On your way to Rio de Janeiro, cruising through Brazil, you will spot a strange sight of Santas staring out at the roadside. Their eyes lack luster, they stand in the cover of palm trees, surrounded by shrubs.
Along with Father Christmas is the whole caboodle, strewn on the grassy land. There’s Santa’s sleigh guarded and drawn to eternity by Rudolph and other reindeer. There’s a strange house in the middle, upturned, seemingly unsweet candy canes; children’s swings, rusty slides. This is Park Albanoel. You’re in Itaguai, Brazil. Long abandoned Christmas-themed park.
The park was conceptualized by Antonio Albano Reis, a politician whose trademark fashion was to dress up as Santa Claus every Christmas. People called Reis the Santa Claus of Quintino for that reason. He planned on building the park over 30 million sq. meters of land- a fantastic world of imagination for everyone to enjoy for all kinds of occasions. But this long-term dream was halted when Reis died in 2004 from a road accident. Only the section devoted to Santa was finished and it would soon fall into decadence.
Christopher Jones, a British school teacher, was traveling through to Parati when the abandoned park came into view. He stopped by the road and, along with his friends, investigated the strange Santas that stood there and took pictures of them. A sharp photographer, Jones told CNN Travel of his odd experience, of him driving by the park several years since it was closed. He showed them snapshots of the place that captured its offbeat aura.
Jones went on to relay his experience and said, “It’s this huge compound, completely open to the road. I think there was a very small wall, about a foot, two foot high and it’s just it’s completely abandoned. There’s some sort of big house or residence behind it, but the sort of lawn area at the front is just completely open.”
The strange atmosphere of the park was inviting to Jones and his pals and they would start to explore the area. It had been there for years, Christmastime all throughout the seasons, unchanging, so their mirth had become sort of macabre; Santas laughingly endured decay, mocking. “[Christmas] is designed to be so happy, isn’t it? And joyful,” says Jones. “Yet these things are riddled with the cracks and mold.” Jones added.
Christopher Jones was lucky to have a camera with him. He’s a hobbyist photographer and what he saw in Brazil he knew he couldn’t pass up taking pictures of. He explained how the whole environment plays to the park’s overall effect of strangeness. The steep valley behind, farther away a beautiful waterfall flows, and he had to work harder to get it all in the same picture.“The sort of Santa Claus in the — it almost looks burnt out helicopter — was a particularly surreal one,” Jones describes how certain settings stood out in the park and in his mind.
Jones succeeded in taking photographs of the beautiful setting. He ventured into certain structures and shot rickety doorways and sad windows. The place has been totally abandoned, and an air of dereliction hovers in the midst of the place’s natural beauty. He saw broken Christmas statues, inside there are bits and pieces of cement and dirt, eerie guts of odds and ends. The group of travelers had wanted to walk farther beyond the Christmas park but were suddenly apprehensive. They thought about what could lie there waiting for them. “We didn’t want to get too far into the site, just in case. We stayed by the periphery, really, but who knows what else is in there?” Jones said.
When Jones flew back home to the UK, he enhanced the pictures he had taken of the park. He boosted certain colors after desaturating the snapshots and highlighted the place’s outlandish aura. He posted his work on his Flicker page.
People who have been drawn to it online are often hard-pressed to find photographs of the abandoned park other than what Jones has shared. His images have been re-shared by high-profile social media accounts, and movie director Guillermo del Toro is one of those who have shared them through Twitter. Jones says that perhaps not many people know this eerie abandoned park even exists, and those who do have never been there themselves to actually take close-up pictures of it.