By Alli Sinclair
As part of my daughter’s school curriculum they’ve been studying recycling and reusing materials. The topic took me back to a time in Argentina when I discovered a bizarre and fun place in Gaiman, Patagonia.
Long before recycling became mainstream, Joaquín Alonso collected bottles, cans, and all manner of disused household goods to create Parque El Desafío. Desafio means challenge in English, and I’ve never ascertained whether Señor Alonso named the park “challenge” after his project or if it had a deeper meaning.
Although it’s not technically a museum, Señor Alonso’s work contains articles that are decades old. He used these pieces to create a life-sized VW bug, garden of flowers, birds, trees, and a playground for kids, young and old, to use their imaginations and spend an afternoon living in a world of wonder.
There are signs that display his sense of humour, so it helps if a Spanish speaker is nearby to translate. A classic example is at the entrance. When I was there in 2000 he charged USD4 for ‘functionaries of the state, lawmakers, and politicians’ and 40 cents for everyone else.
In 1998, Señor Alonso entered the Guinness Book of Records as the creator of the world’s largest recycled park. With over 50,000 wine and beer bottles, 30,000 cans, 12,000 bottle caps, 5,000 plastic bottles and an array of televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, and various other household appliances, Parque El Desafío, is a great testament to how one man’s imagination and talent can turn trash into a treasure for all.
Unfortunately Señor Alonso passed away in 2010 and as Gaiman is off the well-worn tourist track, his family were unable to keep the property open to the public. The latest I heard is the place is now up for sale and weeds are growing between the artwork. I hope someone can step in and save Parque El Desafío as it is a piece of history that is important not just to Argentina, but to the world. To see Señor Alonso’s labour of love disappear amongst the weeds would be a tragedy.
Even though you can’t enter the gates now, this video might give you an idea of Señor Alonso’s imagination and vision: