Argentina was once among the top ten richest countries in the world. Following a century of depression, political turmoil, and war, it can once again be counted among the exotic destinations that travelers want to see. While the capital city of Buenos Aires has much to offer tourists, yachties would be better off avoiding it.
Perched on a plateau overlooking the Rio de la Plata estuary, the city of Buenos Aires again presents a modern face to the world. It has updated its aging subway system, the oldest in Latin America, to serve its population of over 12 million, and built new high rise towers, bridges and roads. But what the tourists come to see are the more colorful parts of the city down along the estuary.
The neighborhood of La Boca is located along the first harbor of Buenos Aires. It is well-known for its colorful shanties, in places like El Caminito, which were built by some of the earliest immigrants. It is also known for its cafes, the exhibitions of the tango, and the pervasive smell of sewage from the Riacheulo River.
The sewage that fouls the river is only one problem; it is strewn with garbage (see photo) and polluted by the industries that attracted those immigrants here in the first place.
Over several hundred years, the unchecked industrial expansion in the river basin has created an environmental nightmare. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that the main industries include food processing (meat, fish, and grain), metalworking, automobile assembly, oil refining, printing and publishing, and the manufacture of textiles, beverages, paper, and chemicals.
Peter and Bob both visited Buenos Aires in the 1970s. They say that the food, beautiful women, and shopping were great, but Bob found it to be the most polluted harbor he’d ever seen. The river ran black, and after only two days a fiberglass hull was so fouled by a combination of heavy bunker fuel and a toxic soup of pollutants that it would be permanently stained. Bob feared that if he ever fell in the water the microbes would consume him before he sank beneath the surface.
Even today Rio de la Plata is known to be polluted. Comments to Lonely Planet say that it is littered with dead fish (photo), with others at the surface gasping for air. Combine the pollution with the fact that the waterfront floods during rains or southeasterly winds, and you have a very unattractive location.
To sailors, the harbor is really just a filthy estuary with unmarked sandbars, wrecks, and unfriendly winds. Better to stay away and leave the city to the tourists. We know that Bob won’t be back.