The city drops beneath me as I ride to the southern most limits of Bogotá, seated in a bright red gondola and swaying to an incessant Andean wind. As the quilt of humanity sprawls over shrubs and sand, the recently inaugurated TransMiCable aerial tramway is a lifeline for thousands of inhabitants who live in these hills and commute to the four cardinal points of the city, that from my vantage, appears to have no end.
The ride from the TransMilenio bus terminus at El Tunal to the highest point of TransMiCable, the station of Mirador del Paraíso, takes 15 minutes, and offers views of a distant downtown with shimmering skyscrapers and a white blimp on a mountain top, the shrine at Monserrate. Hemmed-in by nine million lives, except for my fellow passengers, I feel like an outsider in a city that has become all too familiar, for this is a Bogotá removed from the buzz of La Candelaria hostels and gastro-zones-turned-burger zones.
Completed in just 26 months and with an investment of USD$100 million for the city’s mass transit system, TransMiCable’s main objective is to integrate large swathes of a city that until December last year, required plenty of road stamina to reach, as the hills of Cazucá are precariously steep. For the 750,000 residents of Ciudad Bolívar, the high-flying gondolas have saved residents an hour’s commute in a journey that’s smooth, and with birds-eye views of barrios, some painted in a kaleidoscope of colors with terraces and satellite dishes, others still considered “invasions” with brick and mortar homes for those who migrated to the safety of large cities, fleeing violence in the countryside.
With a capacity to transport some 7,000 passengers every hour across a distance of 3,4kms TransMiCable is proof that social cohesion doesn’t just take place on the street or in parks. “I find the ride relaxing and I end up talking to strangers I would never do on the bus,” remarks Susana Valbuena, 34, a seamstress who every day commutes to San Victorino, one hour away.
Associated with ski resorts and means of transportation for sight-seeing in amusement parks, London has its Eye and Barcelona the Port Vell Tramway that connects the old city with Montjuic. But, in Bogotá, mobility requires innovation, and even though TransMiCable hasn’t been promoted as an attraction, it’s just a question of time before this mode of transportation becomes internationalized with foreigners riding the cables, and joins a host of well-known activities, such as graffiti tours and Sunday’s Ciclovía.
As I reached the end of my southward journey that began at the TM station Los Héroes, I am at a look-out point – hence the name “mirador” – with the capital to my north and the city of Soacha rising up the western side of a slope.
I walk through a sunlit park where teenagers are skateboarding and stop for a refreshment at a grocery store brimming with fruits, crates of vegetables and usual cast of packaged snacks. I could be in any part of Bogotá with dignified two-tier homes and people plying their trades. I recall a quote by Henry Miller: “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way at looking at things.” So true, I say to myself before boarding the red gondola back home, and in the case of Bogotá, there is always a new way to look at things.