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.
… 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…
… 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.
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.
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.
At some point I turned off the main road to have a closer look at the Tierra colorada.
Near San José I finally entered the province of Misiones and left the Ruta 14, joining the Ruta 105 north towards Posadas.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.