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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.