Accidental Tourist

The wind sweeps over history in this strange Argentinian town

Stephen Timm visits a bizarre museum on the Falklands War in Rio Gallegos, one of the windiest - and so weirdest - places on Earth

07 April 2019 - 00:00 By Stephen Timm

Not many have heard of Rio Gallegos but, for those who have, one thing almost always comes up - the wind.
Situated in the south of Argentina near the bottom of the continent, the city is one of the windiest on Earth. It never lets up. It gallops through here at an average of 50km/h on any given day, often gusting past 100km/h.
Trees being lashed about and rain falling near horizontally are regular sights. At night you can hear the wind as it tears at the windows.
The streets themselves are generally abandoned, and there are few points of interest from which to take shelter - except the Malvinas Museum, set up some years ago by five Falklands War veterans.
Yet when I arrive at the hour of its opening, a man emerges with a handwritten sign that says the museum is closed for the day so a few displays can be moved around.
"Come back tomorrow," he says.
When I tell him I am leaving town this evening, he says he will show me around if I return a little later.
When I arrive, I find a small place. The three or four rooms are mostly filled with model airplanes and old Islas Malvinas flags, as well as fading photos depicting Argentina's two-month occupation of the island.
There's no mention of why Argentina lost the war. There is little about the bloodshed and nothing about the lives lost during the sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser General Belgrano or the taking of Port Stanley.
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The only hint of death is a small display on one wall of Darwin Cemetery on the island, where the Argentine soldiers killed in combat were buried. Argentina, you see, refused to have the bodies returned to the continent fearing that doing so would weaken its claim to the island.
More strange is that, though there is memorabilia such as old coins and flags used on the island, there is nothing to explain why the islands are Argentinian. It's almost to say that the issue is a fact, and that having to explain why the islands are Argentinian might suggest a degree of uncertainty over who they really belong to.
When I relate these concerns to the curator, he says the place is being "modernised". With limited funding, it's also difficult to display all these things I have recommended, he seems to suggest - when really the museum's backers have no intent other than to honour those Argentines who gave their lives for this brief and pointless escapade in their country's history.
As the curator and I are debating this, we step outside. All hell seems to have broken loose. Trees are being whipped about and blown almost horizontal, objects are flying past us along the road. The winds are gale force, if not more.
I look at the curator as if to say, "This is crazy." He looks back at me. "This is nothing," he says. "I would say this is about half as bad as you usually get here. You should have been here last week."
I bolt down the main road, Avenida Presidente NĂ©stor Carlos Kirchner, named after the former president who was also the city's mayor in the late 1980s and 1990s. Paint is peeling from every wall. Some are covered with graffiti depicting Kirchner with his wife Cristina and political slogans such as "Patria X Buitres" (patriotism versus debt capital vultures). Drain water spills out into the streets and slakes around potholes.
It's the wind, they may say. It keeps everyone indoors, where you can paint over the past and blow hot air over anyone who challenges it...

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