You may know Robin Esrock from any of about a zillion places. This busy travel writer and TV producer is all over the map, literally. He writes regular columns for the Globe & Mail, Outpost magazine, and Sympatico.ca; he is the co-host of Gemini-nominated TV show Word Travels airing in more than 100 countries (on OLN and CityTV in Canada); has a web-video production company; and is currently developing an adventure TV show and writing a book about Canada to be published in 2012. He also manages to find time to travel (he’s been to 10 countries already in 2011), write articles for newspapers and magazines around the world; and keep his website, www.moderngonzo.com, up to date with tales of his most recent exploits. Obviously, Robin is someone who has taken carpe diem to the extreme. We stole a bit of his time last week to ask him how he does it.
First of all, where are you right now?
In an airport, as usual. I’m sitting outside Gate 50 in Edmonton waiting for my flight back to Vancouver, where I’ll have one day at home before jetting off to Kauai.
After growing up in South Africa and living in London, why did you choose to move your home base to Vancouver?
When I was at university in South Africa, I shared a house with four girls, one of whom was a Vancouverite. She would talk about the mountains, sea and forest, and I remember thinking, wow, what a cool place to live! My group of friends decided we wanted to leave Johannesburg and settle somewhere a little less…intense. I suggested Vancouver. One of us came over to check it out and had glowing reports. I was living in London at the time, feeling like I needed some fresh air. I found plenty of that in Vancouver.
Had you travelled in Canada before you moved here? What have you learned about Canada through your travels? Has anything surprised you?
I landed at Vancouver Airport as an immigrant without ever stepping foot in North America. It was quite a leap of faith, but then again, life is full of them. My adventures and experiences in Canada since could full a book, and will in 2012. Coast to coast, the country is so large, and so damn beautiful, it never ceases to amaze me.
Canadians deserve their international reputation as being friendly, hospitable, upbeat and one of the countries that get it right more often than not. I wrote a wonderful love letter to Canada several years ago for Canada Day. It’s one of my most popular columns. All I tried to do was put things in perspective. For all the challenges, scandals and media scares, Canada is an industrious country full of good people working towards a positive future. As for surprises, few people know just how quirky Canadians can be. Google the sourtoe cocktail and you’ll see exactly what I mean. [Ed note: We’ve done it for you. You’re welcome. And ew.]
Okay, I’ve got some best-ofs to shoot at you—the all-Canada edition:
Smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s in Montreal. Hands down, no argument, pass the mustard.
Most underrated place or attraction?
New Brunswick is the most underrated province in Canada. It has beautiful parks and drives, and there’s some wild adventures to be had, like jet-boating class V rapids at Reversing Falls in Saint John, or deepelling off a cliff face in Grand Falls.
Experience worth splurging on?
I’m always blown away by helicopter rides and flightseeing. Usually not cheap, but always memorable. I’m looking forward to visiting Churchill in Manitoba this winter to watch polar bears from Frontiers North’s amazing mobile tundra lodge.
Wildest night out or weirdest experience?
Well, last night I was dressed in fishnets cancanning at a travel media event, and that was just Wednesday! I’ve ticked off three bucket lists and had some zingers, like getting chased by a tapir in the Venezuelan jungle, spending the night at Chernobyl, getting lost in the Atacama and Sinai Deserts, being lowered into a swimming pool with three massive Nile crocodiles, swimming with and eating piranha, being set on fire by a Fire Doctor in Taiwan, sandboarding an active volcano in Nicaragua, running with bulls in the Azores, racing horses in Mongolia, exploring rock churches in Ethiopia, driving a Lamborghini in Italy, partying at Carnaval in Rio—I could go on, but everyone hates me enough already.
When you arrive in a place you’ve never been, how do you go about really understanding it? What does it take for you to feel prepared to write about it?
I’ve become quite adept at sizing a place up pretty quickly. After you’ve been to several jungles, deserts, mountains, tundras, volcanoes, etc., you get an idea of what to expect, and where to spot the differences. Same thing with regions, cultures and continents. I speak to people, and try my best to listen. I prefer to write as close to the experience as possible, but it’s getting tougher with so much on the go so I keep notes in the same little black books I’ve been using since I was 13.
What gear do you always bring with you on a trip?
A sarong comes in handy, as do tea lights. Never leave home without an alarm clock. I pack spare batteries for various gadgets. I love my Kindle, which is loaded with books. My external hard drive, notebooks, laptop, camera, hat, pens, and my good luck charm—a little Boy Wonder [a miniature toy of Robin, of Batman fame] that’s been with me everywhere.
But the most important piece of advice I can give you when going on a trip: Always bring an open mind and a sense of humour.