There’s something creepy about adults who collect dolls but in my experience, there’s none creeper than Mexico City’s Don Julian. Legend had it that after spending too much time preaching about Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at a time where Mexican people weren’t really willing to hear it, Don Julian ostracised himself to an island in the Xochimilco Canals, leaving his wife and family in nearby Mexico City.
Shortly after moving to the island, Don Julian began collecting dolls to ward off the spirit of a girl who had drowned in the canal. However, her body has never been found and her existence has never been proven. Don Julian would hang the dolls he found on trees, fences and from buildings around the island. He also began to trade the fruits and vegetables he grew for more dolls. He never repaired or cleaned the dolls, and even those that were in good condition when he acquired them were quickly sullied by the weather.
In 2001, after complaining to his nephew that the voices of mermaids were trying to lure him into the water, Don Julian was found floating face down in the canal, allegedly in the same place as the drowned girl had been found so many years before. He died at aged 80, having spent the last five decades living on the island and collecting dolls.
After a few days in Mexico City, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a group of people who were keen to join me for a trip out to Xochimilco and Isla de las Munecas. See, to get there, you need to make your way out to Embarcadero Cuemanco (apparently it’s possible by taking the metro from the centre, but it involved changing lines and we were all cripplingly hungover so we just took a taxi).
At the Embarcadero, you will see three different options for you trajinera ride – two, three or four hours. The only one that visits the island is the four-hour trip, and it is a fixed price of $1400MXN. However, you can take about eight people and just share the cost between you. You can bring your own beer and food, and there’s also the option to add a Mariachi band if you are that way inclined. Personally, I’d rather shit in my undies and wear them as a hat than listen to Mariachi music for four hours but what would I know.
About an hour and a half into the journey, on your left-hand-side you will see an island with dolls and teddy bears strung up on a chain link fence. This one is a copy, don’t be alarmed as the faux-doll island whizzes past, your trajinera will stop on the island and you’ll be able to take creepy photos to your heart’s content.
Don Julian’s nephew Anastasio now maintains the island, insomuch as he collects a small donation (about $30MXN from memory) from anyone who wants to take photos on the island. He also tried to explain to us about the different dolls his uncle had collected, but unfortunately, none of us spoke enough Spanish to comprehend much of what he had to say.
As far as religious extremists go, Don Julian seems quite harmless – all things considered.