On a mission from God

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January 28th 2012
Published: January 28th 2012
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Argentinian Missiones


Sunset over Posadas
Day 105 Tuesday 24th January

To Paraguay or not that is today’s decision from Posadas we can get a day tour to the Jesuit missions just across the border, but the only problem is we need a visa. First thing this morning we went to the small Paraguay consulate two blocks from our hotel to investigate the costs and the procedures. The consulate was near the shops and just looked like a small house with a door near the footpath, and it was so nondescript that we actually passed it before we realised. There were no guards out the front and when we gingerly opened the door we were greeted by a young woman sitting behind a small desk. She couldn’t speak English and had to go out the back and get a guy who could. A very helpful man informed us we needed two passport photos (check), two copies of the front page of our passport (check), two copies of the passport page with our entry stamp into Argentina (what), two copies of our visa card (oh no we don’t have that either), two copies of details of our departure from Paraguay like plane or bus

Across the river to the town of Encarnacion in Paraguay
tickets (what the?) and either $US65 each for a single entry or $100 for a multiple entry visa. All this for a day in Paraguay plus the tour costs so we have decided to give it a miss and try to go there from the Bolivian side when we have more time to see other sites and towns in Paraguay and get our money’s worth from the visa cost.

Now all this has caused a spanner in the works as we also tried to get accommodation in the town of Encarnacion in Paraguay for an overnight stay to make it worthwhile but found out it is their carnival weekend and the hotel did not respond to our email. So we think we will extend our stay here in Posadas till Sunday and check tours around the area. In the early afternoon huge storms rolled through the area and one particularly nasty looking one skirted to the north of the city, with constant lightning strikes so did the wise thing and clung to our room.

In the evening with the storms over we walked back down to the tour agency and discovered that the woman who could speak English
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Monastery walls
had left for the day so we couldn’t book any tours and so opted to return in the morning when she would be back. When wandering around town trying to find somewhere we could get an alternative feed but ended up back where we usually ate where at least Shelley could pick up a great salad.

Day 106 Wednesday 25th January

Up early this morning and onto the streets to get some chores done. Dropped off our laundry first thing at a laundrette, and then wandered down to the travel agent where we could lock in some tours over the next few days. Off to some old Jesuit ruins tomorrow and a waterfall on Sunday, both are expensive but unfortunately a tour is the easiest way to do it. Neither of us are big on the tours, especially being on the bus tours, which the Sunday one will be but the alternative was difficult. Luckily the travel agent could also book us bus tickets out of town for Monday so that saved us a trip to the bus station, which is 5 kilometres away. All this cost us slightly more than we had
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Ruins of the Church
on us so I (Scott) had to run a few blocks to a bank for extra cash.

With all this booked we headed down to the river to have a bit of a look around. Pasadas sits on the Rio Parana which acts as the border between Paraguay and Argentina. The river was dammed back in 2004, which raised the level and forced the relocation of 40,000 people and a whole new foreshore was created so we thought we would wander down and have a look. A new road and footpath winds around the river/lake, but it appears to be already collapsing and lots of rock ballast was being dropped in to prop it up. We walked for a long time around the foreshore but it was hard going in the full sun and on a very hot day so we eventually stopped for a cold coke at a café. We had planned on sitting down here and doing some sketching in our note pads but it was just way too hot so we headed back to the hotel.

Day 107 Thursday 26th January

Up and out of bed by 7 today
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Stranger figs covering the wall
and after a quick breakfast we sorted ourselves out and waited downstairs in the foyer for our driver. Didn’t have to wait long before Roberto turned up and we were heading out of town in his 4WD. Today we were out visiting the three nearby Jesuit missions, there was about thirty in this vicinity scattered through Brazil, Paraguay and of course Argentina. All are now just ruins but the best preserved are the ones in Paraguay, and this was one of the reasons we wanted to cross. Didn’t know much about the missions other than what I had seen in the movie “the mission” and always looked at the Jesuits being real bad buggers so today ended up being a very enlightening day.

From what we have read and what the various guides have told us, the missions were established from 1610 onwards by Jesuit priests who were out to develop the perfect “utopian” society, amongst the local Guarani Indians. At this stage the Guarani’s were being attacked and captured by Portuguese slave traders, and the Jesuits could offer them a sanctuary, food and also educate their children. Each mission was established and would have started modestly but were
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Columns to the church
eventually built into a large complex with a church, monastery, workshops, hospital and of course housing. What surprised me was that each mission was generally run by only one or two priests, and that the population of each mission was anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 Guarani Indians. The missions were completely self-sufficient with their own orchards and crops and each mission specialised in a particular crop or asset that they would trade between each other. One was cotton, one was cattle and another mined for gold so they could pay the taxes to the king of Spain, as all of this was on Spanish soil. The Guarani were free to come and go as they wished but if the size of these missions is anything to go by they obviously stayed in large numbers.

