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Beneath the colourful facade of La Boca - A trip to Calle Caminito

It was probably the worst day possible to choose to make the trek down to La Boca. On paper it looked great. The city of Buenos Aires offers many free concerts and events for its citizens during the summer and La Boca was hosting free performances by tango singers and dancers over the weekend. Since I had failed to yet make it to La Boca, it seemed a great opportunity to enjoy Calle Caminito with the music that had come from its streets.

What we failed to take into account was that it is Carnival weekend – a weekend where every barrio in Buenos Aires closes off one of its streets to host music, dancing and festivities. This left several main arteries for BsAs traffic, severed from 6pm in the evening.  Add to this the thousands of people making their way to watch the Boca Juniors game at the stadium, locally known as, La Bombonera, and you have a recipe for traffic jams.  As you can imagine, the streets were packed with blue and yellow flags and shirts, a cacophony of moving colour as the lines of people snaked towards the stadium.

Armed with a bucket load of patience, we avoided the scarf-waving-arm-flailing groups of young men that line the streets encouraging people to park their cars and struck gold with a parking spot extremely close to the stage and Calle Caminito.

Calle Caminito (little street) is one of the most well photographed and world famous streets in La Boca. Renowned for its colourful houses and picturesque cobblestoned streets, this is part of the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires, La Boca, and located in the southeast part of the city on the river. Immigrants from Spain and Italy arrived in droves to Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th Century and most of the 4 – 6 million people ended up here. Homes were constructed from whatever materials that could found from the scrap yards and painted with whatever paint could be found or bought from the shipyards.

To my surprise, La Boca was not aflood with the usual amount of tourists that frequent this area. There were no stalls with art, no market, no tango dancers to pose with, no (often overpriced) souvenirs to fill our bags with. But for me, that was perfect. I had not visited La Boca in the entire time I had been in Buenos Aires, even during my initial visiting trip a few years ago. I thought it would be simply filled with over priced street art, tourists posing with tango dancers and fake facades.

But underneath it all, it isn´t. Calle Caminito and the surrounding area is not a fake set for tourists, it is simply a living representation and preservation of how the barrio La Boca was so many years ago. I became very engaged in reading about the history of this city, how immigrants needed to live with coming to a new land, how they tried to make a living for themselves and how they tried to brighten up what must have been a very dark time for them.

Add to this the strong belief that tango grew from these very streets and you begin to see a very interesting juxtaposition. La Boca is one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires and it is easy to see how the tango gets its dark and gritty nature from. While sometimes hidden under jeweled sparkly heels, fedoras and dresses with thigh-high slits, tango has a sadness and longing sentiment within it, that is understandable when you see how La Boca must have been. I remember once being told that a bandoneon is an accordion that had been left in the gutter on the street and rained on for many years, with the seasons passing over it. I could imagine this type of loneliness being something immigrants must have experienced, and standing on the cobblestoned streets, looking out at the river mouth, I began to see how complicated their lives must have been.

I was brought back from my musings by the concert. The stage was beside the river and while the quality of the performers was high, so was the sound as the sound technician took liberties with the volume switch. Unwilling to risk our ear drums for the sake of the music, we retreated inside the closest café, taking a seat near the window to enjoy the view as the sun set and allowed the evening to descend.


Things to Know

In regards to the history of this area, I highly recommend this old, but indepth blog post. It gives interesting information about the building of Calle Caminito and the history of the area including why La Boca lays such a claim to being the birth place of tango. http://www.buenostours.com/caminito


The colourful streets of Calle Caminito and the immediate surrounding area are popular tourist haunts. Be careful with your belongings and be sensible when it comes to personal safety. It is also recommended that you do not stray away from these few popular streets, as the surrounding neighbourhood is not considered safe to be in. Even locals suggest not hanging around these streets after dark.

There are several buses that run to La Boca. The subte´s closest stop on Linea C is Constitucion. A safer option is to take the same line until San Telmo, and catch one of the buses that travels down to La Boca from there. It is not recommended to walk. The bus routes include 29, 64, 152 (lead straight to Caminito) and 33 (passes one block behind).

Verano en La Ciudad is Buenos Aires´ summer season of outdoor events for the city citizens to enjoy. If you are here over the holiday period, check out http://agendacultural.buenosaires.gob.ar/evento/llega-verano-en-la-ciudad-2014/8863  for all the details of upcoming events.


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