All in a weeks travel: Exploring 17th century Jesuit Ruins and then being captivated by the raw beauty and power of Iguazu Falls.
27.04.2010 30 °C
San Ignacious Mini: Jesuit Mission Ruins
23- 25th March ( 2 days)
After a sleepless and uneventful night on another long bus journey we arrived to the quiet river town of Posadas. It’s funny on the bus, because I will see a young-in-love couple cuddling up to each other, and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears during the trip, and think to myself “Oh, how cute”. Then I reflect on Ben and I, and our own whispers into each other’s ears that usually go something like this:
“ Beeennn, you’re on my side of the seat, get over” ( Seat space was fought over constantly during long, squishy family car trips in my childhood and it seems I haven’t forgotten the territorial instinct to slap and scratch to defend my rightful seat space!)
“Ouch! You stepped on my foot again, are you doing that on purpose?!! (Imagine Ben giving me a very accusatory look with raised eye brows at 2am in the morning)”, or my favourite...
“(subtle sniffing of the air and a disgusted look on Ben’s face followed by the question) Chelle, did you fart again? That’s not human!” (and then he pretends not to know me even though I am sitting right next to him, which usually makes me declare loudly “I love you honey!”).
Sometimes we will try to play a travel game, that usually ends in accusations of cheating (again, memories of my childhood flash before my eyes) but all in all the bus trips aren't that bad and I enjoy the time they provide for reflecting and listening to my favourite tunes.
When we finally arrived in Posadas we were completely exhausted from the bus journey and as soon as we checked in we were fast asleep, not waking until 1:30pm. I go into slight panic mode when it is afternoon and we haven’t done or seen anything for the day, and I start flapping around packing day packs, grabbing maps and making sure we have sun cream, water, and all the other necessities. Ben on the other hand has fully embraced the Spanish “mañana- mañana” attitude towards time. Recently, a friend we met travelling said “Chelle is the co-ordinator of the trip isn’t she”, to which Ben replied, “Yes, if I was co-ordinating we’d still be in Chile”, haha!!
We ambled ( walking is too strong a word to use given the heat and humidity!) into the small town centre of Posadas and surprisingly found a restaurant that had a vegetarian menu, from which we ordered a delicious soy burger and salad. It is usually difficult to find quality vegetarian food (or ‘pescatarian’ as we are confused vegetarians who eat fish!) , as most places only offer the choice of greasy, plastic cheese covered pizza or pasta- they love their pizza and pasta in Argentina. Refreshed by a healthy lunch and a strong coffee each we caught the local bus out to the San Ignacious Jesuit ruins.
The ruins are 400 years old, and are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Upon entering the site we were immediately aware of a peaceful and meditative energy, with a ghostly air of mystery about the ruins, as if hiding the secrets of the Utopian society that lived there. The ghostly aspect was enhanced by the night sound and light tour we did: an impressive display of virtual actors, lights, music and voice to recreate what life may have been like in the missions.
At its peak the mission was home to 5000 Guarani Indians, who, led only by 2 Jesuit priests at any given time, relinquished their nomadic and polygamous jungle lifestyle and culture, for a Christian, monogamous life on the mission. It is fascinating that so many thousands of Guarani Indians freely accepted and willingly sought life on the numerous jungle missions that dotted the Brazilian / Argentinian border area at the time. Force was not used in the conversions, rather it was often the chief of the various Guarani tribes who led their tribal group to the relative safety of the mission, for slave traders were targeting the Guarani people and chiefs saw the missions as a place of safety for their people. Sadly, in reality, the missions were regularly raided by the Portuguese slave traders, providing a concentrated gathering of Guarani people for them to kidnap and use on their plantations in Brazil.
There are many other reasons that life on the missions was attractive, however in order to avoid this becoming a historical essay I will leave that for you to read more about if you desire (Or watch the movie “The Mission” for a Hollywood recreation!) The readings on the Jesuit missions are fascinating, and many books debate whether they were a social utopia, an early form of communism or cultural imperialism.
We really enjoyed our time at the ruins, and even tried to cross into Paraguay to visit some more ruin sights, however here we encountered our first corrupt border experience! We rocked up to the border with our passport, although with no Paraguayan visa as we had been told Aussies didn’t need one to visit the ruin sights for the day. We were met by a plump, balding, heavily sweating man at the border, who told us through a slimy smile that we indeed did require a visa, which would usually cost us $45 US each, however he was willing to - *wink wink* - let us cross over for the bargain price of just $45 for the 2 of us if we paid him in cash now. Despite his kind and generous offer we declined, and caught the returning bus for the 10 minute ride back into Posadas, where the biggest spider we have ever seen was waiting for us on our floor. We think this is the cousin of the spider that inspired the movie “Arachnophobia”! It was as big as our hand, black, hairy and UGLY!
Iguazu Falls: Argentinian and Brazilian side
25th March – 31st March ( 6 days: 4 sight seeing and 2 toilet days!)
The most exciting part of arriving into Puerto Iguazu was that it was only a 5 hour bus trip to get there. Ben and I have calculated that by the time we reached Iguazu falls we had spent 130 hours on buses travelling, and in the weeks since then (when I am writing this) we have done a further 80 hours (bringing our total travel time so far on buses to nearly 9 days! 9 days of our life spent on a bus!). We are wondering if we can add “Successful Bus Traveller” to our CV’s, and list the attributes of such a position as:
• Flexible: willing to go with the flow (i.e. happy to hang around the road side when the bus breaks down, to accept that a “Direct Bus” stops to collect new passengers every 30 minutes, and to pee in the bushes by the road side when the toilets are too feral to use).
