Nervous laughters and butterflies fluttering in the stomach. I sat in further till my back leaned against the cool back of the seat, as if that would ease the insecurity that I was feeling. There was no place to held on to. “I’m afraid of heights!” I whined pitifully for the umpteenth time to no avail, as my gleeful friends chattered on excitedly in our … … swaying cabin.
A slight bump, and we were off in the air with the world far beneath. A million potential mishaps ran through my over imaginative mind, and a vague but intrusive memory of a Singapore cable car accident in 1983 surfaced. Seven people were killed when the two cabins plunged into the sea then.
This marked one of my first cable car rides. In my ignorant youth (of which the ignorance would last till this day), cable car rides are a form of attraction, albeit a thrilling one due to my acrophobia. Be it that ride with a retired couple (who flaunted their wealth) near Mui Ne, Vietnam towards a hilltop Buddhist temple or the steep descent at Skyline Queenstown, horror images such as those from Final Destination would distract me whenever I find myself in an urban gondola.
“There’s a human desire to get a bird’s eye view of new places, to get up high. A cable car fits with that”. – Steven Dale, strategist at the Gondola Project
Wait a sec… Stop, Mr. Dale. Really?!
I always thought cable cars as a form of tourist attraction. It never occurred to me to question their origins or existence, for the sight of those cute cabins hanging in the air like ice cubes on a conveyor belt is common and familiar to Singaporeans that visit the southern shores of our city. It is something that I have taken for granted. But there’s more to cable cars than the various terms bestowed on this ingenious transport system.
Things to know about cable cars:
1. Cable car was inspired by an act of kindness!
Dating back to the late 19th century, the first practical cable car system using steel ropes were created by Andrew Hallidie in San Francisco. Initially implemented to reduce the suffering incurred by the horses that hauled streetcars up the steep roads (as well as for safety reasons for passengers), this cable car legacy became part of the transport revolution and lived on till today, playing important social and economic roles in their existing destinations!
Did you know cable car is not always a tourist attraction?
2. Cable cars as urban transport
While commonly identified as attraction rides, cable cars can also play practical roles to ease traffic, enhance accessibility (that improves one’s way of life) and sometimes, improve lives and change the image of a city – as demonstrated by Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia. I cannot remember how I got about to taking Medellin Metrocable, but that was the first aerial cable-propelled transit systems that I tried in Colombia. It was such a great experience that I decided to try the one in Bogota and Cali as well.
*Despite having acrophobia, I am a firm believer of never letting fear stop me from moving forward or doing what I need/want to do.
3. Funicular, Cable Car or Urban Gondolas?
Depending on location, you may have taken one of these cabins to transport you from a place to another. These aerial cable-propelled transit systems are also known as:
- Funicular (derived from the Latin word funiculus which translates as ‘rope’)
- Aerial Tramway
- Urban gondolas
Cable Cars in Colombia: Travel The Way Locals Do
On hindsight, I was strangely comfortable taking the cable cars in Colombia – could it be my attention were focused on more practical matters of staying alert in my supposedly rugged environment or did I grew out of my acrophobia? I have no idea.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux
All I know is I felt more excitement and joy than fear while being in the air. And for the first time, I truly appreciate the expansive view beneath and enjoyed the ride, affirming Mr. Dale’s words.
Very often, we take for granted the amenities that we enjoy in our daily life and it may not occur to us that there are more to something than their physical presence. However, questions start to surface when one is reflecting upon past travels. Travelling the way locals do often brings forth better understanding of culture and way of life. In retrospect of my travels in Colombia, I was compelled to look within and around, ensuing greater appreciation for all that I was blinded to before.
Read more on my cable car adventures in Colombia:
Medellin Metrocable: Not Just a Tourist Attraction