We were warned: Watch your wallets and purses if you go to La Boca, Buenos Aires’ rough-and-tumble barrio located at the mouth (boca, in Spanish) of the Riachuelo river along the city’s southern border.
During the day, however, the most clear and present danger to your cash lies with the hawkers and hustlers in La Boca’s Caminito—a colorful tourist trap lined with artists’ studios, trinket shops, cafés, musicians and tango dancers. If you like, you can have your photo taken with the dancers—for a price, of course.
As always, my focus was on photography. In particular, I wanted to capture the bright red, blue and yellow dwellings constructed mainly of planks, sheet metal and corrugated iron—cast-off ship building materials left over from the days when the neighborhood was lined with shipyards. Early dockworkers—settlers from Genoa, Italy—built the makeshift houses. Other Europeans followed. Today, many La Boca residents are of mixed European descent: Italian, Spanish, German, French, Arab and Basque.
Drab and dreary at their inception, Caminito’s houses were painted in 1960 by local artist Benito Quinquela Martin, who also erected a makeshift stage for performances. Now each café has its own narrow stage where singers, musicians and tango dancers perform for your pesos. The many hawkers can be annoying, but it’s a poor neighborhood and they’re just trying to make a living.
Not too far from Caminito, La Boca’s futbol (soccer) stadium rises from the narrow streets like a modern-day Roman Colosseum. Instead of gladiators and lions, however, the stadium—named La Bombonera (the candy box)—is home to Argentina’s most famous soccer team, the Boca Juniors, but rivalries with other teams—especially their sworn enemies, River Plate—are, it seems, just as fierce. When full of screaming, chanting, weeping, frenzied fans, the blue-and-yellow stadium, it’s said, shakes as if an earthquake is underfoot.
La Boca has a third claim to fame. In 1882, after a lengthy general strike, it seceded from Argentina—or tried to. Rebels raised the Genoese flag, which was immediately removed personally by then President Julio Argentino Roca.