Carved fountain

The Jesuit Mission

A tree grows in the ruins

Right exterior of the church

Archways still intact

Inside the ruins

The church tower

Front of the church

The church and carved stone cross

During the evening light show

São Miguel das Missões, Brazil

The Jesuit Missions

May 16, 2008

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

- Counting Crows

The decision to change what money I had and cut through Brazil to the Missiones province of Argentina proved to be a wise one, as I never encountered a working ATM that functioned with my card during my few days in Brazil. I had also decided, after looking at my bank account, that I didn´t have enough money to spend the time needed to travel up the Brazilian coast and see many of the things that I wanted to see because things are just too expensive in Brazil, especially transportation. I found this out right away when I had to pay some $20 for a four-hour bus ride from Chui to Pelotas. At least in Chui the food didn´t seem expensive as I had my first Brazilian lunch consisting of a massive plate of milanesa de carne, french fries, tomato, rice, a bowl of black beans, and a beer for $6.

I boarded the bus not knowing where exactly I was going after Pelotas, a big bus transfer hub in southern Brazil. I had a map of the region, albeit a poor and undetailed one in my guidebook, but I was headed to yet another small town, Saõ Miguel das Missoes, across a network of seldom-visited towns and rural roads. It certainly would have been easier, and much more expensive to take the $50 and 7 hour bus ride from Chui to Porto Allegre and then take another $50 overnight bus to a town only an hour or two away. When the bus arrived at the terminal in Pelotas I found the information desk, where no one spoke Spanish or much English, and found out that my only option of leaving that day, and hence avoiding having to pay for a hotel room, was to take a bus at 12:40am to a town called Cruz Alta.

This sounded good enough except for the fact that it was only 5:30pm, a solid 7-hour wait at a terminal far outside the city. At least there were three ATMs there, though 2 were broken and the other only for local cards. After ages of waiting at the almost deserted bus station the bus arrived and about 7-8 hours later I was in Cruz Alta catching another bus to Santo Angelo. Almost 3 hours after that I hopped on another bus to Saõ Miguel das Missoes. In Saõ Miguel I found the one hotel in town, which was only 100 meters from the ruins of the Jesuit Mission that I had come to see. The place looked very nice, although the pool had been closed for the season, which surprised me because it was very hot during the day. On the other hand, when I checked in I found that I was the only guest in the entire hotel so they were kind enough to give me a free upgrade to a nicer room.

I tried the three banks in town in order to withdraw some money, but had no success. On the edges of town there are the ruins of a Jesuit fountain with some intricate carving work that was being used as a water trough by a man´s cow when I arrived. I had some lunch at one of the cheaper places in town but arrived too late for the normal lunch and all they could make was some type of sandwich comprised of lots of things I didn´t know the words for in Portuguese. In what turned out to be a poor decision I ordered one and was treated to perhaps the worst thing I´ve eaten since I had eaten deep-fried dried beef in northern Peru. It was a grilled sandwich with a hot dog along with corn, peas, very poor quality cheese, and mayonnaise. Not quite inedible but definitely below sub-par.

The ruins of the mission more than made up for the poor quality of the lunch. Especially in the afternoon light, set amidst a large field of tall trees and green grass, the hulking ruins of the church were very dramatic. Other than the church much of the auxiliary buildings had crumbled leaving only remnants of the walls behind. Surprisingly much of the church was still intact, much more I thought than the ruins in San Ignacio, Argentina (more on this in the next entry). There weren’t any tours and so I just wandered around the ruins, pretty much alone except for a handful of Brazilian tourists and the artisan vendors. At night there was a light show that was supposed to be the big draw so I headed back after dark for that. Of course the narration was all in Portuguese but I think it was about life in the mission and the battles fought in the region, but it was difficult for me to understand. Except for some pretty flashing lights it was basically a tourist gimmick.