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The Ruins of Utopia, San Ignacio, Argentina

Because of the rainy season we weren’t able to explore the Amazon like we had planned. After exploring Iguazu Falls we could understand why. The sheer amount of water it takes to sustain the falls is incredible. It didn’t take much to imagine the amount of rain and flooding that was occurring upstream.

Our original plan was to cross into Brazil and travel south exploring that country. However, because of the problems and hurdles in obtaining a visa we were forced to skip Brazil and spend our money elsewhere. We boarded a bus and traveled three hours south in Argentina. We would instead explore historic sites and tour wildlife areas as we made our way towards Buenos Aries.

Our first stop was at the ruins of a Jesuit mission in the town of San Ignacio. The bus stop was a short walk through the town to the mission. We felt like we were walking in Mississippi on a summer day, it was hot and humid and it reminded me that we would be going home in a few weeks.

We had read that this mission is crowded with tourists on their way to and from Iguazu Falls. We were delighted to find the town and the ruins were practically deserted.

Jesuit missionaries settled this area of South America with the goal of not only evagelizing their religion but also creating utopian societies on the remote South American continent.

These missions stretch throughout South America. The Jesuit mission in Paraguay is the only UNESCO site in the country. We decided to visit one of the best preserved and restored missions in the region, San Ignacio Mini on our way to Argentina’s wetlands.

San Ignacio Mini is the best preserved remains of a mission community in Argentina. It was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the heart of a tropical forest. This area was inhabited by the Guaranis, the native community that lived in the area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Unlike the rest of the Spanish conquerers who enslaved or killed the native population, the Jesuits tried to create new communities even though they were imposing a new religion, language and culture upon the native population.

The Jesuits treated the Guaranis as intelligent and decent people and built communities where the Guaranis could govern themselves, receive an education, and learn an occupation.

These communities were so successful that they threatened the ruling government in the areas in which they were located. The power, wealth, and education they created undermined the influence of the government and the local rulers. The Pope was getting complaints about the influence of the Jesuits, and the Catholic Church along with the local governments began to suppress the Jesuit missions. The Church wanted to maintain it’s influence in the region and sided with the governments where the missions were located.

In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from the region and the missions by the King of Spain. The reductions soon fell apart and over the centuries the buildings were lost to the jungle and to regional conflicts. The entire site looks like the ruins of a lost civilization instead of a Catholic church and missionary community.

Today, some of the buildings have been partially restored. The ruins were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and are now being properly managed and preserved.

There is a small museum and a wonderful interactive center housed in the regional Governor’s mansion. There is also great signage throughout the complex that explains the village and the ruins. The architecture is stunning.

The ancestors of the Guayni still live in the area and sell handmade items outside the gates. The town itself has a few small hotels and hostels and plenty of restaurants. After a few hours we walked back to the bus station and headed out of town to Posadas as we had a guide meeting us the next day to take us to an Estancia for a tour of wildlife and wetlands.

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