Out Of Posadas And Into The Frying Pan, San Ignacio

February 18, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A detail of Guarani Baroque carving at the San Ignacio ruins in Missiones Province, Argentina

Our next destination was San Ignacio, a small town of about 7,000 people an hour and a half by bus to the northeast along provincial route 12. We took a taxi to the Posadas bus station which is always fun because most taxi drivers are very friendly and often very curious about their extranjero passengers. Most don’t speak English, so it is also a great opportunity for us to practice our Spanish. Most conversations just cover the basics: Where you from? How long have you been here? Where are you going now? But sometimes with a little longer ride, they can go beyond that. 


We boarded our bus at about 10:00. We always buy tickets for the arriba, or top level of the double-decker, which most of the long distance buses are. The views are the best, and the seats usually recline farther, plus you avoid the smells of a possibly faulty toilet which is always located on the first level. 


A couple of other South American bus tips:

    1. When checking in your baggage, tip the handler a few pesos (10 in Argentina). You’ll get your bag back faster when you reach your destination.

    2. Always go for the top level, and on overnights, splurge a bit and pay the extra for the cama or fully-reclining seat when possible.

    3. Often your ticket will list a range of departure gates, like numbers 5 to 10. Get to the gate early enough to check which one your bus pulls into; it may require a quick walk from one gate to the next.

    4. Most buses will have some sort of sign in the front window listing its destination. If in doubt, confirm the destination with the driver, who is usually checking tickets at the door.

    5. Pack a fleece or extra layer for warmth in your carry-on. Often on the long trips, the AC can get pretty cold, and that extra layer will make a difference.

    6. Bring some drinks and snacks. Usually water is available on board, and if you are on a long haul overnight, food is sometimes served, but you can find out in advance it your ticket includes food.

    7. Bring a book, an eBook or your own entertainment and some headphones or earplugs if you don’t want to watch and listen to the film shown on small TV monitors mounted on the ceiling above the seats - usually an American made action/thriller. The audio is usually dubbed in Spanish with no sub-titles, good practice for your Spanish. 

    5. Hope that the AC and toilet work!


We arrived in San Ignacio in the afternoon, and exiting the bus was like stepping into an inferno with 90% humidity. It was hot, but what made it worse was that we decided to walk into town. By the time we made it to the San Ignacio Hotel, we were pretty much done-in and sweating profusely. Welcome to the tropics. 


The reason we made the stop in San Ignacio was that it was the site of the ruins of one of 30 Jesuit missions, or reducciones, that were established in northeast Argentina and across the river in southern Paraguay. They were built between 1609 and 1767 by the Jesuits as a way to evangelize and educate the local tribes of Guarani indians while at the same time protecting them from slavery and the influences and abuse of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial societies in those regions. The missions have been called one of the world’s great social experiments and were established on communitarian principles as an outgrowth of the European Enlightenment. Unfortunately, they became too successful economically and politically and began to threaten the existing colonial power structure. The locals eventually convinced the Spanish King to expel the Jesuits from the region, leaving the natives to fend for themselves. I recommend the film The Mission with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons to get a little idea of what this interesting part of South American history was about.


Making the long hot walk from the bus station to the center of San Ignacio. The laterite soils in this region are rich in iron which stains everything red.


It was so hot you could fry chicken in the sun!


Our hotel in the center of downtown San Ignacio, the aire condionado was what caught our attention.


We passed this row of tourist trinket vendors on the way to the mission ruins, business was a bit slow on Sunday.


The bias is out in the open at the entrance to the mission ruins. I tried to pass as retired missionary, it didn't work.


So what's so impressionable about a pile of old moss covered stones? Trust me, knowing the history about the people who constructed and lived here helped to connect us to the spirit of the place.


Rainbows over the ruins


Nature prevails.


Built in the sixteenth century, San Ignacio mission was the home for over five thousands Guarani indians and perhaps four or five Jesuit teachers.


One of the entrances to the mission cathedral. The carved sandstone portals are an example of what is called Guarani Baroque, named after the craftsmen who created them.


The main entrance to the cathedral, Voltaire described the Jesuit utopian communities as "a triumph of humanity which seems to expiate the cruelties of the first conquerors"

Returning to 21st century San Ignatio

The curtain has long since closed on the Mission of San Ignacio and that chapter of history.


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