In the 16th century, priests of different religious orders set out to evangelize the Americas, bringing Christianity to indigenous communities. The colonial governments and missionaries agreed on the strategy of gathering the often nomadic indigenous populations in larger communities called reductions in order to more effectively govern, tax, and Christianize them. Reductions generally were also construed as an instrument to make the Indians adopt European lifestyles and values, which was not the case in the Jesuit reductions, where the Jesuits allowed the Indians to retain many of their pre-colonial cultural practices.
San Ignacio Miní (minor in Guaraní to distinguish it from its bigger homonym San Ignacio Guazú - great) was one of the many missions founded in 1632 by the Jesuits near present-day San Ignacio valley, some 60 kilometres south of Posadas, Misiones, Argentina.
In the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3000 people, and a rich cultural and handicraft activity, which was commercialized through the nearby Río Paraná. Nevertheless, after the Suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left the mission a year later. The ruins are one of the best preserved among the several built in a territory today belonging to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and one of the most visited due to its accessibility.
San Ignacio Miní was my destination that day, some 250 miles / 400 kilometres away, but first I had to find my way out of Paso de los Libres. The bigger towns in South America have a sophisticated one-way system, i.e. in one street you can go west and in the next, one block further, you can ride east. The same applies to north and south, with some roads being two-ways thrown in for good measure. This concept helps to avoid congestion, makes it easier for vehicles to stop and for people to cross but doesn’t necessarily support the navigation for the foreigner. After several unvoluntary sight-seeing tours round the centre of Paso de los Libres, I finally pulled over and asked an official looking Señor in uniform for directions.
He sent me a completely different but more straight forward way which led me to the Río Uruguay again, from where I could see the cityof Uruguaiana in Brazil on the other side of the river.
Uruguaiana in Brazil
The Argentinean-Brazilian border post ahead...
… but Brazil would have to wait until the Iguazú Falls – today I wanted to go to Misiones. On the Ruta 14 I passed the town of Santo Tomé…
Entrance to Santo Tomé
… and then the start of the notorious Ruta 40, which runs along the Andes through the whole of Argentina from the La Quiaca on the Bolivian border in the north down to the Atlantic near Rio Gallegos in Patagonia.
Ruta 40, Corrientes
Of course, here in Corrientes we were too far east and the Ruta 40 was only a provincial road. The real thing will have to wait until I cross the Andes from Chile into Argentina again…
By the roadside you can see many richly decorated shrines, most of them dedicated to Gauchito Gil, a legendary character of Argentina’s popular culture.
Shrine of Gauchito Gil by the roadside
Inside the shrine
As John had warned me in advance, the landscape within a radius of 500 miles / 800 km around Buenos Aires is mainly flat Pampa but once I had passed that mark, the countryside became hilly and more colourful.
On the Ruta 14
At some point I turned off the main road to have a closer look at the Tierra colorada.
- Tierra colorada
Near San José I finally entered the province of Misiones and left the Ruta 14, joining the Ruta 105 north towards Posadas.
Only 325 kilometres left to the Iguazú Falls
San Ignacio Miní lies 60 kilometres north-east of Posadas on the Ruta 12. I soon found the campsite ‘La Familia’ and pitched my fabulous tent (a present from John as well as my MSR fuel stove).
Camping 'La Familia' in San Ignacio Miní
My activities were closely watched by two little kids, Matí and Dante, who were asking lots of questions about my moto, the tent and why I was doing what in that particular way.
Matí and Dante
The two are the sons of Claudia, a Historian, and her husband Matías, an artist who makes jewellery and objects out of natural products such as seeds, potter’s clay and semi-precious stones and sells them to the tourists visiting the Jesuit ruins. The family lives half of the year in the province of Buenos Aires and the other half in a cabaña - a cabin on the campsite in San Ignacio Miní.
Some of Matías's work
They invited me to drink some Mate with them and I learnt a lot about the Guaraní culture, environmentalism in Argentina and the living conditions of the rather underprivileged people in the country.
At some point I had to leave for the centre of San Ignacio to get some dinner and visit the Internet Café. Unfortunately I found the latter before the restaurant and when I had finished all the usual updates (Route-log, SPOT message, photos, emails to the loved ones, etc) I realised that the village had closed down in the meantime and it was hungry to bed again – doh! At least I got a photo of the Jesuit ruins on my way back to the campsite.
Jesuit ruins by night
Tomorrow – at the Iguazú Falls – I would eat a whole piglet on toast, I promised my growling stomach…
Disclaimer: All the historical and geographical stuff in this post is shamelessly nicked from Wikipedia.
