LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 53
Page. 44 - 59
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Pictures: Gustavo Castaing
The intensely red soil, the extravagant rivers, the jungle that breathes the ancestral terror of exiles and bloody frontier battles, the whimsical blend of ethnic groups, and the resulting cultural syncretism which have moulded the missionary spirit. The dark skin, blue eyes, the language of diverse idioms: French, English in the colonial style, Polish, German, and also Spanish, Argentine style, all with the sweet rhythm marked by the indigenous voices of so long ago.
To travel the paths of Misiones is to allow oneself to be absorbed by a landscape where green is always abundant thanks to the grace and favour of the powerful river currents. The water of the Iguazú
in the north, water of the Paraná from the west, and water of the Uruguay from the east. Divine moisture that nurtures so much life, just as the Homeric stories are the source of so many family sagas in this, the province of pioneers.
Heeding the call of the jungle and the water, we began our journey where these two display their full potential, at the Iguazú National Park. The Tupiguarani Indians must have been the first to fall under the spell of these colossal falls. Some time later, they were followed by all the rest, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, the Jesuits, Father Lozano, the Paraguayan explorers under the command of their
President Solano López in 1863, cartographers, naturalists and geologists, Mrs Roosevelt, tourists, Robert De Niro. Us. It is impossible not to be awestruck at the sight of these falls that have existed for thousands of years. A kilometre wide, the Iguazú River draws 1800 cubic metres of water per second and pours it over the countless falls from a height of 70 metres and a width of almost 3 kilometres.
The Brazilians may get a better view, but the opportunity to have the Iguazú Falls as a backdrop while staying in one of the renovated Sheraton suites, is not one to be missed. One pulls back the curtains
and there they are, in all their glory, roaring, generating clouds of white mist amidst the jungle scenery of Mísones. It is so easy to have a good time under these circumstances. The meals served on the terrace or in the hotel gardens, the tempting swimming pool with its clear blue water and the old lookout tower further on.
The palm trees with their fronds bowing under the weight of the nests of the orioles, the toucans trying to attack the nests. There are clear signs on the paths for visitors to find their way to these spectacular
waterfalls. After having exhausted every possible activity in the region (such as taking the boat to "Devil's Throat" and getting close enough to the raging falls to actually have a shower, trekking, floating, etc..), we headed south towards El dorado. A clear sky and a mildly warm breeze accompanied our descent along the paved roads bordered by luxurious greenery.
After passing the Arroyo Uruguai dam, we noticed signs announcing mines with the same name. We passed by three small hamlets, Libertad, Wanda, another open-air mine with semiprecious stones, where several Poles have settled, and Esperanza. We crossed the Arroyo Piraí Mini, with its Paparulo Beach road ba to the left, which even offers rafting, which we cannot vouch for and, a little further, Eldorado, a town
of central European immigrants. The wooden house, built in 1920 for a New Zealander called Lowe, stands out in the countryside, painted all in white, except for the doors and windows, which are orange. It is the main house of the Las Mercedes estancia, (See LUGARES 52). 700 hectares of land only 6 kilometres from Eldorado. Edith and Johnny Lowe welcomed us with their charm and home-made dishes. The simple,
austere, and well-maintained house has been receiving guests for almost four years. There is a small teahouse, which can also be rented out as a cabin for guests, and is also painted in white but with pale
There is no TV, but they do have a wonderful swimming pool and serene gardens, surrounded by old trees. Guinea fowl roam freely, pecking at the grass. The horses graze in their fields, and the birds chatter
frantically at sunset, and when night falls, all goes quiet expect for the crickets chirping. Edith, en expert rider, used to have a riding school. She has excellent horses, and pony treks are a highly recommended activity for all ages. They pony treks usually last about
three hours, through the fields, along the red paths and through a patch of woodland that has preserved all the original flora. A walk to the stream Piraí Guazú, one of the natural borders of the estancia, will reveal the tranquil waters running over the pebbled bottom, making it an ideal spot for floating or safe rubber rafting. We left Las Mercedes one morning, after a wholesome breakfast, with Bubby Nolde, who had come to fetch us in his 4x4. Bubby had just returned from the Mato Grosso, a trip we highly recommend.
We went to see the cabins set up by this descendent of Germans on the banks of Piraí Miní River, and later took a ride on his speedboat through the Paraná River, with all its lovely sights. Here, the Paraguayan
coast is filled with beautiful sandy beaches bathed by irresistible, crystal clear waters. Our next stop was to be La Bonita (See LUGARES 52), a special inn located in the town of the same name, between El
Soberbio and Los Saltos de Moconá, right on the border of the 75,000 hectares of the Yabotí reserve.
