Category Archives: TravelLOG
Home was a hidden lakefront prairie paradise for a fledgling explorer – it’s now a golf course suburb. I’ve erased that place from the map of my mind and settled it’s shores in childhood fantasy – somewhere that never really existed – except in my mind.
I’m calling this the ‘NY Banksy War’ trip and I’ll let you in on a few secrets.
I am in NY to meet Oscar nominated filmmaker, author of War, and war journalist, Sebastian Junger, who’s film I saw at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. I followed my gut to find him here. He has bunkered inside the worst war zone in Afghanistan and recommended my stay at Carlton Arms. I think I can trust him.
New York’s Gramercy district opens with 3 keys in my hand. One to the front door of a derelict gem-of-an-art hotel that most never would know about. The second opens my shared-bath closet-of-a-room inside an art crawl of a dream. The third key is to a second lock I don’t put on my door.
“Banksy stays here.” It’s true. An art project of it’s own right – live-in artists, live-in cat – real edgy and definitely not a pre-fabed hotel-of-a-box that every city guilts showcasing. My room, 15b is right on the stairwell that the now infamous graffiti artist, Banksy took paint to the walls leaving his own dreams behind before the world claimed his guerrilla strokes of genius.
In a city that never sleeps, I slept 17 hours in a city where I typically indulge in melatonin and ear plugs. I slept without aid and woke to a note under my door – an art note – a Banksy mouse. Could it be? Real? I <;3 NY more than ever right now.
Cafe OST, hideout hydration outpost found on a wander in November is within wander distance from 15b. I afternoon with cappuccino and reward today's writings with house wine après 5 o’clock. This muted cafe anchors remote and reclusive life – a hip hidden place 'not to be seen'. My kinda place.
The lights change in the street and sky. Brick walkups, apartment blocks light up as owners return from another New York work day. I'm camped across the street, watch the locals on the sidewalk, taxis drop offs and pick ups – everyone makes their way home tonight.
I think about dinner. Who will be my host for eats before I set off to meet Sebastian for the first time – late drinks at his pub The Half King – if his schedule allows.
Partner in Crime.
I return to find another Banksy note and a graffiti spray can outside 15b! Ok, WHO is leaving secret notes and enabling me to commit an illegal act of art!? Banksy?!? What’s a girl to do tonight in NY with a spray can? Find a partner in crime. Hell yes.
Hello New York. Hello Bansky. I'm wide awake. I love you.
I was asked to be a guest blogger on SoloTraveler and was supposed to type a gaunty 250 post, but I got a little lost along the way. Here’s the version that WON’T make the cut, but I RECOMMEND the read until the final choppy-chop.
Entry 001 CFilmGirl: Fate, LOST TV and a little Tale to tell.
I feel like a covert operative most days, in reality I am just a film girl who just can’t stop getting on the plane. There is no one else who is willing or able to keep up with my adventures other than at my side via Twitter and FaceBook. I am a solo filmmaker / traveler (which means I am the producer, director, writer, camera operator, sherpa, self-guide, bad-translator, travel-advisor with a break-the-budget love of late night wine, local yums and cool-unique sleeps).
The line has long been blurred between a story I was chasing and the story I am now shaping so I can keep on ‘chasing’. Cradling my MacBook Pro, in Air Canada Exec class (Aeroplan points) on a direct flight from Calgary, Canada to San Diego, USA, checking out my latest tweet on my iPhone (ok – I have a few/many sanity/insanity tools/tricks to travel).
CFilmGirl: Missed Banff TV Fest but hit Exec Prod / Director of #Lost “did you write it with the end in mind?” haha http://yfrog.com/5cn6ej
I jump over to FaceBook to see if Twitter auto updated my status, upload and tag myself on the same photo I tweeted.
I always feel like I don’t have enough time to ‘tweet’ let alone eat, I don’t even know if I ‘hashed’ properly (not talking weed or pot here) but sharing these updates and nuggets of travel and film makes me feel a bit less guilty about this pseudo lifestyle and leaving my loved ones behind… most of the time. There is still the guilty pleasure of disappearing – going ‘off grid’ and THAT is the freedom of going solo. The choice to share VS to have a secret moment. In the end, I am the only one in the conversation “what happens on a solo trip – stays on a solo trip…”
Going solo, like going to a party solo (one note here… I am shy & single) gives you the time to experience everything around you in a completely different way. Much like a writer or a director, you become immersed in a world and have a heightened, focused experience that we yearn for in many aspects of our lives but rarely are able to achieve. For some they find it via adrenalin, drugs or even rock and roll – for me, it’s travel and I am a bit different person when I step out of my life and into a solo experience without any of regular daily life’s gauges, labels or distractions. But I am preaching to the converted and hope to convert a few of my shy and curious peeping toms that I know have been watching with a longing curiosity.
Back to me and Jack Bender, mastermind behind ‘Lost’, arm in arm in the Calgary Airport. A happen-chance meeting while in line at the USA customs began with a simple comment about a photo mural hanging overhead to kill time directed to no one in particular… “Mount Rushmore – I don’t care to go”. I bit the bait, answering “I think I was there when I was young. I think I was sick – I think maybe it dreamt I was there”. A Kiwi solo traveler piped up “who’s the guy with the mustache?” We all shared a short trivia moment, killing time.