The missions flourished till 1767 when the Jesuits somehow upset the King of Spain and he banished them from South America and installed his own “administration” to run the missions. Of course the inevitable corruption set in and the Guarani who used to work the fields for the common good of everyone in the mission didn’t particularly want to be working long days to line the pockets of the mission boss. The missions slowly dissolved and the final nail in the coffin was in the war of 1816 between Paraguay and Argentina, when the Paraguayan army crossed over the border and burnt the missions down. To be fair to Paraguay, Argentina started the war.

The first mission we stopped at was Santa Ana, where as part of our admission cost a guide took us around the ruins explaining what we were looking at, the history of the mission as well as some of the ongoing archaeology. After it was burnt to the ground in 1816 the jungle took hold and it wasn’t till the 1980’s that it was partially cleared. Each mission was built around an open plaza, with the Church on one side and housing around the other three. At Santa Ana the plaza had been mostly cleared, but the housing was nothing more than piles of masonry topped with strangler figs and the lush jungle. The church had been cleared of vegetation and our guide showed us the walls that had to be dismantled and then rebuilt to remove all the roots from strangler figs. We also saw how the whole mission
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Carving of angel on entrance to church
had an extensive drainage system and its own natural spring.

From Santa Ana we drove onto the Nuestra Senora de Loreto mission. This mission was at one point the largest mission when its population peaked at 10,000, but generally the population was half that. Loreto mission had its own printing press and may have been the place where the first bible in South America was printed and also where the bible was translated into the local Guarani language. Today however the whole site has been left pretty much as it was found, completely smothered by the jungle. The amazing thing with walking around this site was that it made you appreciate how much work must have gone into clearing the site in the first place way back in the 1600’s let alone dragging all the stone from kilometres away. It was also our very first taste of wandering through a South American jungle, and we now realised how we had moved into yet another distinctly different zone.

The final mission for the day was the San Ignacio Mini, which our driver described as the “Disneyland” mission on account of how it was reconstructed and the large number of
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Strangler fig taking over the wall
tourists that flock through. The mission was rediscovered and restored back in the 1940’s and before getting here I had visions of a complete rebuild but in fact all they have done is clear the bulk of the jungle away and rebuild the toppled walls. It was a great contrast to Loreto which was fairly much just piles of sandstone blocks covered in trees, here you could actually see the lines of houses and step inside to get a feel of the size. The walls of the church had been set back in place, some with ornamentation, and the monastery was cleared of all vegetation. Our guide was great and was once again able to fill us in on some details of what life was like here. He took us around the entire site and then we had some time to walk back around. Luckily today was a very quiet tourist day so we didn’t have to deal with bus loads of them pushing through.

After we had wandered around for a while we headed out and met our guide across the road at a restaurant, where we got our lunch, which was part of the package. Our driver
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Doorway in church
sat with us and because he spoke good English it gave us the chance to grill him a bit on what it was like to live in Argentina. He confirmed our suspicions on how the economy with about 30%!i(MISSING)nflation and Government policies at the moment could lead to potential problems.

We drove back to the hotel in the afternoon arriving around 3. Getting the driver certainly made seeing the missions easier, and in fact without the driver we have only been able to see one. The cost however was a bit over the top and we don’t believe it was good value, especially as we were told we would be returning late in the afternoon.

Because we had lunch we decided to skip dinner but instead just had a couple of beers at a bar.

Day 108 Friday 27th January

Woke up feeling crook not knowing what had done it to me, lunch, maybe the peanuts, or just maybe the local water. We have been drinking tap water from day one without any problems, but yesterday our driver who is born and bred here told us how
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Remains of the housing in the mission
he was crook and was positive it was from the water. He nearly fell of his chair when we told him we had been drinking the water, so we might have to switch to bottled water for a while…at least till we get out of town. Thankfully Shelley was fine, which is so odd when we eat and drink exactly the same things. I really didn’t want any breakfast but Shelley managed to drag me down for a croissant a cup of tea, and a small piece of cheesecake, I just needed that sugar hit.

Didn’t really want to leave the room today but had to so the cleaners could do their job and so while Shelley hit the streets shopping I sat down in the Hotel lounge area blogging. Later in the afternoon back in the room we spent the time just reading and researching the next stops.

Later in the evening Scott was feeling better so we went out for dinner a lovely pizza with prosciutto, cheese, green olives, white asparagus with an orange cream sauce drizzled artfully over it – maybe not the best choice??

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


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San Ignacio Mini

Row of columns with fig consuming the third one
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San Ignacio Mini

Carvings on the entrance to the church
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Carving above one of the church's doors

29th January 2012

never drink tap water in south america
hi Scott, forgot to tell you or a bit too late also, but never drink tap in all of South America even in the shower or brushing teeth, believe me "YOU WILL GET SICK" i got stomach bugs for a week with diaria and vomiting in Uruguay so watch out mate.buy bottled water only.
30th January 2012

The jungle pics look like my backyard minus the passed out drunks .
31st January 2012

As I skank around the house with the cramps in my ears I wonder how do you drizzle artfully . Maybee the dandy warhols will explain ...
7th February 2012

Wow, i found that very interesting. Paricularly the photo's of San Ignacio Mini. I'm surprised you 2 have been drinking the water myself, seems all good thou, well maybe till now? hope your feeling better soon Scotty x

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