Our World No tourist barriers as barrio hits sweet spot

Even the locals want to visit La Boca area of Buenos Aires, writes STEPHEN SCOURFIELD

It’s not just we overseas visitors who come to the colourful La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires.

“It is touristic for Argentinians, too,” explains a local. “We like to come here.”

It isn’t so many years since this poor district was too crime-ridden for tourists to wander around, and even today, anywhere in Buenos Aires, it’s unwise to wear a gold chain or expensive watch.

But what was a poor and depressed immigrant district has been transformed by art and colour. Buildings are painted brightly and model characters wave from balconies.

There are bars for beer, stalls for empanadas, local paintings for perhaps $20, and tango dancers who not only entertain visitors, but pose for pictures with them, for a price.

One, in a tight red dress, asks for this and when I smile but shake my head, she pouts cutely: “Ah, c’mon. Life’s hard for a girl here.”

Today, La Boca is safe enough, but tour coaches don’t go into adjacent barrios anymore.

A senior guide confides that some have been stopped, boarded and valuables taken: “There is a lot of poverty.”

Boca Juniors soccer team was established in 1905, its blue and yellow tinting the barrio. But in wall murals and papier mache models all over the place, Diego Maradona is wearing the national light blue and white.

Immigrants, particularly from southern Italy, have helped make La Boca what it is today.

And there’s another strong Italian contemporary connection for Buenos Aires, as Pope Francis was born here and became its archbishop. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, he briefly worked as a nightclub bouncer in Buenos Aires before answering his religious calling.

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This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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