We headed to Fracran and, at the YPF petrol station, the van from the inn was awaiting us. We were led along roads that, in the rainy season, would be impassable. In reality the word "road" is no more
than a figure of speech; it is barely a track through the woods with nothing in sight but a lazy lizard in the middle of the path, a tiny village school and a few children here and there. Once we had passed
the jungle, a couple of locals in an oxen pulled cart gave us a toothless smile and a greeting in some unintelligible Portuguese-like dialect. We arrived in the afternoon at La Bonita, a brand new inn belonging
to Franco Martini, who built it on his 60-odd hectares of land. The place is an absolute paradise. Rolling open countryside that ends on a cliff, and there, where the jungle begins again, one can see
three cabins. The view is utterly perfect from the main house, to which one has access by a steep stairway. Nothing here is conventional to say the least, and the "spontaneous" décor makes it all the more fun. The furniture is all different, curious objects from faraway
places live alongside native bric-a-brac and, surprisingly, creates a very comfortable and pleasant atmosphere.
The cuisine is simple, tasty, country-like, and actually quite "spontaneous" as well, is presented on eclectic, but nonetheless attractive, china and served with freshly home-baked bread. Breakfast, lunch and tea
are happy occasions, all served on the terrace, and dinner is served with subtle lighting surrounded by the absolute darkness. It is not unusual to see shooting stars on a clear night...a beautiful spectacle.
The thing to do here is not to plan anything and discover little by little the different paths leading to special little spots, such as a natural pool formed by a cascade where there are two loungcrs to sit and relax with birds and wild flowers and blue butterflies fluttering all around. One Sunday morning, Franco Martini, who turned out to be as special as the oasis he has created, took us in his 4x4 to the east, following the River Uruguay. We reached a charming spot in El Soberbio, where the residents sit out on the porch on the main avenue facing the river. On the opposite coast lies Brazil, to which one can cross by raft.
We continued our journey along well maintained, bright red, dirt roads, sharply contrasting with the greenery of the region. Here and there a few colourful houses, all with their satellite antennas (which they
buy in Brazil), and a bit further on the church - almost always Evangelist. In these parts Portuguese is spoken, somewhat transformed but still Portuguese.
In Aurora, the dirt road came to an end, and we all cried out with glee. What a difference paved roads make! Near Oberá, the jungle had given way to plantations of tea and "yerba mate". We entered the town, which we found at first sight pleasant and clean, with a tree-lined boulevard and winding roads, had lunch, and then continued towards the ruins of Santa Ana.
The new construction that gives access to the remains of the Jesuit mission of Santa Ana was inaugurated two years ago. The restoration work was carried out with the support of the Fondo de Arquitectura de la Nación and with funds donated by the Italian government, through an agreement with UNESCO. There is not yet any printed information
on the ruins, but there is however a small museum. The 27 hectares of ruins are now clear of all vegetation, having previously been engulfed by the jungle, but it is still fascinating to see tree trunks, which can no longer be removed, embracing the walls.
The next stretch was a short one. By this time we were so close to Posadas that the landscape was mainly plantations of "yerba mate". When we reached the Santa Inés estancia (see LUGARES 53), sunset was settling in with its wonderful shades of reds and yellows and with clouds high in the sky. We followed the entrance road lined with eucalyptus trees, until a clear patch revealed the enormous barns, houses and
facilities of what used to be a the old "yerba" centre. We could feel the silence of decades, though the air still smelled of the "green gold", the "yerba mate". It all began with Pedro Nítñez, a Spaniard who arrived in Misiones around 1888, and who, by the beginning of
the following century, had already built his own empire. The main house, where he lived with this family in prosperity, was built by English architects and was completed in 1903. The "yerba centre" was already underway in 1906, with its own mechanical workshop, carpentry shed, power plant, canteen, grocery store, butchers, bakery, doctor and dentist, and even a rice mill. Until the 1950s, it produced 2.8 million tons of "yerba" each year. We followed the path that penetrates the woodland, leading us into the most magnificent gardens and to the house of the Núñez family. Once again our hosts, Nanny (granddaughter
of Pedro Núñez), her mother and children gave us a warm welcome as did the dogs and even a newly adopted baby "carayá" monkey! We, or should I say I, spent endless happy hours on the terrace, taking in
the lovely smells, the warm breeze in the afternoon, and the sounds of the jungle in the evenings. When it rained (what a pleasure) I felt as if I was in colonial India, either chatting happily or in blissful silence. Later I would go to my room and, before going to sleep, would read Ivirá Retá (The Land of Trees) written by Julio Núñez, Nanny's father, which is about the flora and fauna and stories of the region.