The following morning the nice landlady at the Hostal Canela served breakfast in my room – did I mention my fabulous room? – with fresh media lunas (croissants), café con leche and zumo de naranja natural (freshly pressed orange juice) – hmm!
Breakfast in bed...
I thanked her very much, promised I would recommend the place to everyone I know (done!) and everyone I would meet on the road, and set off towards Argentina. But no, I couldn’t leave this lovely country without a Uruguay sticker for my moto! So I stopped at the next filling station in Salto. The guys were really friendly, offered me a sticker of their fuel company but unfortunately they couldn’t help me further. But the shopping mall three blocks further down the road would certainly sell the object of desire.
When I pulled into the car park, I was immediately approached by a security guard – of course, I had done a U-turn and was going into the wrong direction of a one-way system… No, the reason he approached me was to point out that it would be much safer for me to park in the underground garage. Muchas gracias, officer, and off I went into the underworld. Again, the security guard there came over straight away, reassured me that he and his colleagues would have a close eye on my DRZ and then he accompanied me through the whole shopping centre on the hunt for a Uruguay sticker. Unfortunately no tienda was stocking such a thing. I tried the motorcycle shop across the street, another filling station, the supermercado but nothing. My security friend was really sorry and sent me into the city centre. We parted shaking hands: suerte y buen viaje – good luck and a safe trip.
Great, I wasn’t even aware that I had missed the actual centre of Salto the evening before. So a brief sight-seeing tour was on the menu.
I stopped at the Oficina del Turismo, the most obvious place you’d think, but they didn’t have any stickers – a kiosco would probably be a better bet. So I looked for a space for my bike – over here, Señora, and three young man busied themselves lifting and moving lots of motorcycles that were already stacked in a tight row by the side of the road. But, oh wonder, soon there was space for my fully loaded DRZ. One of them, Nelson, offered to accompany me on my quest and together we roamed the shops of Salto. Well, I should have come during the World Cup, then I would have been spoilt for choice but now? Lo siento, no hay – sorry, we don’t have it.
Then, I had almost given up hope, we found a little and pretty unlikely shop that sold stickers of Uruguay – hooray! Nelson was obviously proud of his success and back at the bike I gave him one of my London pens as a thank you. You know, the ones where a tourist walks over the Tower Bridge when you move it. Nelson was really pleased and again, we shook hands like old friends.
Nelson and his friends in Salto
Then it was off to the Salto Grande Reservoir and the dam that connects Uruguay and Argentina.
Reservoir Salto Grande Dam between Uruguay and Argentina
The officials at the border didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to do with me and the temporary import of a motorcycle but after half an hour I was on my way again – not without asking this driver if I could take a picture of his peculiar truck.
At the border to Argentina
Back on the Ruta 14 the ride was pretty uneventful. The countryside was still flat, the corrupt police at kilometre 341 (who even have a dedicated thread in the South America Forum on Horizons Unlimited) had taken a day off and waved me through and so I turned to the Ruta 129 towards Monte Caseros searching for more excitement. The road was straight as well but now I could feel a strong side wind, which made the riding a bit more ‘interesting’. Shortly before I reached the town I noticed a pista branching off to the north (my ultimate direction).
In Monte Caseros the tarmac disappeared and I ended up in front of some military barracks – probably not the best point to stop and look at the map. As I couldn’t park the loaded bike safely without risking to fall over, I didn’t consult the map then, otherwise I would have known that I should have searched for the Ruta 47 towards Paso de los Libres… But so I turned to the gravel road that I had spotted earlier, the Ruta 25.
Ruta 25 between Monte Caseros and Ruta 14
There I had my excitement – ruts, gravel, sand and corrugations… But the countryside was nice and everyone greeted each other when meeting on the road, which I liked very much.
Nice views by the side of the road though...
