Over the course of thirty years’ travel in southernmost South America, I’ve seen nearly all the great natural sights, from Chile’s northerly Atacama desert to the Moreno Glacier and Cape Horn, and even the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Península. In the process, though, I’ve always looked forward to enjoy the region’s quirkier sights, such as the shrines to the Difunta Correa of San Juan province and the Gauchito Gil of Corrientes, and Parque El Desafío, in the Patagonian province of Chubut.
In the process of researching my books and apps, I have been a reluctant participant in “social media” to the point that, even though I recently began a Facebook page to supplement my Southern Cone Travel page, my own name does not even appear on it. In reality, I’ve used it primarily to post photographs of sights that are not on typical tourist itineraries, but that have brightened my own travels. One of those was El Desafío, an oddball theme park in the town of Gaiman that was created by Joaquín Alonso, who died in 2009 at the age of 90.
I first visited El Desafío in the early 1990s, when Alonso was a lively septuagenarian who crafted everybody else’s refuse into endearingly kitschy junk sculptures that became an obligatory excursion even among those who came primarily to taste the pastries at Gaiman’s several Welsh teahouses. In an Argentina that lurched from crisis to crisis, El Desafío offered a humorous breather until its creator became too elderly to maintain it well, and it closed at least temporarily after his death.
In reality, it’s hard to imagine anyone else, even family members, with the commitment and talent to make the park work (it was never really a commercial enterprise). Even so, when I posted a photo of El Desafío the other day, it was a disappointment to read when my nephew José Massolo commented that, when he went to see the place with his girlfriend, “We found they had sold the lot last year and a bulldozer demolished the entire place.”
What exactly happened with Alonso’s creations, I don’t know and, unfortunately, I won’t be able to revisit Gaiman until later this year or early next year. Still, in his memory, I include here some El Desafío photographs which, unfortunately, don’t have the visual clarity of my more recent work. These are scanned from slides, as I was never able to return to the park after my acquisition of a digital SLR.