That is how I learned that the aborigines cured the sting of the rays with an infallible antidote: A woman had to squat over the wound... without any underwear and...well ...instant relief! Before visiting the lake
to see the alligators, a great outing is to walk or go on horseback to a wonderful big pool (50 x 15 metres) built out of Tacurú (basalt rock) and filled with spring water, located 5 kilometres from the main house and protected by bamboo shoots. During the summer, the
surrounding native plants fill the air with a sweet, lemony fragrance. There are two sturdy benches, also made of basalt rock, which almost confer a "Mayan" atmosphere to the place. There is also a big rustic
wooden table ideal for picnics in the generous shade of the thicket. Tacurú is the Guaraní name for termite nests, which actually means "full of little holes", which is why the porous basalt rock is known by the same name. This material was used by the Jesuits to build their missions, as was sandstone, used specifically in the San Ignacio mission.
The virtually untouched stretch of jungle behind the house has a clear path and one can walk along it on one's own without fear of getting lost. Nevertheless it is much more interesting with Nanny who, besides
knowing it inside out, is a biologist and can identify every single plant.
As if the natural universe of wildlife on the two thousand hectares of land were not enough to entertain oneself, indoors there is yet another world of unrestricted comforts. Meals here are an outstanding
item on the list, and as Ricardo Nuñez is a natural gourmet and loves to cook, he is in charge of pampering his guests with delightful dishes. Not to mention the exotic fruit marmalades served at teatime.
Without leaving Santa Inés, we carried out a busy schedule in the surroundings of Posadas and beyond. The visit to the San Ignacio Miní ruins, declared a UNESCO world heritage site, is an absolute must,
as are the falls. At 63km north of the capital, these ruins deserve at least three hours of your time in order to allow yourself to explore them properly and learn of its history.
One reaches the settlement of Nuestra Señora de Loreto, currently under restoration, on Route 12 to Cerro Corá. One can still perceive the power of the jungle that devoured it completely. It is amazing
to see the adult palm trees growing out from the walls. The shame is that, in order to salvage the historical ruins, the place will inevitably lose the fascinating and mysterious aura which envelops it. On the other hand, the ruins of Trinidad, in Paraguay are a jewel, and have been marvellously restored. You will need a whole day to visit them, preferably leaving before noon, as the crossing, over the international bridge, is quite a long process. Once you are on the other side, in Encarnación, it is worth stopping at the market
to buy wicker baskets and other trinkets at ridiculously low prices.
With Celeste Barreyro (owner of Los Yatay in Garupá, see Gourmet article) as our guide, we went to visit to a small "factory" of rapadura, (unrefined sugar cane, cooked and dried) almost 40km from Posadas. This family enterprise belongs to a Brazilian family, which has for three generations been living in Cerro Santa Ana. They grow sugar cane in the jungle and extract the sugar to make the rapadura, which is sold in lumps
mixed with orange peel, sweet potato and peanuts. With the bagasse they make cachaca a liqueur popular in Brazil.
We recommend our readers to make a stop at the Provincial Park Teyú Cuaré (Alligators' Cave), and its surroundings. On a 175 hectare estate, you will find Doña Porota, a retired social worker, who set up a campsite and now shows proudly the two relics she keeps in the woods: the house and tombs of Lenole (son-in-law of Horacio Quiroga) and his second
wife, Sara Vivanco, who lived there and decided to stay to enjoy for ever this unequalled landscape on the banks of the River Paraná.
If you are interested in estancia tourism, half way between Posadas and the falls, in Colonia araguatay, lies La Misionera (See LUGARES 52), located in an attractive natural spot. The house was built in 1944, by the architect Enrique Martínez Castro, and offers many comforts, including a riverside swimming pool. Leaving Misiones, which has the amazing facility to transport the spirit to a different dimension the moment one sets foot there, is not an easy thing to do. Misiones is pure magical realism, filled with enchanting natural findings. The locals are warm and clearly bonded to their intense and provocative surroundings.
The Province is full of anecdotes and stories of wilful folk who placed their hopes in these faraway lands, and found their centre of gravity. What led these people to these hot subtropical lands, which once belonged to the Guaranís, the Jesuits and above all, those who came all the way from Central Europe? Were they fleeing from starvation, from the ghosts of WWI, or perhaps seeking fortune? Whatever the reasons, many failed and left immediately after having travelled for months crossing land and sea, to return to the world they knew. Others, as we well know, remained and sweated. In the jungle that is Misiones this is only natural.