As we sauntered unsteadily along the cobblestone streets of La Boca Buenos Aires, dodging our way between enthusiastic restaurant spruikers and staring at the full sized models of famous people on the balconies above our heads, I half expected to find an Argentinian Mickey Mouse and friends parading along the street.
La Boca is unreal, the original colours that attract the tourists to the area were the result of poor Italian immigrants painting their houses with left over paint from the ships in the port nearby. Much like Montmartre in Paris, this poor area attracted artists, bohemians and those that couldn’t afford to live in the wealthier parts of the city; the same is true today giving the area an edge of very real danger.
What is a vibrant blast of colour and culture during the day, is a no-go area at night, with pre-booked taxis to get you from your dinner reservation after dark back to your hotel safely, door to door. In the bustling throng of bars, restaurants, market stalls and pop up artists, it’s hard to believe that this is a working class area, a strong, tight local community. But step away from the tourist blocks and the atmosphere changes instantly.
Narrow terraces of identical houses with shuttered windows and barely anyone on the street, give it an air of benign stillness, but this is the part of town we were warned to avoid.
We turn back to the twirling tango dancers, somewhat less accomplished than those we’d seen in San Telmo, but pulling in the punters to rather mediocre meals none the less, this is a daylight tourist town after all. But the true social epicentre is the Bombonera ( chocolate box) the stadium of the Boca Juniors. In a football mad country, this forty nine thousand capacity stadium is the beating heart of the barrio.
Although La Boca is aimed very firmly at the tourists, it is a must see on any trip to Buenos Aries. Amongst the spangle and paint, the onslaught to the senses, you get a feel for the essence of a culture that you don’t see elsewhere in the city.