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Maradona, a paper mache Pope Francis and Tango dancing.
Caminito in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires has got to be the only place on the planet – the galaxy, even – where you’ll find all of the above within a few feet from each other.
Buenos Aires’s most colourful neighbourhood, it is by all means and purposes nothing but one big tourist trap. A very eccentric, interesting and colourful tourist trap, but a trap nonetheless.
You’ve barely taken a step out of your taxi (or bus, because you just don’t walk to La Boca) when you’re being offered to wear somebody’s hat and take a photo for a small fee. I’m not sure what the hat is for, but if I wanted a picture with a hat I would have no objections in buying my own.
Take a few steps forward and you’re being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have your photo taken with Maradona. Except it’s not Maradona, but a slightly portly Argentinian man with curly hair and questionable facial hair who has trouble kicking his football in a straight line.
You’re surrounded by stalls full of the regular South American fare – alpaca jumpers and hats, bags of all sizes, shot glasses depicting notable sites, artisanal jewellery etc – with the only difference here being that a lot of what’s on offer doesn’t exactly seem the most authentic. There were a lot of bags, pencil cases, purses etc that were obviously originally merchandise for Machu Picchu or Cuzco, or some other place in Peru, as you could clearly see the official Peru logo on one side. But for some reason, they had been haphazardly covered up with Argentina flag patches.
Caminito is famous for it’s colourful buildings and paper mache figures. To be completely honest, I don’t understand the relevance of the figures. They’re creepy. Like puppets but worse as there’s no strings holding them down. One of the first figures you see on entering the main street is arguably the greatest person to ever come out of Argentina, Pope Francis.
Walking down the main street, you find yourself surrounded by nothing but overpriced restaurants, souvenir shops and random photo ops. There are professional tango dancers entertaining on the corner, and in a few of the cafes, but even they look like they would rather be anywhere else on Earth.
Other than the creepy puppet people, Caminito is most famed for its colourful buildings. Originally one of Buenos Aires’s poorest neighbourhoods, the structures are as they are because people used any materials they could get their hands on, and painted them with whatever leftover paint they had. In 1959, Caminito and the few streets surrounding it were declared an open-air museum, and now, according to my nice taxi driver, the owners of the buildings are obliged to slick on a fresh coat of paint every few years to keep the area bright and lively.
Except it’s not bright and lively at all.
It’s sad, faded and a poor representation of what Buenos Aires really is. Sure, the area has a history; it has depth, personality and a story to tell, but I fail to see what a second-class Maradona lookalike and Barack Obama made of paper and paint have to do with that.
The houses are not bright. They look beautiful in the pictures you see online and in guidebooks and advertising, but in real life no combination of Instagram filters could make them look even halfway happy.
Repeatedly referred to as Buenos Aires’s “must-see” barrio, I was kind of expecting a grown-up version of Balamory, only with more steak and less annoying Scottish accents. What I actually got was kind of how I imagine an extremely bad comedown from crazy strong narcotics would feel. The whole time I was strolling through the streets, it just felt like I was in a dream, and not a particularly pleasant one at that. As ridiculous as it sounds, over time it became more and more difficult to distinguish actual people from the paper mache figures they were posing with.
There were tons and tons of people there who seemed to be having a whale of a time though, so obviously the area must be somewhat appealing to some, but it really, really was not my kind of thing. Maybe if the sky was blue it would have injected some life into the place, but from my experience, if somebody asked me about it I’d tell them to save themselves the taxi fare and not bother.