Jungle Mission

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October 21st 2011
Published: October 22nd 2011
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Across the river Paraná - nearly a mile wide at this point - from Posadas, in Paraguay, lie the crumbling ruins of missions founded in jungle by Jesuit priests in the 17th and 18th centuries. Here, in the baking heat and sweltering humidity, thousands of indigenous Americans, mostly Guaraní, lived in large communities presided over by Jesuits from Europe. Descriptions of the missions vary considerably depending on the viewpoint taken (from paternalistic Christianisation to philanthropic assistance) but the oddity of finding intricately carved baptismal fonts and large, red-brick churches bang in the middle of the Paraguayan forest is undeniable.

The two 'Missionary Reductions' (their official name in Colonial times) we visited - Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangüe - are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins are well preserved but, unsurprisingly, little visited. An easy day trip from Posadas, they are well worth the visit. Jesús de Tavarangüe especially, located as it is in bucolic surroundings startlingly similar to the English countryside!

I doubt we'll see very much more of Paraguay than this very quick foray across the border, but even this short trip was enlightening. This is one of the few areas in South America where a native language - in the case of Paraguay, Guaraní - is spoken extensively, and indeed we heard its unusual sound, so different from Spanish of course, all around us.

Onwards to Iguazú!

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