Porto Xavier and the Jesuit Missions
Porto Xavier Travel Blog› entry 63 of 84 › view all entries
The decision to change what money I had and cut through Brazil to the Missiones province of Argentina proved to be a wise one as I never encountered a working ATM that functioned with my card during my few days in Brazil. I had also decided, after looking at my bank account that I didn´t have enough money to spend the time to travel up the Brazilian coast and see many of the things that I wanted to see, things are just too expensive in Brazil, especially transportation. I found this out right away as I had to pay some $20 for a four hour bus ride from Chui to Pelotas. At least in Chui the food didn´t seem expensive as I had my first Brazilian lunch consisting of a massive plate of milanes de carne, french fries, tomato, rice, and a bowl of black beans, and a beer for $6.
I got on the bus not knowing where exactly I was going after Pelotas, a big bus transfer hub in southern Brazil. I had a map of the region, albeit a poor and undetailed one in my guide book, but I was headed to yet another small town, Sao Miguel das Missoes, across a network of little touristed towns and rural roads. It certainly would have been easier, and much more expensive (something I couldn´t afford to do), to take the $50 7 hour bus from Chui to Porto Allegre and then take another $50 overnight bus to a town an hour or two away. So when the bus arrived at the terminal in Pelotas I found the information desk, where no one really spoke Spanish, and found out that my only option of leaving that day, and hence avoiding having to pay for a hotel room, was to take a bus at 12:40am to a town called Cruz Alta.
In Sao Miguel I found the one hotel in town which was only 100 meters from the ruins of the Jesuit Mission that I had come to see. The place looked very nice, although the pool had been closed for the season which surprised me because it was very hot during the day. But on the other hand, when I checked in I was the only one staying in the entire hotel so they gave me a free upgrade to a little nicer room.
The ruins of the mission more than made up for the poor quality of the lunch. Especially in the afternoon light, set amidst a large field of tall trees and green grass, the hulking ruins of the church were very dramatic. Other than the church much of the auxilliary buildings had crumbled and only remnants of the walls were left. But surprisingly much of the church was still intact, much more I thought than that of San Ignacio in Argentina (more on this later). They didn´t have any tours and so I just wandered around the ruins, pretty much along except for a handful of Brazilian tourists and the artisan vendors. At night there was a light show which was supposed to be the big draw so I headed back after dark for that. Of course it was all in Portugese I think about life in the mission and the battles fought in the region, and I understood almost nothing.
I had to get up early the next morning to catch the 7am bus out of Sao Miguel to go back to Santo Angelo. Asking at the hotel and looking at a better map, there were two ways to get to Argentina from there. The first would be to take a bus to Posadas via Sao Borja, to the southeast, where despite the lack of it on any map there was apparently a bridge over the river. The other more direct option would be to take a bus to Porto Xavier to the northwest and then take a boat across the river for San Javier and eventual connecting buses to San Ignacio and the mission there. Of course I opted for the more direct (and hopefully shorter) route. In case it isn´t obvious Porto Xavier in Portugese is pronounced Port Shav-ya-air, with that cleared up I got on the bus and two and half hours later was there.
I got to the port at about 11:45am, about fifteen minutes after the last boat had left for the morning, with the port and the border being closed until 2pm. So I went to a Churruscaria, a Brazilian BBQ, for all you can eat meat. After a rough opening due to my non-existent Portugese the waitres came out of the kitchen with this immense tray of 9 different sized bowls and plates with rice, beans, potato salad, onions and eggs, pickles, cole slaw, cabbage, some white root vegetable like a potato, and bread. If that wasn´t enough then came the meat, skewer by skewer of chicken, sausage, beef ribs, pork ribs, and about five different cuts of beef.
On the Argentine side I found the immigration and there computer was down so they stamped my passport and wrote down the details of my passport on a piece of scrap paper.
I got up early the next morning to see the ruins by the light of the rising sun and hopefully catch them at a less crowded time. It worked as I arrived just after the first tour group embarked on their tour and after they finished I was the only person walking around the ruins. The entrance to the ruins was probably more dramatic than Sao Miguel with the remnants of walls framing in a large open central plaza bordered on either side by the ruins of the Jesuit residences.