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Gaiman, Argentina

Parque el Desafío

A retiree's challenge to build an outdoor wonderland out of trash. 

Sorry, Parque el Desafío is permanently closed.

The town of Gaiman, Argentina customarily appears in tour guides as a living example of Welsh colonization of the Chubut river valley in the late 19th century.

Replete with tea houses, imported poplars, and irrigation channels that weave through the center of town, the visual reminders of this wave of European immigrants remain in this South American town. A couple of blocks from the central plaza and the Welsh flags of the city’s main streets lies a hidden gem called the Parque el Desafío on Calle Almirante Brown.

In 1980 the park’s creator, then recently retired Joaquín Alonso, began construction of the outdoor gardens with the intent of entertaining his grandchildren. It grew into a giant outdoor space made entirely of recycled trash and found objects, which Alonso opened to the public in 1984 and continued to augment with almost daily work until his death in 2009 at 90 years old.

The sculptural installations and quotes that line the paths make statements about modern life and current events, recreate foreign locales, and actively endeavor to inspire reflection in the visitor. Flooded for extended periods by the river on whose banks it sits over the park’s three decades of existence, what began as a creative manner by which Alonso could spend his idle time, exists now as an outdoor temple dedicated to a good sense of humor, common sense, and living a rich life.

Alonso organized the park largely according to the visitor’s experience, as he or she follows the labyrinthine paths lined with sculptural installations dedicated to particular themes like the Falkland Island conflict or miniature models of the Taj Mahal and an Andalusian garden. At nearly ever step of the path, a hanging handmade plaque, made from a piece of scrap wood or the top of an oil can, has a handwritten quote, with sources ranging from Classical philosophers like Epicurus and Seneca to anonymous folkiness. These quotes number in the hundreds, and the park’s current caretakers (Alonso’s daughter and other family members) makes a collection of the quotes available to take as a souvenir.

Update January, 2017: Sadly, this park closed and was dismantled in 2012.

Other features of the park include a small tower made of glass bottles, intended as a shrine to Alonso’s Celtic-Spanish ancestors, smaller gardens devoted to Chinese philosophy or the traditions of the Tehuelche, the Patagonian region’s most prevalent indigenous group. Alonso most frequently takes aim at modernity itself with a tongue-in-cheek, dark humor, as in the case of old car chassises with taxonomic names next to pictures of dinosaurs, and using frequent plays on words to condemn television, government bureaucracy, and state-sponsored violence.

Alonso always used reclaimed materials in his installations, but one only barely takes notice of the shabby materials amongst the many items of clear-headed wisdom Alonso committed to passing on through his many years of work.

Know Before You Go

Two blocks from Gaiman's central plaza.