To give a bit of history to the missions...
They were set up in the C17th when a strand of Spanish colonialism was to send over Jesuit Priests to evangelize the indigenous population of forest dwellers who the Spanish found harder to control due to their remote location
. While at first this idea seems like an intrusion on their culture the missions were unique communities built on the idea of working for the community and God. They were set all over the subtropical part of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina as well as a few in Bolivia. The priests wtihin these communities learnt Guarani the language (still spoken today) and accepted some of the traditions of the Guarani people as well as teaching them a Christian life. Additionally the hierachy of the communities meant Chiefs were given respect and Guarani´s could become elected councillors involving them inthe community decisions. The Communities were huge producers of Christian art and music that was exported all over the Spanish Empire and had both Western and Guarani influences and while they were not perfect (sometimes entire tribes would leave over some incident of disrespect) generally they were havens from being caught and enslaved by the conquistadors. In the end the missions were a victim of there own success Spanish believing that they no longer were completely loyal to Spain removed their protection of them leaving them open to countless plunders by Brazilian and Paraguayan outlaws. This has resulted in only the ruins of the once impressive buildings of the missions left, but you can still appreciate the skill made to build them in the Jungle and revolutionary communities that once existed there.
After the ruins and a massive rain storm - tropical style - Ben and I headed for a river beach which was about 2km away
. Unfortunatley there were two beaches and we went on the path to the further one. Lukcily we got a lift off this old Argentinian in a huge even older pick up truck who took us to ´la playa´. It was not what we were expecting we ended up standing outside a empty resort place with a huge swimming pool, kind of like a centre parks with cabins and tent pitches. Both of us wondered how such a remote place (we had to walk down a mud track to get there) could ever get any custom. Very strange anyway we had a cafè before heading back!
The next day we hired out bikes from the hostel and cycled to a local parque provincial about 7km from San Ignacio. The cycle was ok though a bit tough in places as it went up and down as well as being a bit boggy on the mud track roads. Once at the park we were given some info en espanol by the warden who we just about understood that one of the trails (we went down) led to houses once used as Nazi hideouts. After all it makes sense with Paraguay just over the river (many hid out there after the war) that they should escape across the river there, where its v.remote and hidden in jungle. The trails were cool as while well maintained allowed you to walk through real subtropical jungle with huge ants and even more mosis!
After a mammoth 3 bus journey, starting at 4am Monday morning not finishing til 8pm Monday evening Ben and I moved from Esteros del Ibera to Posadas on the Rio Parana. Posadas is one of Argentina´s bigger cities and also acts as a border crossing into Paraguay, as the river is the border. Posadas like Buenos Aires has a very Western feel light years away from Colonia de Carlos Pelligrini and it definitely felt like coming back into civilization. It is said that there is a bit of divide in Argentinian society between the porteños (city dwellers) and the rest of the population and perhaps this is true, simply in the extent of wealth and far more western way of life the porteños have adopted. After a night in Posadas and a quick look around in the morning, we headed to San Ignacio, this is a town situated next to an UNESCO site of Jesuit Mission ruins.