• Adaptable: able to adapt to the different bus environments and bus people ( i.e. successfully ignoring the male, early 20-something year old backpackers who ride in the bus with their shirts off because the AC is broken...unless they have a shapely, tanned six pack in which case I find ignoring becomes quite difficult!)
• Patient: willing to calmly accept things that I cannot change (i.e. not clobbering the man behind me who snores like a freight train for the entire bus trip, depriving me of any semblance of sleep even though I am wearing my Dad’s gift of industrial strength ear plugs)
• Creative: able to use minimal resources to achieve a desired outcome (i.e. contorting my body into strange and unnatural positions to steal a few minutes of sleep here and there before waking up with a dead arm or tingling toes, a sure sign that some part of my yogi-like body is oxygen deprived).
So , it is with these fine attributes that we have developed through the endless bus travel that we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, full of anticipation at seeing Iguazu Falls, where 275 separate waterfalls thunderously plunge 80 metres down into a turbulent brown, Amazonian -like river.
Despite our excitement at seeing the falls that we had talked about so much, we weren’t to make it to see them on the first day. Not because of some tummy upset, or tiredness, or a strike (which had stopped others from seeing them).No, none of these rational things stopped us from going straight out to one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders. Instead, it was a SOCCER game. Yes, that’s right, soccer! On our way out to the waterfalls Ben saw that the Boca vs. River soccer game was being shown on big screen live at one of the local bars. He stopped dead in his tracks, and looked at me with big blue puppy dog eyes. My first reaction was “No WAY buddy!”, but somehow 15 minutes later we were both sitting with a beer and pizza, watching the blockbuster Argentinian soccer match of the year. Those puppy dog eyes are more effective than I thought!
It is hard to describe Iguazu Falls without being clichéd (as soon as someone writes that you know it is always going to be clichéd!). In my diary (which I rely on to write these blogs weeks after the events) I wrote: “ Jumping rainbows, tropical butterflies, thunderous noise, plunging cascades, turbulent brown water, rocks and palm trees, magical and powerful”, and I think those words capture the incredible experience of seeing such raw, natural beauty up close and personal.
As we approached the first look out where we would catch our very first glimpse of the falls, I said to Ben “ Are you ready for it?”!. There are some places on our trip that we had talked and dreamed about back home, in between moving houses 3 times in 3 months, getting engaged and finishing work! Iguazu Falls was definitely one of them. To be there was to be living a dream that we had created back in Sydney. And it couldn’t have been more perfect.
We started with the upper circuit which gave us a view of the falls looking down, and led us along a jungle path where monkeys were playing in the trees, butterflies danced around us, and cute little Coati Mundi's (see picture below) scampered across the path in front of us. From up here the view is captured in these photos:
After the Upper Circuit we stopped to refresh from the intense humidity and heat that had sweat cascading down our bodies. Never much of a coke drinker, we relied on coke to replace the constant energy being lost through the sweat. At our stop we encountered some furry, and not so timid, little animal friends:
During the lower circuit we became drenched with the spray from the falls, and so we didn’t even notice that it had started to drizzle. We decided to catch the speed boat that took you out under the falls. It was great fun, but because I wear contacts most days, the force of the water meant that I couldn’t open my eyes for fear of my contacts being washed out. I spent the trip squealing with delight at being under the falls, and shouting to Ben “Can you see anything. What does it look like?!!!”. We were able to take a few early photos from the boat trip before getting to close to the falls, which show a bit of the experience:
After the boat trip we caught the little train out to the Gargantas del Diablo (or “The Devils Throat”). This was a devil’s moment- tormentful, fearful, massive and powerful –as the fierce water exploded into spray, but then hopeful and beautiful rainbows bounced above the water as it plunged down from the high rapids. It was a memory that I will never forget, standing there above such a powerful force: one of those moments that you want to bottle up and keep stored forever. We came home, absolutely drenched from the falls, and ended a great day with chats to our families that left us happy for the night.
Unfortunately, at some stage during the day we must have both eaten or drunk something dodgy that left us with traveller’s tummy for the next few days. We returned to the park the next day to do the Macuco Walk, but sadly I have to admit that the best part was when we reached the end and both of us slept by the creek for an hour, before working up the energy to return! It was a great trail to do for wild-life watching though, and we were entertained by monkeys jumping in the braches overhead, and played “Guess the animal” as little creatures scampered across the path in the far distance ahead. We made a sorrowfully border crossing into Brazil that afternoon, and spent out first few days in Brazil taking turns rushing to the toilet!
Once that was out of our system we visited the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. It was everything the Argentinian side was and more. It offered a more panoramic view of the falls, and had a fantastic walkway out over the falls where you really felt a part of it all, standing above one of the falls and seeing the brown water rush beneath you before plunging down the rock face. It was definitely worthwhile visiting the falls from both the Argentinian and the Brazilian side.
We ended out time in the Iguazu area with a visit to the Bird Park, where we spent the day talking with Toucans, playing with parrots, and admiring the flamingos! All in all, another fabulous South American Adventure.
Lots of love, Chelle and Ben