Encarnation and the Jesuit ruins

We had a pretty uneventful bus ride to Encarnation, where we were going to check out the Jesuit ruins. Before we left Asuncion we filled up our water bottles with some terere in the bus station. Terere is the mate served cold and mixed with different types of roots and herbs. It leaves a very strong earth taste in your mouth, but it’s very refreshing and I personally really enjoyed it!

When we got to Encarnation it was already dark and we were planning on heading over to the nearest hostel listed in our book. We got off the bus and while I was focusing on recuperating my backpack I heard a voice from behind “Are you guys from Peace Corps?”. I turned around to be met by two sweet and smiley ladies who looked pretty much like we did, backpacks and uncombed hair and all. Turns out they were both Peace Corps volunteers, and after no more than a 2 minutes conversation in which they asked where we were going for the night and we said we didn’t know, one of them replied: “Ok, you can totally say no if you want to, but i’ll be happy to have you guys over for the night. I know what it’s like to arrive some place new during the night, and you might get overcharged at the hostels because they know you have no choice… I don’t have much, a rug and a few pillows, but i’ll gladly have you over!”

Wow… how trustworthy did we have to look, we wondered, for her to extend this invitation to us so easily?? There was no way we were going to say no to a kind hand extended to us, so we started walking towards her places still full of wonder and gratitude. We spent the night cooking angel hair pasta and sipping sweet wine while having sweeter conversations. The girls (who were no more than 22 yrds old) shared with us the challenges of living and volunteering in Paraguay, the deep cultural differences and the rewarding experiences too. We gained a good understanding of the way the long dictatorial regime they had been under has shaped their thinking and behavior, and how while things are starting to change it is a very very slow and difficult process. It was a fascinating night and we could not be more grateful for meeting the girls!:)

When time for bed came we looked at the big living room with its tiled floor and assessed the available materials for the 4 of us: a rug, 12 small pillows, 3 sleeping bags, a big towel… and all our clothes. There was no heating in the house and it did get quite cold in the night, so we made a matress from the pillows and the whole content of our backpacks and we then cramped together on top of it in our sleeping bags, with our jackets on top and hats on our heads. A night to remember!:)

We said goodbye to them the next morning and proceeded to look for a hostel. The cheapest we could find was 45,000 Guarani – again more than we had expected, but it was in fact a hotel as the hostels are pretty much inexistant there. It was very decent and we had a good night there (except for the horrendous noise the heater in the room was making). We went to bed watching ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ and realised the movie meant a lot more to us after spending 2 months backpacking in Che Guevara’s country.

Imediately after checking in we headed over to the Jesús and Trinidad Jesuit Ruins (some of the very few things that count as touristic attractions in Paraguay). It was a very enjoyable and educational experience: we found out that the Jesuits came to South America in the 17th century and set up around 30 missions in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. The set up was identical for all of them, with the church, the college, the rooms for the priest and community leaders in the plaza, and then all the other huts for the regular people. The missions quickly became small cities on their own and centers of education for the Indian tribes – it is believed the Guarani society (Paraguay indigenous) seems to be the first in history to be entirely literate.

The Jesuits were expelled from South America in the 1760s by the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns because they were getting too powerful. Some of the missions were still in the construction phase when that happened, and only a few of the ruins still stand today. Even though the organisational plan is identical for all, they each carry their specific characteristics and the two we visitied certainly left us with a different feel each.

Once back from the ruins we saw no reason to stay in Encarnation any longer, so off we departed towards our next destination: Ciudad del Este. This is a city at the border with Argentina where we were going to see the Itaipu Dam, the second largest in the world, and then go visit two of our friends from the Eco Yoga Park.Angel and Derek had decided to leave the USA and its wars and settle down in Paraguay, in the little corner of Paradise created by a German family who just wanted to go back to life in nature, in it’s simplest form. They are very welcoming of guests, so if you’re around you might want to check this out: http://www.rawfood-community.info/ .

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