Caminito: the Tourist Trap that Grew on Me

Known for its brightly painted houses, street artists and tango dancers, Caminito is one of Buenos Aires’ touristic “must sees.”  Caminito is located in the Boca neighborhood, which is also home to the Boca Juniors, one of Buenos Aires’ premier soccer teams.  Boca is an impoverished, run down area that wouldn’t see any tourists apart from Caminito and the Boca Juniors.  In fact, tourists are warned to stay within the Caminito area, which includes the Boca Juniors’ stadium, the Bombonera, and to skedaddle before dusk.

Matt and I headed to Caminito one Wednesday and proudly navigated the bus system to get there.  While that may not seem like a big deal, understanding public transportation in a foreign culture and language is always an adventure. Subways are pretty straightforward and once you have been on one the rest are fairly easy to understand.  Buses are different.  When you don’t know how much to pay or how to pay (cash, tickets, passes), it is difficult to try to understand with limited language skills, while a line of people queue up behind you.  For this reason, most tourists stick with cabs, but we were armed with a transportation pass that we were determined to use on more than just the subway.  We learned from our Peruvian friend Jocelyn, who lives in Buenos Aires, that when you get on the bus you tell the driver your final destination and he determines your fare, which you then pay by holding your transportation pass up to the scanner or paying cash. So we set out for Caminito on the bus and managed to get off at the right stop (okay, that part was pretty easy as it was the last stop before the bus turned around), but still, we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves for our bus-taking sense of adventure.

And then our hearts sank: what kind of tourist hell were we in?  Despite my popener quest, I typically am not a shopper.  I shop when I have something I need to buy, not as its own form of entertainment.  And Caminito, as far as the eye could see, was a several block area of street vendors and knick-knack shops, interspersed with tourist restaurants, generally featuring a tango show, guacho show or some other show.  UGH.  It reminded me of the lowest point on our Alaskan cruise, Skagway, Alaska, that was little more than a fake Wild West town geared for tourists. Matt and I assured each other that we didn’t have to stay long and started walking around.  Despite the pushy vendors and tacky souvenirs, the bright colors and art work created a lively ambiance and we began to enjoy the experience for what it was: tacky and hokey, but fun and with some neat street art. We even fully embraced the tacky shopping experience via the popener quest. (If you missed that post, you can find it here:  https://kerryedwyer.com/2014/01/21/the-quest-for-a-popener/)

We intended to visit two museums in Caminito, but the Museum of Decorative Arts of Benito Quinquela Martín (the creator of Caminito) was closed in January, a common occurrence in Buenos Aires, where residents leave for the month to escape the heat.  We went to Fundación Proa and were not disappointed in the Ron Mueck exhibit.  We had never heard of Mueck, a contemporary Australian artist, but his work was unique and great to see.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Mueck

We also sucked it up and ate at an outside cafe where we saw tango dancers and then two guys play guitars.  The tango dancers were okay, but the guitarists were really great and we enjoyed the show.  And my inexpensive steak sandwich with chimichurri sauce was one of my best steaks in the city thus far.  All in all, an enjoyable experience although one I do not feel the need to repeat, unless we decide to visit the Museum of Decorative Arts as it is now February and open again.

Mission Accomplished!

A mere three days after the discovery of the popenipperain (which, incidentally, I am renaming the popenippering as it has a better, well, ring, to it.  Matt gets credit for the new name), I resumed the original quest for a popener and found success in Caminito, a tourist trap that was surprisingly entertaining.  I will post about Caminito another time, but here are the pictures of the new popeners.  These have handy magnets on the back and while they are not the identical style as the original popeners, I thought my quest was complete.

Popeners

Popeners

Until…

Does Pope Francis have his own beer company?  I’m now torn between continuing to search for every style of popener, popenippering and the like or calling it quits.  I should call it quits, but I might just have to keep my eyes open for another treasure.

If you missed the original post about the quest for the popener, you can find it here:  https://kerryedwyer.com/2014/01/21/the-quest-for-a-popener/

The Quest for a Popener

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a college student living in Italy, my dad and I discovered the holy grail of religious kitsch: the popener a.k.a pope bottle opener.

At the time, Pope John Paul II ruled the Catholic church and we bought a couple of popeners with his image as my mom pretended not to know us.  Shortly after my parents’ return to the US, I received a paternal directive – buy a dozen more popeners and send them home with my friend, Maria, who I would see over Christmas, so my dad could give them to his friends (it is possible that  my mom also saw the beauty of the popener by this time).  So Maria and I embarked on the first popener quest when we went to Saint Peter’s square two days after Christmas. We scoured every kiosk and trinket stand but no popeners.  Eventually I asked a vendor if she had any and after a few furtive glances, she shooed us behind her stand, turned her back to the near-empty square and pulled some out of her pockets.  A chorus of angels possibly wept as we bought her entire stock.

Fast forward to September 2005, a few months after Pope Benedict XVI was inaugurated as pontiff.  Matt and I were on a mission trip to Rome as guests of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, on whose nursing home board I served.  Maria and my siblings were clear – come back with new popeners. While the quest this time did not involve back alley transactions, Matt and I were surreptitious in our purchase for fear of offending the Sisters (who rank among the most impressive and interesting women I have ever met and likely wouldn’t have been offended at all).  Our task was easily accomplished as popeners were abundant.

The current pontiff, Pope Francis, hails from Argentina and is the first South American pope so I was confident it would be easy to find an updated popener in Peru, which is approximately 90% Catholic.  I was  wrong.  I abandoned the Peruvian popener search, but once in Buenos Aires, I renewed the quest.  Matt and I went to the San Telmo street market on Sunday and I rummaged through every tchotchke stand.  There were pope keychains, pope lighters, and pope matchbooks, but no popeners.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity at the market but was likely only about an hour and a half, I found it.  Not a popener, but possibly better: the three-in-one pope bottle opener, nail clipper, key chain.  Or as I like to call it, the popenipperain (poe-pen-nip-per-ain). These must be a hot commodity because I was only able to find three in the entire market.  But as an added bonus, all three have different images of the pope.  My favorite is the one without the glasses.

I will continue to search for the Francis popener as I prefer the traditional style, but I will also keep my eyes open for more popenipperains as I know they will be in hot demand by my family and friends.