The Joy Of La Boca

I actually really like Buenos Aires despite it being a really rather large, polluted city. I remember liking it last time I was here too, there’s plenty to see and do, you could easily end up hurling yourself headlong into a non-stop tourist whirlwind, pausing only to wave your camera at another tango dancing couple before collapsing in a vat of red wine, unsure of what just happened. We decided not to do that. We’d just pick and choose a few things to do and we’d do them slowly interspersed with a lot of sitting down because it was bastard hot.

Riverside views. There are a few bars along this stretch.

Our first day we didn’t actually do much at all. We bought some bus tickets, changed some money, then headed down to the bars by the river to find somewhere to watch the Argentina vs Netherlands game which was a fucking ridiculous thing to do without a reservation. Everywhere was full but we managed to squeeze into a bar and perch on the world’s most uncomfortable stools where we could sip expensive beer and watch football on a 30 second delay. This wouldn’t have been so bad but we knew they’d scored from the roars of the surrounding bars before we saw the ball go in ourselves.

El Obelisco. A handy landmark for those of us with the sense of direction of a spanner.

As we walked home the air was electric both with the elation of the Argentine win and the bolts of lightning cutting across the sky. We made it back to the hotel just as massive drops of water started falling, but half the fucking hotel is outside so it still completely flooded as the caretaker tried, somewhat futiley, to squeegee the water into a drain that had already overflowed. We did the British thing whereby you stare at the rain muttering things like, “Well we needed a bit of rain didn’t we?” and “It should calm the air, make it a little less muggy shouldn’t it?” Absolute fucking weather experts, us Brits.

Gearing up for a downpour.

It did calm the air though, it was a lot cooler the following day as we bussed into La Boca. This popular suburb hasn’t changed a fucking bit. It’s a burst of colour and life, an all year round festival atmosphere, and I love it despite it basically being a tourist hellscape. The area itself is actually very poor, the homes were built from corrugated metal and painted with what was left over from the docks hence the bright, mismatched blocks of colour. You’re warned not to stray from the obvious tourist areas lest you be mugged but there’s a strong police presence and as long as you stay where you’re meant to it’s perfectly safe. Just watch your pockets and your bag as you would in any major city.

Here’s your must-photograph standard La Boca scene.

Caminito is the most famous street but most the action is actually down Magallanes where you’ll be invited into restaurants for a free tango show. Obviously you need to buy something, we ordered a litre of beer with two glasses and it was served to us in a champagne cooler covered with a towel. The waiter poured our first glass for us with a flourish, one hand behind his back. It’s fucking Stella Artois, mate. I know the adverts would have you think it makes you piss liquid gold but it’s really not that fancy.

It’s worth nipping down the side alleys off Magallanes. It’s all souvenir shops and novelty mate gourds but it’s fun.

The show was good though, they’re very talented. They come round with a hat afterwards for tips which I believe aren’t compulsory but I’m a grown up now and I’m not going to be the only person not to chuck a bit of money in. Gone are my backpacking days where I’d just try not to make eye contact as I shook my head because I needed that dollar for more noodles.

We wandered around looking at souvenir shops and admiring the local art. I’d buy it all if I could. One artist displaying their work on Caminito really stood out, they painted neon-bright depictions of the area with parts of the painting being actually three dimensional. I couldn’t stop looking at them, but we just can’t warrant splashing cash on art right now. Plus there’s no way we can keep it with us without damaging it and postage is expensive. Like, choke on your drink whilst spluttering, HOW MUCH?! expensive.

Maradona has always had a place on the balconies of La Boca.
He’s joined by Messi these days.

We ended up getting some food from a guy grilling sausages outside the café. Okay so choripán is one of the most joyous things to put in your facehole. The Internet reliably informs me that it’s an amalgamation of chorizo which is the sausage, and pan which is Spanish for bread. They had an offer for choripán with a patero wine which Google refused to translate so I had to look it up. It’s a sweet red wine that was originally made by trampling a late harvest of ripe grapes and it’s not aged. Oh go on then, when in Argentina and all that.

I’d love a bit of your sausage, mate.

We paid inside and got our wine and as he handed it over he asked us, in English and with a slight wince, if we wanted ice.
“Is it normal to have ice?” I asked. He pulled a face and shrugged which I took to mean something like, “no, but you foreign types seem to like ice”. To be fair it was actually quite nice without ice, he seemed absolutely delighted that we liked it. I think if you’re expecting it to be a lovely, dry red then it would be a bit of a shock but the power of Google managed our expectations and we really enjoyed our sausage butty and wine. Usually at this time of year we’d be shovelling bratwurst into our chops whilst freezing to death by the Christmas Stalls at Jubilee Square. This was much better.