Jack was there for the Banff Festival, which I couldn’t afford to attend. Funny cause he was the only person I would have wanted to meet at the festival if I could have gone. Funny, cause I don’t even watch Lost. Funny cause he was standing right there, solo and we naturally lead into conversation. This is what we call in the media industry a ‘slow pitch’ environment. Outside the industry, I call this a ‘slow experience’. Others call it FATE and fate doesn’t happen if you are not open and AVAILABLE (like dating) to new experiences.
Maybe you’ve heard of ‘slow foods’ dining where instead of the typical fast-food choke-it-chow-it down-get-the-’F’-out-of-here race, a meal could last 4 hours or longer into the night and is typically shared with a larger group, turning a meal into a shared experience.
Well, I collect ‘slow experiences’. I don’t expect something to happen at first point of contact, I don’t hit the typical tourist sight or follow an itinerary. I shoot the same way – I don’t have a shot list, I don’t have a set cast of characters – I wake up, start moving and I let a story guide me. When I am solo, a voice seems to call out softly, demurely and it playfully beckons me to follow it. It’s not long until I am under it’s spell, like a new romantic interest. It grows into an intimate and at times even sensuous experience but it never fails to develop into a deeply honest and revealing journey – both for myself as a filmaker and as a human being.
There is something uniquely beautiful to be surrounded by so many undiscovered locations, cultures, characters, behaviors and story-lines. Traveling and shooting solo, void of negotiations, justification only instinct and whims. Yes, there are times of danger, extreme risk and emotion but even though I am solo, I have learned to reach out wherever I am and ask for help and guidance to those who ‘happen’ to be at my side at that moment. Places do not seem so foreign when you can be one on one, face to face with strangers and has never failed for a friend to show up just when I needed one most – I just didn’t know they were a friend until they said ‘hello’.
It’s a shift from “who is at my side and needing someone there right from the beginning” to “I am beginning and I wonder who will grace my journey along the way”. With that shift and a little faith and patience on my part, the world around me opened my eyes and allowed me to keep my wits about me when surrounded by the strangest of languages and in the deepest recesses of the desert. I now truly don’t feel that traveling solo translates to traveling alone.
Through my journey, I also recently came to understand that the world bears a strong and mischievous sense of humor. I now take each victory and each fall in stride with a crooked grin of my own as if I secretly immersed in a game of practical jokes, witty tests and a never-ending treasure hunt with a storyteller much larger than myself. Someone, something out there is scripting a grand adventure of which I am unable to uncast myself from. I faithfully listen to the whispered words on the wind and just keep on trekking towards the next bump or fork in the road. Taking it all in stride as I travel to gather a better understanding of my place in the world and fill an unquenchable curiosity of the world and it’s mysteries, romances, dramas, adventures, comedies and hopefully not to many more horror or war stories…
What better way to discover the next amazing story than to step out of the known and explore solo, your own amazing unknown, yet to be discovered life. You never know where you may end up and who you may friend along the way.
Happy Tales to you – until we meet…
A quick note on attraction cause I am always asked what qualities I look for in a partner (dating, working or traveling). I always pick ‘personality’ which I define as personal behaviour shaped by personal experience. I always hit the ball into their court afterwards with: “Take the time to question, explore, discover and shape your own world – inside and out. You will stand out in my books – I will be curious and want to know more and remember, you don’t always have to go a far as you think to find some interesting answers…”
aka ‘Canadian Film Girl’
April 19, 2009 – 9:00am – Marseille, France
Writing this, the time and location, it all seems a little too unreal. Just one week ago, I had a completely different week planned for myself. One of reflection, redirection and a new beginning. One that would put me on the road to my parent’s cabin in British Columbia’s Kootney Lake for a few weeks. One that was to turn me and my film career (if you could call it that just yet) from the off-road adventures of “Chasing the Desert” – which had become more like a black comedy of sorts – and back in to the writers seat for a while, to dream of a few new beginnings and hack at a few of the old ones… Time to start over again, time to start fresh.
That lasted all of 24 hours, as all my grand plans seem to these days, right up till 3pm on Easter Sunday… Sitting on the beach at Crab Park, Vancouver, just outside my Gastown loft, another call to adventure – actually something larger than that, dropped into my iPhone from France, beckoning me back overseas, back into action, offering me up my one last shot at recovering from an unpredictable and unfortunate turn of events back in January of 2008.
On January 4th, 2008, an event, a story… a dream I risked far to much on an idea of an experience and that experience ended up becoming far different than I could ever have expected. Fact is, the event never ended up happening. The event was the legendary Dakar Rally, a 15 day, 5000KM endurance and navigation rally race through Europe and Northern Africa. But on January 4th and 12 noon, the rally became more than a legend – it wrote history. 12 hours prior to the start of it’s 30th edition, the race organizers cancelled the entire rally after a series of terrorist actions in Mauritania the week before which culminated with deaths of French tourists over the Christmas holiday.
