There are two museum ships in Puerto Madero: the ARA Uruguay and her more famous yet less interesting sister, the ARA Presidente Sarmiento. But just because she doesn’t have the very cool history of the Uruguay doesn’t mean the Presidente Sarmiento is boring.
The Sarmiento was a training ship for the naval academy. It was English-built and launched in 1897. Retired in 1961, it’s been a museum since 1964.
Lots of stuff to see from the glory days:
The sign wasn’t super clear on the origin of the taxidermied Lampazo here, but it seems like in 2014 they decided that he’s probably Buli, owned by Lt Calderon and ship’s pupper on the 37th voyage. I don’t know how he came to be taxidermied and under glass on the Sarmiento, and I didn’t see anything on board to shed light on that. Such pressing questions remain mysteries.
The crew dining room now has a video you can watch, and going on through it leads to the officers’ digs, which are nicer.
The Captain’s quarters are off-limits to visitors, presumably because the naval personnel currently assigned to the ship have taken over the best space for offices. But there’s a nice little model of it.
You can climb up on the decks, too, which afford a nice view of the Woman’s Bridge and other ship stuff.
The Presidente Sarmiento is open seven days a week, 10 am to 7 pm. It’s 20 pesos to get on board (at the moment!) and located in Puerto Madero, kind of across the street and to the right from the Casa Rosada. It’s a very short walk along the river to the ARA Uruguay, so if you’re super into museum ships, you can hit them both.
There is something that has always struck me as phenomenally tragic about the Malvinas War.
It isn’t the biggest waste of life ever perpetrated, but it was a waste of life all the same.
It’s not easy for people who were born and raised in imperial powers to understand, either. There’s a lot of background to the conflict, which is important for understanding how the islands are generally viewed by Argentines, and I am in no way well-versed in the history of it, so I’m going to try to briefly illustrate what was going on before the war broke out in 1982.
1– The sovereignty of the Malvinas (they are known officially outside of Argentina as the Falklands, but this is where I live and also what the museum is called, so I’m going to stick with Malvinas) had been in dispute for 200 years, although they have been held continuously by the British since 1833.
2– The belief that the Malvinas are rightfully the possession of Argentina has been culturally entrenched for a long time.
3– British rule over the Malvinas is seen as imperialistic, and the imperial ambitions of European nations and the US has long wreaked profound tragedy across South America, and indeed the political interference of those nations was actively still doing that in the support of the various military juntas that overthrew Latin American governments at the time.
4– Argentina’s military dictatura had murdered thousands of people and was facing a severe economic crisis and growing opposition; the war was a somewhat cynical ploy to bolster home support by appealing to that dumbest of manipulable emotions, nationalism. The war, the loss–it’s all tainted by its association with an illegitimate and murderous regime.
5– Unlike the US, which is more or less constantly sending soldiers to die in conflicts, Argentina hadn’t been involved in any foreign conflicts to speak of since the Paraguayan War in 1870. Most of the Argentine war dead in the Malvinas were conscripts.
So–the Museo Malvinas is located on the edge of the ex-Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, once the largest clandestine detention center and execution site during the dictatura, now a memorial complex. The museum itself is quite new and really lovely.
Outside the building is a large pool with a map of the Malvinas in the middle:
and a memorial to the ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk by British torpedoes with 321 of its crew and two civilians.
It’s not a particularly comforting space. You walk down, until the silhouettes of the ship are above you. The sound of the fountain forcefully brings to mind the idea of water rushing into the ship. It is an evocative, emotional memorial.
Inside, the museum covers the history and flora and fauna of the islands.
That is the focus of the very polished film that runs inside this little theater, despite its introduction here.
There are also areas that cover the older history of the islands as well as Argentine-British relations.
A sizable portion of the museum is dedicated to how the Malvinas have been and are currently addressed in Argentina’s culture, and the idea and importance of sovereignty.
Plenty of space is also given to the war and the dictatura (the leaders had assumed that the UK would not really bother with a military response and that the US, which Argentina had been aiding in funding the Nicaraguan Contras, would stay discreetly out of it, neither of which would be true) that made the dumb ass decision to go through with the invasion.
The war dead are, naturally, also memorialized. You can watch the tablets and note how many were young draftees.
So, for better or worse, the Malvinas remain a British holding (the Falklanders, incidentally, are overwhelmingly of British descent and wish to stay within the UK). The brief war ended with 904 dead and 2432 wounded. The loss finally brought down the dictatura, which had bought nothing with all the blood it spent for Argentina except meaningless grief and psychic scars.
The Malvinas are currently on the 50 peso note.
The Museo Malvinas e Islas del Atlántico Sur is free and open seven days a week and holidays. It’s accessible by train and several bus lines, as it is situated at the back of the ESMA on Avenida del Libertador, a huge avenue. None of the signage is in English, so if your language is weak, you’ll need to bring a translator. There’s a nice small cafe within the building.
Situated in the river in Buenos Aires’s ritziest barrio, parked near its better-known sister museum ship the ARA Presidente Sarmiento, you can find the ARA Uruguay. How much better-known is the Sarmiento? When you get a ticket at the Uruguay, it says “Sarmiento” on it.
But the Uruguay has its own very interesting history! It’s the oldest ship still floating in the Argentine Navy, having come into service in 1874. It was a training ship, it did military naval stuff like go to Patagonia to help throw cold water on Chile’s territorial ambitions, and then it got outfitted for scientific exploration in 1887.
The real high point in the Uruguay’s service life came in 1903, when it was refitted as an Antarctic rescue vessel. It got its chance for glory in that line of work that same year, when the Uruguay was sent to save the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, which had been stranded for an ENTIRE EXTRA WINTER after its own retrieval ship sank on account of being crushed by ice. They had to eat penguins. It was not a good time.
The ship, which honestly seems a little small and drafty for crazy cold Antarctic shenanigans, has a museum below decks.
Here you’ll find artifacts from its naval career:
It includes some items that are original to the ship.
There are some actual artifacts related to the Swedish Expedition, too.
Look at all this space below decks! The 27 guys who went to rescue the Swedes were probably super comfy. After the Swedes came aboard, everybody probably had to spoon constantly.
Ships’ wheels are kind of neat, actually.
Well that’s enough of that! Let’s see some views on the deck.
There you have it, a piece of Argentine naval history parked right there in Puerto Madero, a stone’s throw away from a more famous piece of Argentine naval history, but deserving of attention, too. Tickets are 20 pesos (about 50 US cents at the moment), and it’s open seven days a week from 10am to 7pm. Look for it in the river here.