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Latrines on the Lagoon "Embarcaderos"

Part two of the Embarcaderos will take us from the garbage dump sites to the toilets over the lagoon.

If you go to the lakes around Mexico City, in an area known as Xochimilco, where there are beautiful embarcaderos. There, the embarcadero is a wharf or place where you get on board a large canoe of raft and you are towed along the lake. There are Mariachis and music, photographers, flowers, food, and souvenirs. The place is really romantic and picturesque – a true tourist attraction, sort of like the floating gardens of Florida and the River walk in San Antonio, Texas. I wish our embarcaderos had been like that.

The embarcaderos we had 25 years ago were a pain in the neck. There was one at each street leading westward towards the lagoon. They were known as Embarcadero de Don Polo because he lived on that street at Nancy’s Store and down the other streets up to Embarcadero de Pablito because he lived there at My Secret Deli.. The names given were of the last person living on that street to the lagoon.

The embarcaderos were to begin with, a dump site. The villagers disposed of house garbage, building debris, and other waste at the embarcadero, throwing waste on both sides of the street all the way up to the lagoon. It was not until the small pathway was closing up, that the village council had it burnt, raked, pushed and cleared. Then the Embarcadero was ready to receive more garbage for a year or two.

At the end of the street right at the water edge, a small jetty or pier was built, and at the end of the pier there was a public toilet. It would seat two or three adults at any given time and the feces “landed” right in the water. These public toilets or latrines were used by men only; the women used the outdoor latrines in the backyard. Boys also used the yard facilities until old enough for them to go to the public one at age 8 or 10.

Nobody talks about the embarcaderos without remembering the fish called X’pinta (pronounced eshpinta). These fish ate the feces and were thus abundant at the sites of the latrines. Those fish were not eaten of course, but some kids did fish for snappers and small barracudas (Tzot) in the lagoon.

About the year 1978 to 1980, some 30 years ago when I was a member of the Village council, we closed down these public latrines with no opposition from the villagers. Most people had septic tanks, but the tradition persisted in a few. What was more difficult to close were the dumpsites because the people had no alternative. It was not until the village council initiated a garbage collection system that the embarcadero dumpsites were leveled. Fine homes like Juvinie’s Bar and Wally’s Electrical now proudly stand on that first street.

Many other memories and anecdotes come to mind about the public latrines over the lagoon. There were one or two fights there when you caught an enemy literally with his pants down. It was said that some secret love affairs took place there at nights including some gay affairs. Hate messages were written on the walls and some idiots wrote love messages for girls hoping that a rival boy would read them. Many times if you caught a friend in there and you remember something to revenge, you could take a coconut or a stick and splash some water from underneath. You can imagine the rest of the atrocious incidents. But we can safely say today, “Thank God the embarcaderos are history.”

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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