Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay is one of my favorite places. It moves at a pace more familiar to me than the rushed anxiety of Buenos Aires. For a country girl like myself, it’s a much needed sanctuary from the never ending commotion of the city. Even the cars mosey along the road, calmly. Their tires roll over cobblestone streets with the same relaxed tread of people on foot.
Cars here stop for pedestrians. It’s a wonderful reprieve. In Buenos Aires I’m always hyper aware thanks to a healthy fear of the very real possibility of being run over by a road raging driver. It is quiet, even this road, which has two lanes in both directions, at 5PM is peaceful and without rush. I feel comfortable here. Living in a place as intense as Buenos Aires stresses me the fuck out, at least in Colonia I can breathe. Cars here stop for pedestrians. No one ever seems pissed off for no reason. This is the size of a town I could live in.
Not every window here has bars guarding against break-ins. The waitress I had earlier was from Buenos Aires. She said she loves it here. People keep their car doors unlocked when they go into the supermarket. They trust each other.
We took the local bus to the Plaza de los Toros. It is where there used to be bullfighting. Today it’s only an echo of its former glory, abandoned and off limits. It is surrounded by a tall metal fence. All I want to do is jump over the fence and see the arena from inside the ruins.
The air is calmly and steadily drifting through the ruins. There is a constant hum of a light or small generator in the background. Pigeons have made the higher reaches of the brick and stone walls their homes. The quiet casual noise of a small city is the ambiance in the distance. The pigeons intermediately coo and flutter their wings while the rest of the city slowly moves on into the evening.
Right now, we are the only ones walking around it. Tour busses, grandiose long haul busses with tinted windows, drive slowly around the plaza once before departing to their next destination. In a climate controlled bus, behind darkened glass, I would miss the sounds and feelings of this space. The most common vehicle is a small motorbike and their measured humming echoes as the drivers dip around the curved road. Birds chatter amongst themselves in the tall trees that fill in the rural landscape.
The clouds have parted and it is a wonderfully refreshing breeze that mixes with the mild heat of the sun. The sun is not all the way on show today. When it comes out for a minute, she warms my face. The wind is cool, like the fall in New England. Only instead of leaves turning and falling, they are sprouting and growing.
Golf carts are a common sight. You can rent them all over the place, but it isn’t necessarily cheap. Ten hours can cost you $60 USD. A one way ticket on the local bus, from downtown to Plaza de los Tores is 19 Urugay Pesos per person.
There is another fascinating and seemingly abandoned building nearby. An old derelict building beside the horse track. From the outset, it looks completely abandoned. Prominently displayed by the road is a tourist map erected by the tourism council of Colonia. It designates this location as Fronton Euskaro.
Another sign provides a short description, “Inaugurado en 1910 en el mas grande de Sudamerica. Es un fronton abierto, de 64 metros de largo por 21 de ancho. Restaurado en 1974 cuando Uruguay fue sede del Campeonato Mundial de Pelota Vasca, modalidad Cesta Punta, siendo Espana el ganador del original evento.”
Embarrassingly, even after years of South American life, I am far from fluent in Spanish have to translate the sign in my head to fully understand it. Loosely translated, the sign says it was erected in 1910. It was built to be a court for racketball and is the biggest of its kind in South America. In 1974 it was restored for the world championships, which Spain won.
From afar we take some pictures, but the mystery draws us closer. The near corner of the expansive building is completely boarded up, even the upper floor windows are blocked with stacked wooden crates and plywood. I try to see inside, but it’s impossible.
I walk to the far end of the building to explore there. One area has spaces in between the bricks, but it is too high to look inside, so I hold my phone up as high as I can and snap a photo to see what is inside. The picture reveals a bright open space where someone is storing mopeds and motorcycles. The place is not so ruinous after all. I suddenly feel silly for my Indiana Jones imagination that was picturing what I could discover in this historical place.
A dog is tied to a tree, resting in the shade. When I notice her, I look up and one corner of the building has sheets covering the inside of the windows and a makeshift door made out of corrugated metal is held in place with a large and rusty chain. Just then, I look up and an old woman pulls back a curtain and peers out. It startles me, but then I realize that I am the unwelcome trespasser.
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