Five Hair-Raising Adventures with Robin Esrock, King of the Bucket List
To celebrate the release of his latest book, The Great Global Bucket List, the best-selling Canadian travel writer and TV personality shares some of his most hair-raising adventures from his trips around the world.
When he was 30, an age at which most people begin to settle into the predictable rhythms of domestic life, Robin Esrock quit his job at a Vancouver record label and embarked on a year-long backpacking trip through more than 40 countries, funding his journey with a $20,000 accident settlement. Twelve years and scores of countries later, he has become one of Canada’s better-known travel writers, an exuberant personality whose tastes in travel tend toward the adventurous, the harrowing, the unconventional and the bizarre. This fall marked the publication of The Great Global Bucket List, the sixth in Esrock’s series of “Bucket List” guidebooks, each of which is filled with anecdotes from his wide-ranging travels. Here, he shares a few of his greatest adventures, big and small.
The most dangerous thing I’ve ever done
“In Patagonia, I hiked a trail called Cerro Lopez. People die on it every year. I was there with an American climber who I happened to meet on the trail. We got to a fork in the trail, and he was like, ‘This looks like the way to go,’ and I was like, ‘No, this is a better way,’ and we split up. It probably made sense to follow the experienced climber but I went the other way, because I was an idiot. Soon I was climbing across the wall of an icy ravine with no equipment, digging my fingers into the snow. If I slipped there, I would have I would have been dead. The next day I met someone and told him what I did and he said, ‘Oh, there was a guy who got killed there two weeks before.’ This was in my first three weeks of traveling. The whole thing could have ended right there.”
Climbing through a volcanic eruption in Chile
“When I got to Villarrica, an active volcano above the Chilean lakeside resort town of Pucon, it was erupting. I’m climbing up this thing and ground is shaking beneath my feet. The guide says, ‘We’re turning back now.” We had been hiking for four hours. Of course we have our stupid tourist grins and we say, ‘Oh no, we came too far to turn back now.” So he says, ‘Okay, drop your stuff and hurry up there and we’ll head right back down.’ We were up there for two minutes. We were wearing helmets because the volcano was shooting rocks up and over our heads. There was this primeval, guttural sound. We took our pictures, then took off our crampons and slid all the way down.”
A near-miss with a pork sausage in the Czech Republic
“I was in Prague and I was like, ‘I gotta get out of here, it’s like Disneyland for Medievalists!’ Then I saw this flyer that said, ‘Discover the real Czech country!’ I dialed the number and it was this guy who would take you into the countryside for two days. We arrive at his house and his father is cooking these fat pork sausages. I tell these guys, ‘Listen, this is a big, big moment here. I never had pork in my life, ever.” They were like, ‘What do you mean?’ I was like, ‘I’m Jewish.’ This man take a fork and puts it in the sausage and the pork fat squirts everywhere. They start slow-clapping and chanting my name. I take the fork and it’s inches from my lips. And then—I swear to God I’m not making this up—there’s a flash of lightning right outside the door and a clap of thunder so loud that the plate falls off the table. And that’s why to this day I’ve never had pork.”
Risking life and limb on the roads of Italy
“As a kid, I had a Lamborghini poster on my wall. I decided to visit the factory in Italy. They brought out their number-one test driver and we got into the Gelato Spider Convertible or whatever this dream car was called, and he started absolutely shredding the countryside. Then we went to the Ferrari factory. These two brands have been at war with each other for dozens of years. When we arrive at Ferrari, they are pissed off that we’ve been at Lamborghini. The young test driver is like, ‘We’ll show you what a real car can do.’ I saw him take a corner at 95 miles per hour. This wasn’t on the track—this was on the streets. I look at this guy and I’m like, ‘Gee, I hope you know what you’re doing.’”
Up close and personal with crocodiles in South Africa
“I’m originally from South Africa. My craziest experience there was cage diving with crocodiles. You get into a cage and this crane lowers it into a pool. There are three massive crocodiles—absolutely monstrous. The guide says, ‘Have you done this with the sharks?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it was amazing, they were smashing the cage.’ He said, ‘Well, the sharks are just checking you out, but the crocodiles actually want to eat you. So resist the urge to touch them.’”