Art and neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires

Vintage markets for breakfast, puppet shows for snack, tango for lunch, open air band performance for your evening tea followed by a dance show for dinner. This is how we spent our weekend in Buenos Aires.

La Boca, the colourful Buenos Aires neighbourhood

La Boca is a neighbourhood in the south of Buenos Aires. Neighbourhoods are called barrios and barrio by barrio is a good way of getting to know Buenos Aires. Travelling through the different neighbourhoods, gives a good idea about the people of the city, their relation with their surroundings and the barrio’s formation.

La Boca is said to be one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, with rentals much lower than the rest of the city. On weekends, a street in La Boca called Caminito comes alive with art, dance and music.

If you choose to live in La Boca, you can be assured of a small but brightly coloured home like one of these. There is an art and craft market in every lane in Caminito. Local artists, mostly living in La Boca put up stalls displaying their works. Paintings of the brightly coloured La Boca houses dominate the art scene.

Everything in Caminito is brightly coloured; even the furniture in the cafes and bars!

Cafes in La Boca

And tall personalities are eagerly waiting to welcome you inside! One “real” person who welcomed us was this guy, who guessed we were Indians and told us his name was Shahrukh Khan!

Another one showed us the menu card and explained what each item on it meant. When we told him we weren’t hungry yet, his reply was, “I understand, you had a heavy breakfast in your hotel and now you don’t want to eat. But feel free to have a look at our cafe. Photography and the bathrooms are free. You only pay for the food here.” We did step in and were welcomed like we were guests in their home.

The signage of the bathrooms took us by surprise.

Tango, the biggest attraction of the weekend in LA Boca

Tango really is everywhere. From tango performances at every cafe to the photo-op artists waiting to dress you up in the tango paraphernalia; all for a small tip!

And, if all this feels like an overdose of tango, you can always count on good old Charlie Chaplin to get you out of it!

But the heart of La Boca is really its football. Diego Maradona, who started his career with the team La Boca Juniors has a reverential status here!

La Boca and football

The locals of La Boca sometimes refer to it as La Boca Republic, like they are a country itself! Their families have lived here for generations. They were born here, went to schools here and worked here. Their friends and families are all here. This is where they played their football! There is no reason for them to step out of the comfort of the colourful La Boca!

The tickets for the matches of La Boca Juniors sell out almost immediately after they become available. You have to buy them in the street markets. The fake sale of these tickets is a flourishing market in Buenos Aires, one that the tourists need to be aware of!

San Telmo, the oldest barrio of Buenos Aires

Another neighbourhood, a little to the north of La Boca is San Telmo. If La Boca is bright and colourful, San Telmo is old worldly. It is after all, the oldest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. And nothing represents this better than the Bar Plaza Dorrego. Named after the main square of San Telmo, it has been witness to the locals and tourists for over a century!

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed here in the last 100 years of its existence. The walls and the wooden furniture and covered in etched messages of love and laughter over a century old. The old coffee machine, now discharged from duty has a place of pride next to the main counter. Robust drawers still have the labels of their contents on the outside.

In San Telmo too, cafes and bars organise tango shows on weekends. The music can be heard walking through the streets of San Telmo.

Antique markets of San Telmo

The main draw of San Telmo, however, is the weekend antique market. Even the locals come here on weekends looking for hidden treasure that might show up on any weekend. From old music and magazines, dolls, clothes, jewellery to cameras and the hand worked, well finished tools, these vintage shops have a wide variety of wares. Even without wanting to buy anything, we spent hours just roaming around these shops.

Street performers of San Telmo

Street performers were everywhere. This was had a huge fan following among the kids. Every few minutes, we would see a new group of his young fans being enthralled by his puppet show.

There is no dearth of entertainment on the streets of San Telmo. A walk in any direction from Plaza Dorrego, leads to artists with a variety of talents, performing on the streets.

As evening falls, the shops on the streets starts winding down. Their place is then taken by the musicians of San Telmo. Full fledged bands take up their positions on the street corners and fill the air with music. The entire neighbourhood turns into multiple open air music shows.

This father-daughter duo was enthralled in listening to one such band. It was lovely to see them enjoying their weekend together like this. When we asked them if we could take their picture, the little girl was a little shy at first. But soon, with some encouragement from her daddy, she too warmed up to the camera. On that cold Sunday evening of Buenos Aires, this warm moment tugged our heartstrings.

The San Domble group in San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires

It was late evening by then and we had started thinking of getting back home. As we were trying to figure out a way to get back, we heard sounds of people cheering and clapping in a certain rhythm. It sounded oddly familiar – quite like the music played out on the streets of Mumbai on the day of Ganesh Visarjan. We followed the sound. Making our way through the crowd, we saw a group of ten-fifteen youngsters playing a variety of percussion instruments and performing steps to that tune. The crowd was totally lost, almost the point of being hungover on the music. Most were going crazy dancing, just as we see each year on the streets of Mumbai!
We were overwhelmed to end our weekend in Buenos Aires on such a familiar note – just another little “feeling at home” note!

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Sao Paulo, Brazil and the beginning

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Devil’s might at Iguacu waterfalls

“Don’t say it like it’s a bad thing” a co-traveler consoled us when we told him it was time for us to exit Brazil. Our visa for Argentina was running out and it was time for us to start putting it to use.

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8 thoughts on “Art and neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires”

  1. Pingback: Travel blogging and why we love it · SandeepaChetan's Travel Blog

  2. Pingback: People of Buenos Aires, Argentina · SandeepaChetan's Travel Blog

  3. The shop with all of the necklaces and the orange boa looked so interesting. I’d have loved to be there. I would have walked out with so many things (that I probably would wind up not wearing but loving anyway. 😀 )

    The picture of the children watching the puppet show was so cute. Children are so sweet and entertained by the simplest of things. We tend to lose that as adults where we require more than just a simple puppet show to entertain us, which is sad.

    1. Hey Tina, true about the children, every set of children we saw was seeing the puppet show with amazement. Hat’s off to the artist as well, who kept the same energy level show after show! for us, it was fascinating, just walking down a street and seeing these things happen, in the middle of a big busy city like Buenos Aires!

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