Inicio Zona Urbana Jesus

Even though my step-nephew works for Rick Steves (which only covers Europe anyway), Lonely Planet is one of our favorite travel guides. I like it because of its consistent inclusion of maps even of very small places — I miss that whenever we’re using some other guide. Its original guides were all named “<Name of Country> On A Shoestring”, and would tell hippies how to travel through various places, meet locals, and spend hardly anything. As time went on, it dropped the “shoestring” designation, and listed expensive hotels and foodie restaurants along with all the hostels and street stands. Using Elvis terminology, we refer to these two eras as “young Lonely Planet” and “fat Lonely Planet”.

Today we went on a “young Lonely Planet” visit to a couple beautiful ruins of Jesuit missions in Paraguay, using its detailed instructions. We did this because we couldn’t take our car into Paraguay. (We had originally planned to go to Asunción, but ended up at Laguna de Iberá.) (And the lines to get cars out of Argentina were quite long, so maybe it was a good idea after all.) First, we boarded the international bus, which picks you up in Posadas, drops you off to exit Argentina; when you’ve gotten your passport stamped, you might end up on the same bus, or the next one. The process is repeated entering Paraguay, and then you get off wherever you want in Encarnacion, which in our case was the bus terminal. The next step was to find a bus to Trinidad — ours went about halfway there and stopped running. They fidgeted with the engine, and got it going another km or two, but ultimately it looked grim. Ray texted some Romanian friends to find the mission’s GPS coordinates so we could decide whether to get out and walk. What ended up happening was that we just got on another company’s bus which stopped where ours had broken down. We got the impression that this happens a lot. We were dropped off at the entrance to the ruins, and walked half a mile or so to the site. Ray imagined the transit tribulations in terms of Stations of the Cross, which you see a lot of when church-hopping: “The Bus Stalls For The Second Time.”

The Jesuits conducted a 150-year experiment of evangelizing Catholicism to the Guarani Indians in this area. The book says they protected them from becoming enslaved, didn’t make them speak Spanish, and allowed them to continue their traditions other than polygamy and cannibalism. Ray is not so sure:

This was accomplished by placing them into Strategic Hamlets, excuse me, Reducciones. There they were persuaded to give up their belief systems and obey the Pope. In return for this, they got the benefit of not being killed. There were also Africans brought in, who were slaves, but they were treated better than other slaves in the area. What the Jesuits thought of as humane treatment must be a matter of speculation, since the museum at Jesus Maria displays a number of barbed wire flails which they used on themselves as part of what was considered normal behavior. God knows what they did to people they were mad at.

Ultimately Spain wanted the resources of the area, and put an end to the experiment, which is illustrated in the film “The Mission” which we conveniently have with us. We saw ruins of two mission sites in Paraguay, Trinidad and Jesus de Tavarangüe, which have been somewhat reconstructed, and parts of which have survived. But the most stunning aspect is the whole setting of this beautiful dark red stone set against rich green vegetation and a beautiful blue sky with big billowing white clouds. We took several pictures, but no camera we have can capture it. I can’t wait for floating point pixels.

At the first mission, we met a German couple, and shared a taxi with them to the second mission, as instructed by Lonely Planet. After returning to Encarnacion, we used up our Paraguayan currency at a local cafe with them. It was kind of like meeting ourselves — two guys who have been together for a long time, who somewhat obsessively share food. One of them takes photos of sugar packets. That is cool.

It was a long wait for the bus. Two kids selling bags of limes to cars stopped at a red light goofed off ostentatiously to attract attention. The trip back was a lot faster than the trip out. It was raining when we got off the bus in Posadas, so we got to use the umbrellas we’d been carrying around all day after all. We need better umbrellas for traveling. We’re still using the ones we bought in Japan in a sudden downpour, which have sharp ends. Every time we swing the pack we almost blind somebody.

Today we get a free car wash — the storms continue. We’ll head up to Iguazu Falls, and perhaps sneak into Brazil for an hour or two for the best view of them.