San Ignacio: social experiments in a hot place

After we emerged from the Ibera swamps we headed for San Ignacio, a small town close to a number of old Jesuit mission ruins. The Jesuits set up a number of large missions in the Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil jungle area, to eliminate the indigenous Guarani culture and way of life by turning them into good little Christians, in exchange for protecting them against the plantation owners who wanted to eliminate the indigenous culture and way of life by turning them into slaves. The first still being a lot more fun than the second thousands of Guarani moved to the missions. After some hundred years the Jesuits were kicked out by the Spanish crown, when they had become “too powerful”.

Strangler fig on the Loreto ruins.

Strangler fig on the Loreto ruins.

We explored the ruins in San Ignacio itself first, buildings made of red brick with some of the stone carvings and decorations still surviving. In the afternoon we got a taxi to take us to the nearby Loreta and Santa Ana ruins, joined by an Argentinian student with a talent for talking his way out of the entrance fee. These ruins were less restored, still overgrown and in places covered by strangler figs to remind a little of some of the Angkor ruins. Santa Ana had a graveyard which had been used again in the early 1900’s – bit of a spooky place with open and broken coffins lying around in crumbling cemetery ruins…big tree roots growing through the roofs. Thousands of big spiders and cicadas were filling the trees.

The Trinidad ruins in Paraguay.

The Trinidad ruins in Paraguay.

The next day we headed for Paraguay, to visit the Trinidad ruins on that side of the border. It took quite a number of buses to get there – beginning with one back again to Posadas, then three buses first to the border, across a several kilometer long bridge to the second border, then to the town Encarnacion on the Paraguayan side, then finally a bus to Trinidad. We entered the country legally this time, getting our passport stamped (unlike on our 5-minute sightseeing trip from Iguazu). The bus was crowded, India-style nearly. Encarnacion looks quite chaotic, partly flooded by red muddy water the day we passed through. The Trinidad ruins an hour north are much better preserved/restored than the ones on the Argentinian side – covering a big field with well tended lawns and lots of intact decorations and sculptures. The heat and strong sun as we walked around the ruins was brutal. Unfortunately once we arrived we didn’t have enough Paraguayan money for the tickets (we hadn’t found a proper changing place so had changed on the street..only as much as we thought we needed) – luckily they let us pay with Argentinian pesos instead.

Edel and Teresa in the Trinidad ruins.

Edel and Teresa in the Trinidad ruins.

On the way back we flagged a bus to Encarnacion from the road, then got another border-crossing bus but this time we got stuck on the long bridge. Crossing into Argentina seems more popular… We were standing up in the crowded bus now slowly turning into a sauna without the wind as we were hardly moving. Only gained maybe ten meters every few minutes, and I could feel drops of sweat running down my arms and legs. We could hop off and walk of course, but it would have been about 40 minutes to walk in either direction from the middle of the bridge, and we had ran out of water…nearly 40 degrees in the shade, of which there was none. Luckily the driver too was getting restless and eventually he got fed up enough to drive in the oncoming lane against traffic across the rest of the bridge.

We had a 20 hour bus to Salta, 1200km to the west, booked for the next evening. Had planned to pop back in to the San Ignacio ruins during the way, but the ticket, though valid for 15 days, allowed only one entrance… Saw some spectacular lightning in the evening from the bus to Salta – I was watching it for 40 minutes before I fell asleep and the sky never stayed dark for more than a second.

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