Getting lost in La Boca

My stay in Buenos Aires was almost over and I still hadn’t visited one of its most famous streets: El Caminito. For each city, there is always one image that comes to mind when mentioned. For Paris it’s the Eiffel Tower, for London it’s Big Ben, for Barcelona, everything related to Gaudí, for New York, it’s the Statue of Liberty and for Buenos Aires it’s El Caminito, which is also generally associated with tango. As a matter of fact, that little street is called this way because of a famous tango song by Carlos Gardel.

So after my adventure at the post office, I decided to refresh my mind and go for a walk in the area. They had warned me that “The Little Walkway” was located in a not so safe area of the city and that it was unwise to wander around there alone as a tourist. I had a quick look at the map to see where I needed to go to and remembered Ulrich, one of the Belgians I had been watching the World Cup games with, told me La Boca was right next to San Telmo, a neighbourhood we had been visiting together. I thought it was safe to start from a place I knew, so I went back to the area he had fingerpointed just a few days before and started to walk.

The streets I was going through didn’t look really nice to me. Much less than the Palermo area where I was hosted. But I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first and kept on walking. And walking.

As it seemed quite a bit further away than I had in mind, I had another look at the map – a proper one, this time… Only then did I realise how big “La Boca” was. And that El Caminito was only like a block or two inside that same area. But I had already been walking quite a bit and was convinced I couldn’t be that far from my destination any more. Did I know I couldn’t be more wrong.

The closer I seemed to get, the dodgier it got. My sense of orientation didn’t help either. Holding the map upside down, going North when I was supposed to go South, going left when I was supposed to go right… I felt more and more uncomfortable. I had landed in just the one area in Buenos Aires I wasn’t supposed to be in,. And I could feel I just didn’t belong there. The more nervous I got, the more lost. I I got. I had been walking for more than an hour and decided it might just not be the good day for tourism, and therefore decided to get the bus back home instead.

Area around El Caminito.
Area around El Caminito.

But if I hadn’t found El Caminito, how the hell was I supposed to find the right bus stop, which wasn’t even indicated on my map? I walked more dodgy streets, felt even more uncomfortable, almost felt dizzy at one point and couldn’t stop blaming myself for being so stupid. Although you often wonder if these neighbourhoods are really as dangerous as people make out. The problem being, the more you are scared, the more people will sense it and is it likely something bad will happen to you. Just as I thought it was a hopeless case and imagined myself dwelling in the maze of La Boca as the Minotaur in the middle of the Cretan Labyrinth, without probably even my camera to register the experience – as it was most probably going to be stolen at one point – I saw bus 152 passing in front of me. Happiness. Salvation. I did manage to get home safely.

I still hadn’t seen El Caminito though. And I would have felt kind of frustrated to leave the city without seeing it. So I went back the following day. On wheels. And although there were a few nice, colourful little streets, I was disappointed by how touristic it all looked. I mean… I am a tourist of course. But it was just full of those little souvenir shops, which all sell the same postcards and mugs, the restaurants that claim they will offer you an “authentic” experience with milongas all the way while you’re eating your Argentinian steak and waiters trying to lure the passers-by to their terraces – pretty much similar to how they do it in the “rue des Bouchers”, in Brussels – and the couple of tango dancers who are merely there so people could take a selfie with them and post a nice picture on Facebook commenting “Learning to tango in Buenos Aires LOL”.

El Caminito.
El Caminito.

I took a few pictures – it did cost me some energy to get there with my camera – stayed 15 minutes, jumped back on bus 152 and got off in Puerto Madero, which is to La Boca, what Punta del Este is to a permaculture community. Poshest area of the town.

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