We stopped at one more restaurant for a bit more tango and these two were utterly fantastic! Like, actually wow! The other two were good but these two were spectacular. I’m certainly no dancer, I’m surprised more ambulances aren’t called when I attempt anything resembling dancing as my general flailing could be misinterpreted as a seizure, but I reckon these dancers are all the more impressive because they’re doing it on a teeny, tiny little stage in front of a cramped restaurant. He was picking her up, there were well placed kicks where he just had to trust that she wasn’t going to get him right in the bollocks, it was a frenzy of talent fully deserving of the cheers they got rather than the disinterested clapping that other dancers get.

These two were fantastic! 2010 me would probably still have tried to slink off before the tip hat came around but now me is all, shut up and take my money, you talented bastards!

We finished gawping at everything, splashed out on some souvenirs and headed back into town to find somewhere to watch England get unceremoniously knocked out of the World Cup. Oh well. That kind of makes it easier for us because if England had to face Argentina at any point I don’t think we could have left the house.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Stayed at: Hotel El Pibe, Buenos Aires

Hotel El Pibe. Despite being on the 1st floor half of the hotel is outside which makes it a lovely place to hang out. Unless it rains. Our room was a bit stuffy and the fan didn’t quite keep us cool enough. Shared bathrooms are clean with hot water. In fact the whole place is cleaned daily. Kitchen is functional but you have to ask for crockery etc.

Useful shit to know…

Public Transport

  • The Subte is super easy to use because Metro systems just are aren’t they? I love them.
  • Buses are also easy to work out as they’re all on Google Maps. Just type in where you want to go and Google will tell you how to do it.
  • At the time of writing the Subte was AR$42 per journey and the buses were around AR$30, sometimes less.
  • We had to buy the SUBE cards for AR$900 each. You only need one unless you’re catching proper trains, not the Subte, then you’ll need your own. We bought ours from the kiosk by Lima Subte station. She was very helpful.
  • You recharge them at some kiosks and Subte stations.
  • I don’t think you can use public transport without a SUBE card.
  • On the Subte you just tap and go through the barriers. If there are two or more of you using one card just hand it to the next person for them to tap through.
  • On the buses the driver needs to do something on the console for each passenger. So if you’re tapping for two, wait for them to do the thing, tap, then they need to do the thing again so you can tap again.

Long Distance Buses

  • There are several bus terminals in the city but we used Retiro as it’s the most central.
  • When you buy your bus tickets to Buenos Aires, double check where it’s going as not all buses go to Retiro.
  • It’s vast! Downstairs has kiosks and cafés along with the platforms. Upstairs is where you’ll find the tickets desks. A LOT of ticket desks.
  • You need to know which company you want to travel with in order to buy your ticket as they have their own desks. You’ll also need your passport details. A photo is fine to buy the ticket though you’ll need your actual ID to board the bus.
  • I used Busbud and Rome to Rio to find out which companies went where I wanted to go and how much they cost, then we went to the desk rather than booking online so we could pay cash and take advantage of the Blue Dollar rate.
  • When you buy your ticket you’ll be given a range of platforms that your bus might go to. For example, 50 to 66. You just sort of wait in the middle.
  • When your bus is around the corner (and remember, it might not be on time) there’ll be an announcement in Spanish and your bus will be added to the many screens by the platforms with the exact platform number.

Tourist Stuff

  • The number 64 bus goes to La Boca. You can catch it along Hipólito Yrigoyen heading east, get off when you’re by the river in an obvious tourist area. Going west it travels along Avenida de Mayo.

Changing Money

  • It’s the done thing to bring US dollars into Argentina and change them on the black market for the Blue Dollar rate which is almost double the official rate. It’s normal and everyone does it.
  • We’d heard that there are money changers on Florida which is a street not far from Retiro Bus Terminal but we never got there as we were offered the service close to the Obelisk.
  • The area around the Obelisk has a lot of bars and restaurants, and tour offices. Look for the guys holding laminted cards offering tours, they might be able to change money.
  • They’ll take you to an office. This is normal and much safer than changing money on the street.
  • Check the Blue Dollar rate before you go so you know if you’re getting a good deal.
  • We were also offered money changing by guys hanging around in Recoleta near the cemetery.
  • We met a couple who had changed money at a Western Union for an excellent rate so that could be worth looking into.

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