Now, life in Alemao is laid out in full view. Soaring over the roller-coaster of hills, passengers in one of the 152 gondolas can look down on women hanging laundry or chatting on corners, and on children playing on the rooftops, running through the streets or flying kites. In one of the few open spaces, a game of soccer was drawing cheers from onlookers. The scent of barbecue wafted up, along with various beats from stereos turned up loud to get the weekend going: samba, forro, funk, and at times a cacophony of all these combined.
At the last station, called Palmeiras, visitors and locals stop by stands selling locally-made crafts and souvenirs, while barbecue and beer sellers also do brisk business.
The price for a ride, kept at a very low 50 cents at first, has now gone up to $2.50 for visitors. But they're still 50 cents for residents, who also have the right to two free rides a day.
And while public transportation elsewhere in Rio is unpredictable at best, the cable car stations are organized and clean, with well-ordered lines and uniformed greeters who make sure patrons get on and off safely.
But the best aspect of riding the cable car is the sense of place it provides, intimate and distant at once, said rider William Andreas Wivel, in Rio from Denmark for an internship.
"It is a visually amazing experience — aesthetically very beautiful," he said. "It's like being in a bus or a train, very safe, but you get close up, you see how people live."
If You Go...
CABLE CAR OVER RIO'S ALEMAO SHANTYTOWN: Operates daily, Monday-Friday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday and holidays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. Rides for non-locals, $2.50 one way.
GETTING THERE: Main cable car station is located at Bonsucesso. You can get there by taxi; by metro to Central do Brasil, then by train to Vila Inhomirin; or by any number of buses to Praca das Nacoes, also Praca Paul Harris, in the Bonsucesso neighborhood.
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