Copacabana. Christ the Redeemer. The Atlantic Ocean. From the top of Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain, families and couples and groups of friends lean against the strong steel railings, pointer fingers outstretched in the direction of Rio’s famous landmarks.
“It’s difficult to get a grasp of the city while you’re on the ground, but when you’re up here, it’s easier,” said Londoner Jack Morecraft, 22, after walking five miles from Ipanema Beach to take the cable cars to the top of the mountain. “The view makes me forget I’m tired.”
Rising almost a quarter mile into the sky, Sugarloaf offers a panoramic view of the area that can’t compete with any postcard photograph. Still, almost every visitor clicks or taps or pushes a camera button to cement in personal digital memory what for many of them will be a one-time sight.
Natalia Ize, a 42-year-old kindergarten teacher from Argentina, managed to find a secluded corner of the viewing area. She asked a stranger to take her picture in front of the blueish gray backdrop of Rio at twilight, then tucked her phone into her purse and gazed out at the quiet, endless deep of the darkening Atlantic. She sighed what seemed to be a peaceful and contemplative sigh.
“I’m finally here,” she said. “This has always been a dream of mine. It’s unreal.”
Several yards away, a woman in a long sundress and a man in cargo shorts perfected a heart-hand selfie in front of the setting sun. Their toddler daughter, chattering in Portuguese, twirled around just in time to avoid being splattered by a white rain that fell from the black birds circling above. Literally in the skies, the family left that part of the viewing area while holding hands.
When the sun set that evening in July, the crowd of people standing in front of Sugarloaf’s west railing burst into applause. The awe of all those strangers spread throughout the crowd, contagious without the help of mosquitos.
Approximately one million people visit Sugarloaf Mountain every year, according to Rio.com, a U.S.-based website. During the Olympics, many more people are expected to pay the R$76 — or about $23 — it costs for adults over 21 to take the cable car to the top. While there, visitors can examine artifacts and watch video presentations about the construction of the monument, which began in 1909.
Victoria Costa, 19, and Diego Bomfim, 33, two Rio residents and employees of the gift shop at the top of the mountain, said that they’ve noticed more visitors than usual in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. Both salespeople take the cable car to work each day. Costa said the strangest days are when clouds cover the mountain, and it’s hard to see beyond the glass doors of the store.
On this clear July evening, Bomfim glanced out at the lights from the city twinkling in the dark and reflected on his 21 months working on top of Sugarloaf Mountain.
“It’s fun working here,” he said. “The view never gets old.”
Victoria Ison is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the OlympicGames. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram,and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.