on February 7, 2009
Most travelers arriving at Buenos Aires dedicate at least a few hours to Caminito, yet there is more than that in the area. People living in Buenos Aires refer to themselves as "Porteños," recognizing thus the port vital role in the city’s life, and port until the late 19th century meant La Boca. The name means "The Mouth" and refers to it being the meeting point between the Riachuelo (a small stream of waste delimiting the city to the south) and the mighty Plate River.Nowadays, La Boca is known mainly for Boca Juniors, one of the two best soccer teams in Buenos Aires. Its stadium (on Brandsen 805) is known as "Bombonera" ("Candy Box"), due to its shape. Some of the 1978 World Cup games took place here. The team’s blue and yellow logo is ubiquitous in the neighborhood. La Boca has more to offer. The colorful quarter and derelict port created the perfect background for restaurants, souvenir shops and cafeterias catering for the many tourists reaching the area. However, all these activities attract huge crowds on a regular and predictable schedule; combined with the area’s poverty, this created a heaven for thieves. Visiting La Boca is dangerous at all times, but especially at night. Precautions and care should be taken everywhere, but especially so around the Caminito and the Boca Juniors Stadium.HistoryLa Boca was the site of Buenos Aires first – and failed – foundation in 1536 by Pedro de Mendoza. Following the second foundation in 1580 (see the Plaza de Mayo entry in this journal) it became the first port of the city and the main place of arrival of slaves from Africa. Many of those died in the Potosi mines.By the end of the 19th century this port was not deep enough for the new ships of that era, thus a new port was built in the area now known as "Puerto Madero". After a decade, the city port was moved further north.The port is not longer the main attraction in La Boca but it still shapes the neighborhood. La Boca’s wood and zinc shanty houses were built by the Italian immigrants who worked in the port and are colored in a myriad of bright patches. The place looks as if a rainbow crashed on it. It is hard to imagine poor people living in a poor city of a poor continent spending so much on paints; actually, they got the colors free from ship repairs leftovers.La Boca became the main residence point of immigrants from Genoa in Buenos Aires; they were almost half of the roughly forty thousand inhabitants of La Boca. In 1882, the neighborhood denizens declared independence from Argentina and informed the Italian king about that. The president – a general – arrived with the army and took out the Genoan flag.The RiachueloRiachuelo ("Little River") is the name of a canalized river reaching the River Plate on the southwestern side of Buenos Aires. Once the visitor reaches it – it passes just a block away from Caminito – there cannot be any doubts: the place is an open sewage stream. Breathing carefully, it is possible to withstand the fierce and odorous attack and take a look around. Strangely enough, I spotted (and photographed) a small boat giving transport services across it. Quintessential Buenos Aires, clear skies reflected on a filthy canal.Several metal bridges skeletons exist in the area, some in use and others rusty, but all of them rise impressively above the Riachuelo, attempting to get as far away as possible from it. The waterfront was transformed into a promenade, which was expectedly empty at the various occasions I passed there.MuseumsThe Historic Wax Museum is at 1261, Del Valle Iberlucea Street is open from Mondays to Fridays from 10 AM to 6 PM; weekends from 11 AM to 8 PM. Admission 5ARP. This is the South American version of Madam Tussoud.The Benito Quinquela Martin Fine Arts Museum is located at 183, Pedro de Mendoza Avenue and is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 AM to 6 PM. The museum is named alter a painter that lived here and shows his works and studio.The Proa Museum is at 1929, Pedro de Mendoza Avenue and is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 11 AM to 7 PM. A typical Italian house was transformed into a beautiful contemporary art centre.Caminito and Nearby AttractionsThe most colorful street in the city is a daily artists’ outdoor exhibition open from 10am to 6pm. It is located near the "Vuelta de Rocha," where the Riachuelo makes a sharp turn. A tango of the same name, by Juan de Dios Filiberto, gave fame to the area. The Vuelta de Rocha, at Pedro de Mendoza Av. Corner Palos, hosts the steamship La Carrera, a museum ship with a tourists’ information center and a handicrafts stalls base.Necochea Street is where old port canteens were replaced by stylish restaurants offering seafood and local shows based on the tango culture.Timing and ArrivalWhile the main sights are available everyday, it is recommended visiting the neighborhood on Sundays, just after visiting the not so far away San Telmo Flea Market. This is one of the few places in town, where the recommended arrival method is by taxi since the subway does not reach it.
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