isla de las Munecas - The Island of the Dolls.

La Isla de las Munecas is on Teshuilo Lake, in the countryside near to Mexico City. The story goes that, in the 1920s, three young girls were playing on the island. Tragically, one of them fell into the canal and was drowned. In tribute to her, family members placed her dolls onto the island. However, eye-witnesses started to notice that the dolls were being played with, despite no-one living being anywhere near them. The little girl was spotted, by psychics, on the island. More dolls started to arrive, as the local community left them as gifts for her.

Island of Dolls

Island of Dolls

As time passed, the story became legend. Don Julian Santana Barrera, the old man filmed in the footage above, was the the caretaker for decades. He explained to tourists that there are spirits in the dolls. Those who treat them with respect are blessed; while those who don't can be cursed. It is encouraged for all visitors, to the island, to bring a doll to leave there, as a sign of respect. He certainly felt that the young girl was his companion there.

Don Julian lived and farmed on the island. He would trade produce from his gardens for dolls, in whatever condition they arrived. These were then exhibited throughout the island, tied into trees, perched in niches or resting on the ground. On April 21, 2001, Don Julian was unfortunately found drowned in the canal. His nephew, Anastasio Santana, now owns the island, but he continues the tradition.

La Isla de las Munecas has featured in an episode of the US paranormal investigation show, 'Destination Truth' (aka 'The Monster Hunter' in Europe). During that visit, cameras appeared to capture dolls moving on their own.

Other visitors have appreciated the island for its creativity. American assemblage artist Michael deMeng was deeply affected by spending an hour on La Isla de las Munecas. He eventually returned to the Museo (museum) in the center of the island, where a memorial to Don Julian stands. deMeng stated, "I just want to take this moment to thank Don Julian for this piece of art. From one artist to another, salut! Thanks for creating a wonder of the world, that you definitely don't see every day." See deMeng's artist view of the island here, with part two here.

Tourists can board trajineras (brightly colored gondalas) to the island from Xochimilco, just south of Mexico City. There are several river cruises there, with La Isla de las Munecas being just one of them. It takes about an hour, sailing along ancient canals, to reach the island. Plan for a four-hour round trip.

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