La Boca is one of Buenos Aires most colourful barrios with a riot of colours coming at you from all sides as you enter the main tourist area. The centerpiece is the cobblestone strip, El Caminito, or little walkway. The one-time railway route is lined with the bright facades that make La Boca postcard perfect. Named for a 1926 tango song, the pedestrian lane features an outdoor fair where an eclectic group of artists sell their wares and tango dancers prance along the sidewalks and, in between photo ops with tourists, give impromptu shows moving sensually to heart retching ballads blaring from boom-boxes.
Needless to say it is very touristy with lots of restaurants, coffee shop, bars and stores selling cheap souvenirs. Lifesize caricature statues hang off the balconies and effigies of Pope Frances (the native son) are found on street corners.
Like all big cities the metro system is great so we bused it to the area but we were strongly warned not to veer off the main tourist path. The area is great to visit during the day, however you are hard pressed to find a taxi that will venture into the area once the sun sets due to its dangerous reputation.
Located in the city’s south-east near its old port at the mouth (“boca” in Spanish) of the Riachuelo River, the area was originally a working-class neighbourhood of Genoese immigrants who worked the packing plants and warehouses during the beef-export boom. According to folklore, there were so many Genoese in La Boca that immigrated in the early 1800s the name is thought to be a spin-off of the name Boccadasse, a neighborhood in Genoa. The influx of other immigrants from France, Spain, England, Ireland, Greece and other parts of Europe provided the cross-cultural mix that gave birth to tango, although the term wouldn’t be coined until the end of the 1890’s. Factory and port workers would gather to dance in the central halls of the tenements and vie to grab the attention of the few women available at the time.
The ramshackle, colourful, corrugated tin buildings aren’t the only thing though that draws the crowd. This barrio is also home to one of the most successful soccer teams in Argentina, the Boca Juniors. This working-class community is fanatical about their team with fans pouring into the La Bombonera stadium to see their hometown favourites. On game days it is apparently difficult to move around the neighbourhood as fans eagerly fill and overflow the 49,000 seat stadium.
Next stop on the tour, the barrio of San Telmo.