Trash or treasure?

For years the Parque El Desafio was a playground for the local children. But it also stood for much more – an example of how trash can be used for good.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Parque el Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

For almost two decades Joaquin Alonso collected the scraps that others regarded as trash. Things destined for the dumps were hoarded and cared for, given a new lease on life.

From the rubbish of others, the Argentine created works of art.

He collected bottles, can, scraps of metal – anything really – and turned them into masterpieces. And from these artworks he created a wonderland, a playground limited only by imagination.

Parque el Desafio started as an amusement for his grandchildren but soon children from all over his small town of Gaiman were coming to play. The youngsters would lose themselves in the magic of the fantasy land.

They could transport their games to imaginary worlds, far from their small Argentinian homes, to places where dinosaurs roamed or aliens lived. They weren’t surrounded by rubbish, they were surrounded by stimulation for adventures.

Joaquin Alonso had known all along that everything had something and that within dirt, lies gems.

Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina
Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

A man’s life, though, is not like imagination. It is not endless and is not without boundaries. It is finite and must one day come to an end.

And so, two years ago, Joaquin Alonso succumbed to the inevitable and passed away. All that remained of his time on earth was his playground – Parque El Desafio.

Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

Joaquin Alonso’s legacy

For many months his family kept the Parque el Desafio museum open for children, travellers and lovers of the magical. But the small town of Gaiman is not near much and has very few tourists pass through. The number of visitors was not high and what was a labour of love for Joaquin was not profitable for his family.

Just months ago, the family closed the doors.

Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

Nothing has been touched in Parque El Desafio, though. Not knowing it had closed, I made the trip out to Gaiman and through the steel mesh fences I could glimpse into a wonderland.

Behind the For Sale notice and past the broken entrance sign, I could get a vague sense of the adventure within.

Despite the overgrown weeds in the gardens, I imagined and I was inspired.

Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

Recycling trash into art

The Guiness Book of Records recognised it in 1998 as the world’s largest ‘recycled’ park.

It apparently has 50,000 wine and beer bottles; 30,000 cans; 12,000 bottle caps; 5,000 plastic bottles; televisions; refrigerators, washing machines; and much more. All of the items have been recycled and turned into artworks.

Parque El Desafio, Gaiman, Argentina

Now, the only thing that needs recycling is the park itself. Just as all of its parts were once discarded by their owners because they were deemed unnecessary, it seems the same may happen to Parque El Desafio as a sum.

It’s not clear what will happen to it – whether it will be bought and reopened or whether just the land will be used for something else.

If it is to be saved, it will need to be by someone with as much imagination as the park inspired in its countless visitors over the years.

16 thoughts on “Trash or treasure?”

  1. Quite an honor to have your life’s work recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Sad that the family of Joaquin Alonso must sell the park, but the memories of those who visited will remain.

  2. Hi,

    I am Sharvari From India.

    Its a really nice place you have visited.Though its not going to remain as exciting as it seems through your images over the coming years…

    I really like the way you explains your thoughts about the places you visit.

    Do visit My India, I would like to hear your feelings about my Country too.

    • Hi Sharvari, thanks for stopping by! I would love to visit India one day. Hopefully I’ll get there soon – and be able to spend a long time there. I’m sure I’ll love it!

  3. I traveled through Gaiman nearly 15 years ago, and met the gracious Sr. Alonso and his wife. My buddy and I were the only ones visiting that day, and he told us that even then he was struggling to maintain the park, that vandals often undid his work as quickly as he made it.
    Even with the sadness we felt, seeing an artwork that was (already) falling apart, the joy that shone through those aluminum cans and plastic bottles and the wry wit inscribed on all that scrap metal charmed us. Gaiman remains one of my favorite stops in my travels through Argentina.

    • You are so lucky to have met him. I was quite disappointed to find out he had passed away. I’m sure he was a wonderful man with some amazing stories.

    • Yeah, I think you’re right. Art is in the eye of the beholder but anything that’s had this much love and attention given to it deserves to be called a treasure.

  4. Thanks, Michel and all of the blog’s visitors, by your kindly concepts. Our father (mine, and of my 3 sisters) was a hiperactive man. The last 25 of his life (he died at 2010 of 89) he took El Desafío like his ocupational terapy. But, basicaly, for expand his unlimited creativity. It was imposible for us (his descendence) all living in other cities at Patagonia, to kept this colosal effort day after day, in such a minucious work. El Desafío is, finally, a big example for all the people that have known it.
    Excuse me for my poor English. Thanks to all of you by your considerates words. Daniel


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