I merely glazed over La Boca in my last post, but the truth about La Boca is a lot more complicated and I think it deserves its own post.
Everyone who visit Buenos Aires has La Boca on the top of their list. But we deliberately didn’t visit it the first time because the area isn’t real. It’s a fake representation of BA culture that only tourists would fall for. At least, that’s how I saw it and I don’t necessarily agree with it. I visit a country to experience its real culture and traditions, and to learn about its history.
So why did I go to La Boca this time around? Because even though it in no way represents the real culture of Buenos Aires, it does have history. A sad history.
Let me explain. But bear with me as I go into history a bit. I promise it’ll be interesting.
La Boca is where the poor immigrant dock workers used to live, way back in the 1800’s. La Boca literally means “The Mouth”, or the mouth of the river, in this case.
First off, let’s not confuse The barrio La Boca with the super touristy street Caminito.
The barrio of La Boca is the poorest neighborhood in Buenos Aires. And the most dangerous. And the difference between now and the older times is that the people are no longer hard working. Katrina told us that the barrio is filled with people who do little more than sitting on their asses all day, collecting government welfare, and spending it on drugs. Honestly, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that most people who value their belongings will never walk around the streets of La Boca.
However, thousands of tourists flock to see Caminito Street (being dropped off a bus or taxi, of course). This is a tiny little area only a block square smack in the middle of the ghetto barrio La Boca. They come to see the cheerful colorful houses, live tango, and the art scene.
But is it really cheerful and happy? Let’s take a look at how this really came to be.
(And let’s just refer to Caminito as La Boca from here on out, for simplicity’s sake.)
The dock workers who lived in this area were so poor that they could only build their houses using cast-away thin pieces of corrugated sheetmetal from the docks. And they painted those houses with cast-away leftover paint. Except they never had enough paint of the same color to cover an entire house, so the houses became a colorful patchwork. (And on an unrelated note, because of the mix of different European cultures, the now-famous tango was born!) Anyway, as the decades went on and a new port was built (Puerto Madero), people moved out and the area fell into decline.
In the 1950’s, an artist, Quinquela Martínwas, was determined to revive the area so he painted the houses in bright paint like how the poor immigrants did. It was so different from the rest of Buenos Aires that the area was declared an open area museum, and became a major tourist attraction.
That’s the real story.
Nowadays, since it’s become such a huge tourist attraction, you can except the usual things like sub-par restaurants/parrillas and overpriced souvenir shops. Katrina explained how each little shop used to be the home for an entire family. Looking into any one of them, the size of a typical children’s bedroom in the States, it’s hard to imagine that an ENTIRE family used to live there. One bathroom is shared between multiple families.
Here’s what you can expect to see:
Did I like La Boca? Not really. But I can’t deny that it’s interesting. There’s nowhere else in BA like it. And learning about its history helped me see it differently.
Even though at first glance, La Boca seems like nothing more than a tacky tourist trap, giving visitors no insight into the real culture, let’s not forget that this is an important part of BA history. When walking through the brightly colored houses and shops, let’s remember that real people built these houses and made their lives here. That once upon a time, a community and hopes and dreams thrived here. Even if they are just vapid souvenir shops now.
So having read that, you decide if you want to go there yourself. If you do, the safest way to get there is through the hop-on/hop-off bus, or a taxi (because nobody walks through La Boca to get there).
Yes, I realize we were that tourist who rolled up in a baller car with dark, tinted shatter-proof windows, to walk around and snap pictures of the poorest area of town. So sue me.
Would you visit La Boca (errr.. I mean.. Caminito)?