One of Buenos Aires’ most popular travel wonders is the colourful and energetic borough (barrio) of La Boca; a somewhat rundown area inhabited and built up by Italian immigrants over 100 years ago. Though overcrowded with tourists, buses, snapping cameras and vendors flogging tacky souvenirs, La Boca’s magnetic appeal is captured in the vividly painted narrow street, Caminito (literally, little camino or little street).
This haven for photographers has an enchanting history. Originally settled in the late 1800s by wharf workers from Genoa, it seemed practical to settle in the port suburb of La Boca. Being poor, they built shared housing (conventillo) from discarded materials such as wood and corrugated iron scrounged from around the warehouses. Elevated from the ground to avoid occasional floods, the conventillos were long narrow houses with small private rooms running off a central large patio area. To further save money, the houses were painted in a patchwork quilt of colour, using a variety of leftover paints from the shipyards.
Today, most of this original character has gone but Caminito was recreated as a project by successful Argentine artist, Benito Quinquela Martin, whose fame derived from the crusty and character-filled illustrations of old La Boca. Turning Caminito into a pedestrian walkway and encouraging budding artists to populate the area, Martin rebuilt this alleyway to capture traditional La Boca in all its vibrancy.
Today, stunningly dressed couples entrance the tourists and encourage tips, passionately dancing the tango to pulsing rhythms and reviving the musical culture of past times. As you overlook the conventillos, it is easy to picture families getting together on the shared patios after a hard day’s work, playing their musical instruments and singing and dancing the night away. Cleverly, Caminito was also named after an original and popular piece of Tango music written by a famous resident of La Boca from the early days of the 1900s.
For more passion, nothing beats the rampant enthusiasm from the blue and yellow-clad supporters of the local football (soccer) club La Boca Juniors, who bred such legendary superstars as Diego Maradona, considered by some to be the finest player of all time (he shared the award of the world football association’s Player of the Century). His mural dominates walls throughout the barrio.
Like in many cities, if you wander a short distance from Caminito, you are a chance of discovering some fine paintings and crafts (especially, the colourful hand-woven shawls) at good prices and maybe get an opportunity to garner a more authentic experience of this bustling working-class district.
So while Caminito is highly commercial and touristy, it warrants a jaunt south from the European splendour of central Buenos Aires to experience the unusual history, a strong coffee at one of the street-side cafes and a chance to snap a few photos of the kaleidoscopic houses which line this lively cobbled street museum.
Photo Source: Football