San Ignacio (15 April 2012)

The cheapest bus we could get to San Ignacio (AR$47 pp) left Puerto Iguazu at 15h30 (so we had to wait a few hours at the bus station). We arrived in San Ignacio 4 hours later and went in search of the Adventure Hostal (a more or less 1.5 km walk up and downhill with our backpacks – not too bad). We booked a dorm room, and luckily no one else shared the room with us.

We went in search of a place to eat or an open supermarket, however, San Ignacio is a typical small town where everything is closed after 5pm. Luckily we did find a small local restaurant, and ordered a Napolitana (pollo) – which is a (very large) chicken fillet, covered with a (very large) piece of ham, tomato paste and cheese.

The biiig Napolitana

The next morning during breakfast (toast,cake, dulce de leche, coffee) a green Katydid decided to join us. The insect looks like a leaf!

A green katydid sharing our breakfast 🙂

The reason for going to San Ignacio was obviously the San Ignacio Mini Jesuit mission (which we went to the next morning). It is one of the best preserved missions in the Misiones province of Argentina (all the missions in this province were destroyed in the years following the expelsion of the Jesuits). One of my favourite movies, “The Mission”, relates the story of when Spain expelled the Jesuits from the missions. I was rather dissappointed to learn that the only part of the movie filmed in the Misiones district of Argentina was at the Iguazu falls. The rest of the movie was apparently filmed in Colombia!

A model representation of the Jesuit mission

The San Ignacio ruines. Top left is the living quarters of the Guarani. The rest is from the church building. In the bottom middle – they first built the sceleton of the buildings with a very hard type of wood, afterwhich they filled it with stones.

One tree has grown around the remains of a pillar that was once part of the San Ignacio Mini mission. At the right, the pillar is just visible inside the tree.

I was impressed by what the Jesuits managed to do at the missions. They seemed to have a fairly modern approach in the way they integrated the two vastly different cultures. They respected Guarani culture, learning from them, learning their language, and taught them about Christianity in the Guarani context. They used different art forms (music, dance, sculpting, painting, etc) which the Guarani could relate to, since in the Guarani culture music and dance was also the way in which they communicated their history and religion. The Jesuits were also clever in maintaining that, since the Guarani were living in towns, they were Spanish citizens and could not be exploited as slaves. The missions were therefore also a safe haven for the Guarani people.

We enjoyed reading about the Guarani culture and beliefs. They were very respectful of the forest and animals, living by the rule of never taking more than they need (I wish more cultures were like that). We found an interesting story which sounded like a Guarani version of Noah’s ark:

The Guarani version of Noah’s ark

The religious beliefs of the Guarani reminded of some texts in the Bible, and I think the Jesuits could easily have explained the Biblical story by comparison. For example the following two quotes from Guarani texts:

When the earth did not exist, amidst the ancient darkness, when nothing was known, He made the fundamental word open like flower, and, with Him, it divinely became Heaven; this Namandu did, the true father, the first one.

The Guarani knew he had to die and was not afraid of death, but his ideal was those people who, on reaching a certain level of perfection, without dying would pass straight onto that land without evil where plants grow abundantly and without needing attention and where feasting and dancing never cease, and no one gets tired…

We met a couple from Denmark at the missions, who shared their experiences in Argentina with us – it’s always helpful to talk to fellow travellers! They just came from Buenos Aires, where they stayed in the San Telmo district. They enjoyed staying in the lovely, old neighbourhood, however, they were mugged during the day, and lost their camera. They advised us to rather stay in the Palermo area, since they’ve heard of other travellers also being mugged in broad daylight in La Boca and San Telmo the past few months.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town, waiting for the 6pm overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

Old cars everywhere…Awesome!

It was nice to spend some time in a small town again. As in so many small towns in South Africa, the people were warm and friendly. We found the story of the mission both interesting, and sad. Sad to learn about how the Guarani were almost destroyed by the Spanish and Portugese. Sad to learn how something like the cross-cultural Jesuit missions had to suffer due to silly people in powerful positions feeling threatened by the mostly good relationship between the Jesuits and the Guarani and the growth in power of the missions. We’re not sure if the Guarani texts were from after the missionaries or before, but it reminded me of the following verses from Romans:

Romans 2:12-17

“12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ…”


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