Risk, the Devil, Freedom, and Me.

Used with permission from Zen Monkey Photography.

Used with permission from Zen Monkey Photography.

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…”

The sun beats down on my left arm, and the wind blows strong from the sea. I watch waves break offshore as my minibus taxi races down the coastal road from Hout Bay to Cape Town.

The views are magnificent. Breathtaking. Spectacular. Risky.

My fellow passengers seem desensitized to the sight, for which we pay 12 rand ($0.75) each.

South African music blasts from the speakers, a mix of polyrhythmic beats, electronic pulse, and gospel-like vocals. The driver skips tracks on the mix CD as he holds a cell phone in his other hand, seemingly impervious to the risk of this endeavor.

These minibus taxis—cheaper and faster than a regular bus, and far cheaper than a cab or Uber—evoke a sense of freedom that their more staid (and safer) counterparts do not. Diverse rhythms, accents, and languages swirling in my ear, unfettered ocean wind in my hair, shimmer of merciless heat in the air—my senses come alive to welcome the spectrum of experience on offer.

It is more than physical freedom, though that is part of it. It is more than the speed and ease of movement, more than the volume of wind and music, and more than the independence of needing no one’s help to go wherever I please.

No, if I am honest with myself—and you—there is another kind of freedom epitomized by these minibus journeys, which eclipses all the others.

It is the freedom of choosing my own risks.

Cape Town has large populations of great white sharks in its waters, but that doesn’t stop dozens of surfers, SUPers, and swimmers from getting out there every day.

Cape Town has large populations of great white sharks in its waters, but that doesn’t stop dozens of surfers, SUPers, and swimmers from getting out there every day.

I’m not talking about risk-seeking behavior here. Rather, I believe most of us take most of our risks unconsciously. We drive our cars, smoke our cigarettes, drink our six packs of beer, eat our pesticide-laden food—that is, dance with our proverbial devils—all the while pretending, or perhaps believing, that our existence is safe. Secure. Unthreatened.

As I see it, it is precisely because we tend to ignore danger, or complacently engage in it where it is an accepted norm, that consciously, actively choosing our risks can inspire such a deep sense of freedom.

People always ask me, How can you hitchhike, take the minibus taxis, travel alone, go out alone, [fill-in-the-blank] as a woman, a foreigner, a young person, a small person? Aren’t you scared?

But aren’t you scared when you cross the street, go to the mall, eat your food, send your children anywhere alone, smoke your cigarette, drive your car?

How can you stand to be a human being in this world—frail, feeble, mortal, vulnerable—day after day after day?

That is essentially the question you are asking me.

Better the devil we know. Better the risk we acknowledge.

There is risk everywhere. We are never safe. We are weak, mortal, vulnerable to the vagaries of the world every day of our lives.

Yet, we cross the street. We drive the car. We live anyway.

I know the risks I take, and I choose them willingly, because the benefits (ah, the benefits) far outweigh them.

The other side of the street; the end of the dance; the far side of risk?

It’s worth it.

One of so many beautiful Cape Town vistas.

One of so many beautiful Cape Town vistas.

On one level, my choices bring me joy, full-bodied experience, and inspiration.

On another, more philosophical level, each time I choose my risks, I also acknowledge and make peace with my own mortality—and that is a powerful freedom, indeed.

I would never encourage another traveler to take the same risks I do; rather, I’d like to ask each reader, at home or abroad, one question:

Are you choosing your risks?

 

Photo Credit: [1] Used with Permission from Zen Monkey Photography [2] Author’s Own [3] Author’s Own