Former Sun columnist travels to TV screen
'Modern Gonzo' Robin Esrock is one of the stars of a hit new show, OLN's Word Travels
Vancouver Sun - Saturday, February 09, 2008
When Robin Esrock was knocked off his bike by a car that ran a stop sign in the West End, little did he know he was also being propelled into a career as a travel writer, television journalist and one of the stars of the new hit TV show Word Travels.
Three years ago, Esrock, then 29, looked at the $20,000 settlement he received from the Insurance Corp. of B.C. for his broken kneecap (which healed nicely) and debated what to do with the money.
"I could get a new car," he said in a recent interview, "or put it away for a rainy day --which, in Vancouver, could be any day. I decided to really think about taking that year off, that everybody dreams about doing. I've always wanted to do it -- go to all the countries that I wanted to see, from Peru to New Zealand, right across the world. When I worked out how far that money would take me, it would pretty much get me around, on a shoestring."
As well, Esrock decided to keep a website and blog so friends could follow his journey. He also pitched the idea for a column to The Sun. "I figured, if I'm going to be writing for my friends and family, I might as well take it further." He bought a round-the-world ticket on his 30th birthday. Sun readers will remember Esrock from his year-long Modern Gonzo column, which he somehow managed to file weekly from jungles, deserts, cities and villages around the world.
Fans relished his tales of roaring down mountains on a bicycle, and bungee jumping from various edifices -- as well as the stories about people he seemed to find wherever he went. Most people come back from a year of travelling and return to their jobs and lives. Not Robin Esrock.
"The column in The Sun really touched a nerve," he said. "When I got back I did a talk. The capacity, I think, was 80 people. We crammed in 120 and turned away 60 people at the door. And that was the first time I thought, 'Whoa, a lot of people are reading what I'm writing,' and my Web traffic was also up. It just hit a nerve. Here's a guy following his dream and doing what everybody else wants to do. "I thought I owe it to myself to at least see how far I can take it."
Three years less a month after his first column appeared, his TV show Word Travels, which airs on the Outdoor Life Network, is enjoying tremendous success. A news release says that on the show, which debuted Jan. 30, Esrock and Toronto videographer Julia Dimon, "battle deadlines, jet lag, culture shock -- and each other -- to file the best travel stories possible."
On this week's episode, filmed in Ethiopia, Dimon overcomes her animal-rights impulses and buys a sheep at Africa's largest market to donate to an orphanage. Meanwhile, Esrock has followed the "people trail" and discovered an Ethiopian former Vancouverite who now operates a program for training runners, giving hope and a small income to those who would otherwise have neither.
There are also great shots of the carved churches of Lalibela, where Dimon is noticeably miffed that in some women are denied entrance. This episode, which already aired Wednesday, will be rebroadcast Sunday at 7 p.m. A real delight from the show is the music, a far cry from the bland Muzak-style tunes that accompany most travelogues. (Esrock says they had no budget, but approached various indie bands who agreed to supply tunes.)
Next up (Feb. 13) is a visit to the jungles of Venezuela, where the two head deep into the Orinoco Delta for a lesson in jungle survival. While Esrock takes the plunge to swim with dolphins, abseil a canyon and catch a piranha dinner, Dimon goes where only few have been before in a hunt for the elusive moriche worm. Future episodes will cover Jordan, Latvia, Dubai, Thailand, Macau, among others.
Word Travels has been chosen as this week's TV Guide editor's pick and received glowing reviews from Canada's major newspapers. Word Travels airs on the Outdoor Life Network (Channel 49 in Vancouver) Wednesdays at 7 and 11 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.
Visit the show's website at wordtravels.tv and Esrock's website at moderngonzo.com.
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