We left our hotel in search of the tourist info office to get up to date info on the missions and visits to them. This was a bit of a wild goose chase - Lonely Planet is out of date. Tourist info is shut and has now moved to the town hall but the relevant office was also shut. We wanted to make sure we had a guide at the ruins who could explain about the mission, otherwise we'd simply be walking around fallen down buildings and would come away none the wiser. Without knowing what would be at the site itself we went to a local tour operator - and promptly got fleeced! They charged us US$45 for a private car, entrance and a guide. The latter two we could have paid for ourselves at the gate to the ruins so we in effect had a very expensive taxi and probably paid double what we needed to.
Its been raining heavily overnight and the whole area looks like there's been heavy rain for days. The rivers (rusty red water) are very high and the fields look saturated. This is bad news for us as it means we'll only be able to visit the Trinidad Reduccion, Jesús is only reachable if the weather is good.
Trinidad is a huge site for the main mission complex. As well as this they has a further 14,000 acres of land around it. Some of the buildings were still intact in the 1930's and apparently there are photos of them in old copies of National Geographic. At the time they were lived in by German Swiss settlors. When they moved to a different site they took the roof tiles and parts of the stone walls with them.
The site was occupied for around sixty years. In that time the buildings changed from wood and adobe constructions to sandstone and brick. The stone came from a quarry less than 1km away. Initially there was a small church, two houses for the local Guarani people and one for the priests. At its peak, the mission has a population of 5,000 people. To accommodate them, more buildings were erected, twenty one houses for the Guaranis, three for the priests plus a whole series of workshops and schoolrooms. The pattern and layout of these is still clearly visible.
The most important part though is the church. The walls are about 30m high and about 1m thick. It took 8 years to build. When the Jesuits left the site it was taken over by Franciscans who failed to maintain it. The rook collapsed and the site was not restored until the 1900's, Despite being open to the elements, the interior carvings are still well preserved.
Inside the old church
One piece to survive intact was the baptismal font, which dates from 1782. The pulpit was pieced together like a jigsaw from 150 pieces. Your can still make out the altars and carved decorations of angels playing musical instruments. Four large panels surround the main altar, their frescoes now long gone. The entrance to the crypt has been excavated. It was used to store the mummified (by the Guaranis) bodies of the missionaries when they died, before they were taken back to their home countries in Europe.
The church was also the burial site for some of the main Guarani chiefs. Flagstones differentiate which were warriors (decorated with bows and arrows) and which were peace makers (sets of balancing scales). The belief systems of the Guaranis and the Jesuits were very similar so the Guaranis benefited from the protection, education and comparatively good standard of life within the mission without sacrificing their traditions. The Franciscans who took over the mission, introduced a much harsher regime. This caused many of the Guaranis to go back to their villages and ultimately led to the downfall of the site.
In the priests quarters, there are still the original mosaic floor tiles. Some wooden carved statues were also recovered. These are now located in one of the original buildings on the site, which has been restored and is now used as a catholic church. The central square is big enough to accommodate the full 5,000 population for weekly massess and festivals. There were also large scale weddings with up to 40 couples being married at one time.
Back in town, we went to the bus station to buy our tickets for the following day. We want to go to Ciudad del Este, not for the Iguassu falls (saw these when we went to Argentina), but to go to the Itaipu dam. We had a real problem understanding the lady at the office. The window implies there are three buses a day, 2:00, 7:30 and 1:30. We want to make the most of the day and want to go on the 7:30 bus but she only seems to sell tickets for the 1:30 bus. It seems that this is to prevent us having problems if we book for the earlier bus, oversleep and miss it. She assures us there is no problem with coming in the morning for the early bus and changing our tickets. Time will tell!