Madres & La Boca
Trip Start Unknown
149Trip End Ongoing
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
On Thursday, we visited the Metropolitan Cathedral on the Plaza de Mayo. The cathedral is the burial place of General San Martin, who won the independence of Argentina, as well as Chile and Peru.
Promptly at 3:30 pm., we watched the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo processing around the white obelisk commemorating the declaration of Argentine independence on May 25, 1810, located in the Plaza de Mayo. They've been doing this every Thursday since 1976. The Madres themselves, identified by their white head scarves, were joined by lots of supporters of all ages, waving banners and chanting. Nowadays, the Madres are a much more controversial group than they were in the past. Originally, their purpose was to locate their children and others who were kidnapped by the military government during the late 70s and early 80s. Now, their focus has turned to politics and their sometimes fickle political stance has earned them both supporters and opposition.
A distance apart from the mothers were the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of grandmothers dedicated to finding their grandchildren, the children of the "disappeared ones." Apparently, there were cases when the parents were killed but their babies were sold or given to party members to raise as their own. The guide on our walking tour said that to date, over a hundred grandchildren have been located through the Abuleas’ work. Go grannies!
After the march, we took the bus to La Boca. Patti had really wanted to visit La Boca because of its thriving arts scene, but I was more hesitant because one of our guidebooks had called it “the poorest and roughest neighborhood in Buenos Aires.” Both of our guidebooks, in fact, contained long paragraphs cautioning tourists to stay on the Caminito (pedestrian walkway) because the rest of the neighborhood is dangerous. That was enough to keep me away from the neighborhood entirely; but, in the end, I'm so glad we went. La Boca was certainly interesting and it would have been a shame to miss it.
The first thing I noticed about La Boca was the smell. As the bus rounded the corner towards the Caminito, I thought, “What the heck is that?” To me, it smelled like the world’s largest public toilet, while Patti called it something closer to a ton of dead fish. Whatever it was, I held my breath, waiting for it to pass. It never did. The entire Caminito area was infused with the stench. I have no idea how people were eating at the outdoor cafes because the thought of eating anything in proximity to whatever was making that stink literally made me gag. Ugh.
Stinkiness aside, the Caminito was a fun place to walk around. It turned out to be a more touristy version of the artists’ hill in Valpariso, Chile. Brightly-painted tin houses hosted artists’ studios and galleries, souvenir stores and Italian restaurants. Painted sculptures of odd looking people leered out of doorways and second-floor balconies. We couldn’t walk past a restaurant without someone chasing us down the street, begging us to eat there. Often, we couldn’t even get rid of one of these guys before a representative of the next restaurant down the block joined him. Then, we’d have two of them.
While the Caminito was definitely a fun and colorful place to visit (in more ways than one), it also felt sort of fake. My guidebook said that real artists live and work there, but I found nothing to do or see or even eat that hadn’t been deliberately placed there for tourists. Details like the clothesline of laundry stretched between two of the upper balconies in one of the artists’ corridors, lacking a pulley to bring them in, so I could tell they were permanently fixed there, just seemed a bit forced to me.
Thinking back, Valparaiso seems like the “real world” version of the Caminito. There were murals, mosaic benches and light posts, and crazy-colored houses in Valpo, but they were part of a real artists’ community. You could peek in through the shabby sliding doors of a building and see an artist at work, or trip over a guy painting the backs of the steps, his dog supervising each brush stroke. The artists in Valpo are just doing their thing, and if you want to come watch, great. If not, well, whatever. It felt like a real neighborhood, whereas the Caminito seems like it would clear out at night, everyone scattering back to the ordinary, dangerous areas of the real La Boca.