Entrance to the ruins at San Ignacio

Inside the walls at San Ignacio

Trees in front of the exterior walls

Exterior walls at San Ignacio

Intricate carved archway

Shadows on the crumbling rock walls

Sunrise at the entrance

Sunrise at the entrance

Left facade of the entranceway

Right facade of the entranceway

Closed border at Porto Xavier

Taking a boat across the river to Argentina

San Ignacio, Argentina

The Jesuit Missions

May 17, 2008

In between the moon and you, the angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right

- Counting Crows

I had to get up early the next morning to catch the 7am bus out of Sao Miguel to go back to Santo Angelo. Asking at the hotel and looking at a better map I found that there were two ways to get to Argentina from there. The first would be to take a bus to Posadas via Sao Borja, to the southeast, where despite the lack of it on any map there was apparently a bridge over the river, or perhaps a small ferry. The other more direct option would be to take a bus to Porto Xavier to the northwest and then take a boat across the river to San Javier and eventually connect to buses traveling to San Ignacio and the Jesuit mission there. I opted for the more direct (and hopefully shorter) route. Not speaking Portuguese it wasn´t obvious to me how to pronounce Porto Xavier in Portuguese but I was able to clear that up and two and half hours later I was there.

Luckily outside of the bus terminal I heard someone speaking Spanish so I asked the old woman where the port and boats to Argentina were located and she directed me down the road about six blocks. I got to the port at about 11:45 am, about fifteen minutes after the last boat had left for the morning, with the port and the border being closed for lunch until 2pm. I went to a churrascaria, a Brazilian BBQ, for all you can eat meat. After a rough opening due to my non-existent Portuguese the waitress came out of the kitchen with this immense tray of 9 different sized bowls and plates with rice, beans, potato salad, onions and eggs, pickles, cole slaw, cabbage, some white root vegetable like a potato, and bread. If that wasn´t enough then came the meat, skewer by skewer of chicken, sausage, beef ribs, pork ribs, and about five different cuts of beef. Needless to say I left very satisfied that the 13 reals I had spent for the meal and the beer were well worth it.

Then, I waited as cars started to line up for the port to open at 2pm, but 2pm came and went with the port remaining closed. I overheard the guys next to me saying that there would not be any boats until 4pm because it was a holiday. Apparently it must have been an obscure holiday because most of the locals did not know about it. I waited 2 more hours and then finally the port opened and I was speeding across the river in the lancha during the 3 minute trip to Argentina. I managed to make it to Argentina with about 50 reals left ($30), not bad at all for my short traverse of southern Brazil. On the Argentine side of the border I found the immigration office and their computer was down so they stamped my passport and wrote down the details of my passport on a piece of scrap paper.

There weren´t any taxis amidst the long lines of traffic waiting to cross the border due to the holiday so I had to walk 3km to the bus terminal with my backpack in the late afternoon heat. Two local kids showed me the way the last several blocks and I waited an hour for the bus that I had to take to a stop or town called Santa Ana where I could transfer to a bus to San Ignacio. I boarded the bus and kept a keen eye out for Santa Ana, whatever and wherever it might be. And finally, after some 600 hours of bus, boat, and train transportation; it happened; I missed a bus stop. After the bus passed a tollbooth labeled Santa Ana and the next stop wasn´t the town of Santa Ana I went to the front of the bus and they informed me that we had passed the stop a while ago. They let me off on the side of the road a few kilometers ahead where they said I could catch a bus for San Ignacio, basically any bus going to Puerto Iguazu. I only had to wait about 15 minutes for a bus and once aboard the new bus I then saw why I had missed the stop for Santa Ana. It should have been obvious but the bus stop for Santa Ana was in front of an empty restaurant named Santa Rosa, past the tollbooth for Santa Ana. The bus I got on wouldn´t drive into San Ignacio so I had to get off at the entrance road and walk a kilometer in the dark to the town. I finally arrived around 9pm after a long day of buses, a boat, and much walking.

I got up early the next morning to see the ruins of the Jesuit mission by the light of the rising sun and hopefully catch them at a less crowded time. It worked as I arrived just after the first tour group embarked on their tour and after they finished I was the only person walking around the ruins. The entrance to the ruins was probably more dramatic than the ruins at Sao Miguel with the remnants of walls framing a large open central plaza bordered on either side by the ruins of the Jesuit residences. The front walls of the church had much more intricately carved facades and better craftsmanship than the ruins at Sao Miguel, yet much of the rest of the church had been destroyed. The front walls were glowing orange from the light of the morning sun and the peaceful emptiness and solitude of the ruins were impressive. Unfortunately I didn´t have time to take one of the tours as I had to get back to check out of my hotel before 10am but I think wandering around the ruins on my own was a better idea than going through the tour with 30-40 tourists. Having seen two different missions, two different countries no less, I hopped on a bus to Puerto Iguazu to see Iguazu Falls and everything else near the triple frontier of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.