After 25 kilometres I joined the Ruta 14 again and decided to stay in Paso de los Libres that night. As it would become a habit, I did a little sight-seeing tour of the town for orientation purposes and for finding a hotel. I asked a nice lady with her tiny daughter on a quad at the traffic lights and she pointed me to the Hotel Alejandro. Mmm, this looks pretty expensive – and so it was: 180 Argentinean Pesos, which is roughly 30 GBP. Are there any cheaper hotels around? Yes, Hotel Imperial it is then; only 80 Pesos (13.30 GBP) and aparcamiento seguro – safe parking as well. I have to admit that I rode to the locked car park without helmet and on the wrong side of the road (well, the place was on the left!) and of course, at that particular moment in time a police car came the other way. Fortunately, they didn’t even bother to give me a reproachful look…
After turning into a civilised human being, i.e. showered and changed, I went looking for an internet café in order to upload photos, write an email to my one and only Possu and catch up with my blog, where I was still in Buenos Aires. Just before midnight I left the place, realised that I had forgotten to eat dinner, that the streets were deserted and that I had lost my sense of direction. Funnily enough I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all in this friendly town. On a corner I saw two men standing who I asked for my hotel. They were very helpful and pointed me into the right direction. Tired and hungry I arrived at the Hotel Imperial, hoping that next morning’s breakfast would be plentiful…
The next morning at the Parador Playa Ubici I was greeted by this view:
Puente Internacional over the Río Uruguay
The Pulp Mill on the river looked a lot less romantic than last night…
… and the dead fish lining the shore were a rather sobering sight. Officially the fish mortality was caused by the freezing cold earlier that week, so the land lady told me, but in reality it’s down to the sewage of the factories further up the Río Negro.
Dead fish lining the shore
I had breakfast in the sun on the terrace.
Breakfast in the sun
The cat kept me company
Now on the bike, I went for a sight-seeing tour through Fray Bentos to find out where and how far I had walked the night before and to appreciate the home town of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, founded by the German organic chemist Baron Justus von Liebig in the 19th century, in daylight.
Main Square in Fray Bentos
The former manufactory of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, shut down in 1979.
The Liebig Extract of Meat manufactory
Then it was back to the Ruta 3 heading north. Leopoldo had mentioned the village of Nuevo Berlin the previous day and I couldn’t resist to make a detour to this new edition of my hometown by the Río Uruguay.
New edition of my home town
The city map looks slightly different...
... and so does the 'Kurfürstendamm'
I didn’t fancy to retrace my tracks and therefore took a camino leading roughly towards Paysandú, my next destination. The first attempt ended in a cul-de-sac, but as there was only a horse to ask for directions, I just tried another trail. It was bumpy, rutted and sandy but lead me to a tarmac road which joined the Ruta 3 again after a while – voilà!
To be perfectly honest – and I’d like to apologise to my Uruguayan readers – the Ruta 3 was not particularly exciting and when I spotted a sign to a ‘Parque Histórico’, I happily went on a little excursion to the Meseta de Artigas.
To the Meseta de Artigas
The road was lovely
Lined by orange groves
Supposedly it's winter over here...
I was even treated to a little dirt trail when I entered the historical park.
Trail to the Meseta
... where I had a fantastic view over the Río Uruguay
The bust of General José Gervasio Artigas after whom the site is named.
The bust of General José Gervasio Artigas
Río Uruguay still life with DRZ
I was not the only one enjoying the vistas...
A last look north...
… then I returned to the Ruta 3 again. The GPS showed a campsite near the Reservoir Salto Grande and so I rode past the Termas del Daymán and the beautiful town of Salto until I arrived at the lakeside. Only then it dawned on me that the indicated campsite was actually on the Argentinean side of the reservoir (I have downloaded the map software from an Argentinean GPS forum). But I still wanted to stay a night in Uruguay. So I followed the camping signs further north. Nada – nothing. It was getting dark and I still had not found a place for the night.
Finally I pulled up at the Horacio Quiroga Spa Termal Hotel. Oh, the signs stand for day-camping only and the nearest campsite would be at the Termas del Daymán, 30 kilometres south… Mmm, that’s where I just passed through an hour ago and I personally hate to go back. How much is a single room in your hotel? 139? US Dollars? Thanks very much – back to the Termas it is then.
It was really getting late; against my usual behaviour (I’m German after all!) I broke the speed limit of 75 km/h and still arrived at the Termas del Daymán only after dark. No campsite was to be seen. But there – Hostal Canela said a sign, that’s where I will stay the night. The land lady was welcoming and very interested in my bike. She helped me carrying all the luggage into my room and made sure I felt at home. For the equivalent of GBP 16 I was given a whole apartment to myself. The photos are from the next morning but you get the idea how wonderful the place already appeared at night.
Hostal Canela at Termas del Daymán
And another one - just to make you jealous...
Of course, when I walked into the centre of the village for dinner I saw the campsite and a lot more hotels but I was really happy with the place I was staying in. So if you ever find yourself in the area – Hostal Canela can be highly recommended.
The following day would take me into Argentina again.