Robin Esrock – Gonzo With The Wind

Travel writer and TV personality Robin Esrock has journeyed to over 100 countries. From scuba diving in Papua New Guinea to volcano boarding in Nicaragua, this South-African-turned-Vancouverite has pretty much done it all. For his latest adventure, Esrock embarked on a cross-country journey to chronicle Canada’s captivating natural wonders and once-in-a-lifetime experiences for his new book, The Great Canadian Bucket List: One-of-a-Kind Travel Experiences. We caught up with the globetrotting author for more on all the Canadian sights you have to see before you … well, you know.

Q: Let’s talk about your book, The Great Canadian Bucket List. How long did it take to travel across Canada, to experience the adventures you detail in your book?
A: I was going back and forth. Basically, I was travelling for two years to do the book. There were a few experiences I’d done, kind of, in the past, but for the most part, about 95 per cent of the book was done over a two-year research period. And it wasn’t done in one sweep; it was done in various segments. Sometimes I had to go back depending on the summer or winter. So, it was a two-year project from the time that the publisher approached me to the time that the book was on the shelves.

Q: What is the one thing every Canadian should feel ashamed for never witnessing?

A: That’s a hard question. I make a point of saying that these experiences are very personable. Bucket lists and travel are big personal endeavours. Who you share this with is as important as what you’re experiencing. I think of something, say, like Niagara Falls. The Falls themselves are an absolutely spectacular natural wonder, and I only saw them while researching this book. I’ve been in Canada for years and years and years, and I’d kind of written the Falls off as a tourist thing. And then to see Niagara Falls for the first time — I’ve been to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and I’ve been to Iguazu in Brazil — and Niagara is pretty much the most impressive waterfall I’ve seen. It just shows the surprise, that “Ah!” People of Toronto, they just write this thing off. But if you take a visitor or someone from out of town and show them Niagara Falls, you feel like you’re somewhere exceptional.

Q: Amongst your adventures, you’ve been face-to-face with polar bears, repelled off mountains, skated on Crystal Lake, zip lined over waterfalls.  What adventure terrified you the most?
A: Everything in the book is something that I want everybody to be able to do. So there’s nothing fantastical, and I didn’t want anything to be too dangerous that the average person can’t do. So, scuba diving battleships off the coast of Vancouver Island — if you can scuba dive, you can do it. You have to know what you’re doing, but anybody can do it. When I was doing that particular dive, it was very cold, very dark, and I got a little disoriented, and had a small bout of panic. But it was fine. I’ve learned that when you’re travelling, the key to safety is never to panic. The hundred places I’ve been to, I’ve never been attacked or robbed or violently ill, because for the most part, I just don’t panic. I just try and keep calm and that diffuses every situation. The thing that was a little scary that I tested in the book was doing a motorbike ride around Lake Superior. Not because it’s dangerous, but because I didn’t know how to ride a motorbike. That’s dangerous.

Q: You’ve mentioned Hunter S. Thompson as an inspiration for your writing. I believe you also have a tattoo in honour of him?

A: Yeah, I have a tattoo of the Gonzo fist. When I studied journalism many, many years ago, I was always impressed by the idea of being subjective. And this is what Thompson’s Gonzo revolution was: a writer as an intrinsic part of the story. Everything in this book, I wanted it to be through my eyes, through my voice and through my experience. [Thompson] was this character that never said no, who threw himself into every situation headfirst, who was very bold and brave with both his life and his writing, and I wanted to emulate that. And it’s a very big part of my writing. It’s why you see the word “I” in just about every chapter, because I felt this, I saw this, these are the people I met. But I think that makes it relatable. The voice really shines through — there’s a sense of wonder, there’s a sense of experience, of credibility, of authenticity.

Q: If you had to narrow down your bucket list to five must-dos in Canada, what would they be?
A: If you want five must-dos, I’d say Haida Gwaii, for sure; the Icefield Parkway; I would say the polar bears in Manitoba; I would do seeing the Northern Lights — they can be done anywhere, but if you read the chapter, it’s pretty hilarious, because I’ve had such bad luck trying to find them; and Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland.

Q: Why is it so important for you to travel? How has it changed who you are and what you offer to your loved ones?
A: I think when we live in a really closed network we tend to really build up a cement wall of ideas around us about how we think the world works. We see this more and more, especially in very conservative societies where they’re just not exposed to that many ideas. You can go to all the websites and watch all the TV shows that speak to whatever you believe in, and then you just don’t believe anything else. The more you travel, the more you learn. You educate yourself, you inspire yourself, and you realize we’re just part of a much bigger picture. It’s something I hope I can impart to my daughter. She’s half South African, half Brazilian and full Canadian. And I want her to really know that it’s a big, beautiful world out there, and despite what we hear and see in the media, it’s not nearly as dangerous as one would think.

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