The famous Paris-Dakar Rally had become the flagship of off-road rallies for professional and amateur racer and everyone stood that day, lost.
I stood there that day lost and broken, and literally broke. I, like many of the competitors, gave everything to be in the rally even just once in a lifetime, to be a part of this seemingly unstoppable event that many only dream of setting foot inside of. Like the Titanic, this event sank and not all had access to lifeboats to make it ashore. A part in all of us died that day. Not just a childhood dream, but a belief that anything is possible… that if one is strong enough, courageous enough, give enough, one can live a dream.
We all risked more than most would to get there and like in that nightmare poker game, all saw it swiftly disappear when the cards hit the table on the first hand. I alone was out my day job, roughly $50,000, 8 months of production and no way to get home to Canada. I’m an independent filmmaker, this was to be my first documentary that I was self funding at that point and my insurance didn’t cover an event cancellation – no one’s did. I am still one of the lucky ones with only bankruptcy staring at me on the near horizon…
Jump ahead 6 months…
I guess I am a little crazy, or so I thought at Easter, but a competing race organization to the Dakar Rally contacted me to assist them in securing a North American broadcaster to air their daily race summaries and to introduce their 10 day rally in Tunisia and Libya to a North American audience. Basically what I have been fighting so hard and long to do with the Dakar Rally for 2 and a half years now. This offer was different. They turned the tables and instead of the 20,000 Euro entry fees and the 20,000 Euro license and rights fees, this organization had just invited me out AND offered both my footage and their footage for free – no cost. A bit of a shocker on Easter afternoon (I am starting to like the Easter Bunny for more than the rice-crispy-chocolate treat in bunny form) – and a lot unexpected as I would have to be on a plane in 4 days to France to catch the boat…
So, do I give up everything again? Risk my own sanity again? Walkaway from my family who I was going to meet at the lake? My friends who I had committed to plans with? Myself and this so called life I keep trying to wrangle up and set on a sane course? Will things wait for me this time when before they slipped through my fingers? What will 3 weeks from my life look like this time, especially since I seem to be in a vortex of very odd occurrences as it is?
One thing it did mean – ok, 2 things…
#1: I will have the professional footage I need to complete an amazing documentary on my own personal journey chasing the Dakar Rally AND have more than enough for an incredible episodic pilot that would lead up to both the Moroccan Rally AND the Dakar 2010 Rally to sell to a North American broadcaster.
#2: Originally, before the documentary was even conceived, I was just writing a feature dramatic film with the rally event as a backdrop to a brother story. All I initially wanted was to participate in the rally to write the most realistic action sport adventure script possible…
This Easter egg…. this Easter Miracle… just put me back in the driver’s seat and into the heart of the African desert and into the heart of an endurance and navigation rally. This means that at the end of the most trying and difficult creative, financial, personal and professional journey I have ever taken to this point in my life… I am given back more than just my first little dream when I thought it was long lost. I am given the chance to finish my dramatic feature film script that I started over 2 and a half years ago… and, I am given the chance to give back.
So, what did I do? I put everything on the line again. My day job, friends, family, my health… my life. Of course this time I called everyone before hand because this would have to be something I can share and celebrate on my return. It’s no longer my journey – me, my family and friends have all invested to much to date and this is my last shot at finding an end to a story long over due.
That little dream I watched die away on January 4th, 2008, has come back to life. It looks a little different, but it feels right. I think there is something exciting we can do with this. For me, my project and for the desert. I may be filing for bankruptcy this week (funny to do from France), but all my work and what I ultimately envisioned, still has a fighting chance…
The boat to Tunisia leaves tomorrow from the Port in Marseille. I am sitting in my hotel recovering from a fever break at 39 degrees celcius just a day ago in the Frankfurt Airport, but I am recovering, charging my batteries and holding onto the hope that this time – it’s the right time for this little story of mine.
Shawna Cox | CFG is… on Facebook. “Be my friend – and HANG ON!” for photos of Baja 500, 1000, The Dakar Rally and every ADVENTURE inbetween and behind the scenes…
2008 Dakar Rally Race Route, Morocco, October 2008: Making of “Chasing the Desert”…
Escaping Flash floods, desert nights, Canadian Girls racing hidden trails, deep inside the ‘Medina’ of Marrakech, hot diggity scarabs and a wee-bit-of night dune driving (and running the battery down…)??
–>> “Where’s Shawna on the map?”
–>> Shawna’s Video Diary:
Who knew I would ever sit in the middle of the desert at night and be filming, editing and uploading daily film-bites. 1 HDV camera, 2 VIO-POV 1 car cams, 1 Mac laptop, 1 Iritrack GPS tracker, 1 crazy group of Canadians, 1 4×4, and 1 satellite way up in the sky (@ 7 euros a megabite, I might add = $200 + per 2 minute video)
Thanks for keeping up with me, hot on the trail of Mark Miller (Team Volkswagen) and the 2009 Dakar Rally… www.dakar.com
Good night from afar.