Blissed-out sleep and unfamiliar birdsong and a fresh jungle garden define that first morning in San Ignacio. I pitched my tent before the heat set in as I was promised it would. Oh, and it did. It continues to.
The San Ignacio Mini ruins were the last thing on my mind on that first morning. They were actually the reason I stopped in San Ignacio in the first place but, yeah you guessed it, I didn’t even make it there. Oren the Spaniard and I left El Jesuita Hostel together on foot for the national park that surrounds the village. All I wanted was a simple trek through Argentinian landscapes and, even though he had planned to take a bicycle to the park, Oren and I ended up walking to the park together and went up and through the following scenes.
A butterfly the size of the palm of my hand (and some smaller ones too) followed us through the jungle and up rocky cliffs with eye-popping views of the Rio Parana. I brought 500ml of water and that was the last time I’d be that shortsighted. At the lookout point we met three Argentinian tourists who, no doubt spotting my n00b desperation, shared ice-cold water with us. They shared laughs with Oren in Spanish; I’ve learnt that if I keep my mouth firmly shut and smile and laugh on cue, no one will know that I don’t understand a word.
Down again to a red sandy beach (the area is known for its burnt-red earth). The thing about the word “beach”: as a South African, when I hear “beach” I think white sand and crashing ocean and salty air. Here, it means “river bank”.
We sat down and Oren made fun of me for eating an orange (still not sure why. “Naranja chica”, they called me). Staring out over the river, we talked about how money is debt and about overpopulation, oil, corruption, the Eurozone, collective memory loss as it pertains to the earth and plants and food and farming.
It’s Oren’s second time in South America, if I remember correctly. Previously, he had intended to travel for one year but ended up staying for two. Now he’s back for six months; a true travelling soul (part-time juggler and programmer) with dreadlocks down to ya-ya and great advice on backpacking (the heavy stuff is now at the bottom of my bag) and even better stories of his adventures. It sounds like he’s spent more time outside of Spain than in it!
Day two and still no immediate desire to see the ruins. I decided to join Oren on a day trip to Jardin America for the cataratas (waterfalls) of Saltos del Tabay. It was really hot, you guys. It has been since that first morning in the Foz. Having missed a few bus connections we ended up waiting a spell at the terminal in Jardin and that also earned us a 2km walk to Saltos del Tabay.
I don’t have any pictures of Saltos del Tabay because I did that memory-card thing again; zero distress, though. Here’s a picture from the interweb, to give you an idea.
It’s a popular river resort (Oren got us in on local prices; must … learn … Spanish … pretend … to be … Argentine … ) for local families and Argentine tourists. Very popular. Reminded me a lot of Riverton back in the Northern Cape. The river current is strong, and the water cold (contrary to any of the swimming pools I’ve been in in SAm), so we stepped in and clung onto rocks so we wouldn’t be swept away. Missiones jungle loomed around us. We lay in the sun and ate this spectacular thing called Sopa de Paraguay which is not soup at all but rather a salty corn tart and it was the best thing ever. The poverty-stricken Guarani kids clawing at the packet of food was a much-needed reality check.
That night Herminia made tortilla-type things (but better, almost nutty) with avocados from the garden and I finally became acquainted with mate – my friends, I am a believer!
I’ve often wondered why Argentina had been calling me all these years. After my second go at this bitter but fragrant yerba, I knew: it was to find mate. More on this nectar of the gods later (I’m writing a poem). It is an acquired taste, and not everyone likes it, but I think it’s because they haven’t yielded to its charms, which include but are not limited to the cooling effect of the hot water and the boatloads of caffeine.
I ended up staying four nights at El Jesuita, totally unplanned but the most natural week of inertia I have ever experienced. Ever. Just being there in the province’s tranquil heart was enough, reading in the garden, chatting in broken Spanish to Irma, the other transcendent human being at the hostel, and avoiding the sun.
On my last night, a storm broke out. It was the first storm I spent in my tent and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d stay dry (I did). The rain came down hard and for a long time, but it was never cold. The lightning raged on for what felt like hours, and judging by my counts (FLASH OF LIGHT one hippopotam… BAM! THUNDER) it was very close. Magic night, the unique smell of dry soil being watered by the sky, a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep … Amazing morning, with birds singing songs I’m beginning to recognise, droplets rolling down the outside of the tent, and body, soul and earth revitalised.
Thank you El Jesuita. Sadly it was time to go; destination: unknown.