La Boca is one of the last neighborhoods I’ve explored in Buenos Aires. It’s a long walk from my studio in Recoleta through traffic and crowded streets. The subway lines don’t go there, so I had to overcome a hesitancy to take Buenos Aires buses. The packed buses are sporadic, and it’s hard to find the pickup points – some marked, others not.
Recoleta, Monserrat, San Telmo to La Boca
The first time I hopped local bus number 29 from Recoleta through Monserrat and San Telmo to La Boca barrio, it took almost an hour of maneuvering through thick bottlenecked traffic to get across town. By the time I arrived, it was late afternoon and almost dark. Yesterday, I went earlier, and the trip was painless and fast.
La Boca isn’t my favorite part of Buenos Aires. It’s unique and interesting but touristy and a bit dangerous. It’s a poor area rich in history and creativity. The 29 had a strong vibe. Some people were scary looking, while others appeared weathered and worn with tired eyes and drawn faces, perhaps from a hard life.
Getting to La Boca
On the bus ride to Boca I sat next to a woman holding a small child – both seemed to be fast asleep. Magically, they woke up the moment the bus arrived at their stop.
Yesterday I waited for the bus with a group of people including four enthusiastic friends who were entertaining everyone at the bus stop. They were funny and even with my malo Español, I caught a few of their jokes. Everyone laughed.
Independence Day May 25
May 25 is Independence Day and a holiday weekend in Argentina. Major plazas are blocked off for festivals and streets are teeming with political diversions and fast-moving pedestrians.
La Boca History
La Boca is on Riachuelo River, a small inlet of Rio de la Plata. The Port of Riachuelo and a railroad, Vuelta de Rocha, are two key elements of the famous neighborhood. Most La Boca residents are descendants of Italian immigrants from Genova. They speak with a Genoese or Xeneize dialect.
Genoese immigrants settled in La Boca in the early 1900s. They built houses on high sidewalks to protect them from river flooding. Many of the buildings have wrought iron balconies, and houses are painted in bright, spectacular colors using leftover paint from the dockyard.
La Boca Art
La Boca is a popular area for artists. Caminito Street is one of the city’s most photographed tourist spots. It’s alive with colorful murals and graffiti and a favorite place for artists to display their work. Caminito is famous for markets selling art, souvenirs, and local merchandise. Leather goods at La Boca markets are cheaper than elsewhere in Buenos Aires, but the quality isn’t great.
Two galleries of interest along the river boardwalk are the Fine Arts Museum of La Boca and Foundación Proa, a modern exhibition center. Foundación Proa hosts contemporary art shows featuring works from Argentina and abroad. They conduct art workshops, conferences, and concerts. The Fine Arts Museum displays the work of beloved local artist Benito Quinquela Martí, considered a “son of La Boca neighborhood”.
In 1890, nuns found infant Benito opposite the door of an orphanage – House of Abandoned Children. He lived at the orphanage until a family adopted him. As an artist Martí worked on Theater La Ribera and Bridge Nicolás Avellaneda, named after Nicolás Avellaneda president of Argentina 1874-1880.
Churches, Pope Francis, and Tango
Churches in La Boca include San Juan El Evangelista and the Sanctuary Nuestra Señora Madre de los Emigrants which pays tribute to multinational immigrants who arrived in Argentina. You see statues and caricatures of Pope Francis and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio throughout La Boca. The people of Buenos Aires are proud of their Cardinal Pope.
La Boca has abundant tango studios and Italian taverns. Dancers perform in cafés and on the street. The restaurant where I stopped for lunch had fantastic live tango and flamenco dancers. After their performances, the dancers circulate to talk with people and collect tips.
Soccer is a major force in La Boca highlighted by the popular Club Boca Juniors soccer team and La Bombonera (chocolate box) stadium. Boca Juniors is “the club of Argentina’s working class”. Famous soccer players like Juan Román Riquelme and Carlos Tévez got their start with Boca Juniors. La Bombonera stadium holds 50,000 spectators and is also used for concerts. The Museo de la Pasion Boquense monument idolizes the La Boca soccer team.
It was an interesting day, and I learned many new things about Buenos Aires!