My Cuba Journal: First Hand Accounts From Traveling With First Hand Aid

It’s time I published some of my journal from Cuba. In order to give you full disclosure, I’m posting these journal entires completely raw, without editing them in any way. I didn’t just write these now… they’ve been written since I was in Havana the second time (I sadly didn’t keep a journal the first time through when I was with the baseball team).

I also have some videos to accompany some of these entries. These are mostly taken from a phone camera while I’m inside my room, although I’m going to try and find time to edit them a little bit to make them more interesting to watch, and to tell the stories better. Therefore, the video content in this journal “may” be edited, but the text will remain entirely untouched.

Okay, having gotten that out of the way, the video above is simply a tour of my “casa” as it’s called. Yeah, it does start with a plane and stuff, because for whatever ¬†reason I can’t resist the look of a shot out the window of a plane over it’s wing when we take off. I just get happy to see it.

Below, the first entry from the journal. Obviously, we’re going to start things off a little slow, but that’s just the way it was. RAW and unedited.

Cuba Journal: Traveling back to Havana

Our plane left late, which is the first time that has ever happened to me. Something was wrong with the engines, and they had to call mechanics on the ground to do a few things that would manually start the engines. It’s strange, and a little unsettling, but eventually we got up in the air, and all feels normal again.

Once again, we’ve got in-flight entertainment centers for our use. I’m watching This Means War while I type this, and I’ll probably watch a little bit of another movie after that.

The trip is a bit long, and my body is already tired from traveling, since I got back from my Hollywood Trip about 72 hours ago. That was a 2,200 mile drive in my car. Now, I’m sitting on a plane looking out the window into the thick fluffy cover of the clouds as our giant metal tank with wings sails through the air towards our destination. I’m tired, but I cannot sleep. So, let’s write instead!

I’m excited about the journey, as one can easily suspect. I’ve gotten the chance to return to a cool place that I’ve been to before, and feel somewhat familiar in. That’s not to say I’m comfortable there. Far from it. In fact, if I hadn’t been meshed in with the rest of the guys, I wouldn’t have liked being in Cuba nearly as much I feel. There is a slight smell to the streets which the players and GVSU staff weren’t exposed to much when they were here. I know of it, only because of a short 4 hour period of capturing footage with First Hand Aid. It’s that very same bit of footage that has led me to feeling this second trip was necessary.

The Cuba the team knows, isn’t the same as the Cuba I know. Even in the tourist areas, my focus was often away from the team and the food. Your attention to detail, and your sense of curiosity and exploration to those details is increased when you’re filming a documentary film. You feel as though anything could be important, or useful on video, and you want to see and capture everything for a lifetime. This differs from the team and staff I traveled with six months ago, who engaged in conversation with each other, went shopping, and had a lot of laughs and fun while they were here. I’m just a camera man, and I wasn’t distracted by those same elements of living in Cuba before. I don’t know them, and I wasn’t truly “part of the group” like they were. I had the objectivity of a third-party, and I liked that. It kept me focused, and working.

My entire purpose of being here is creating a film, and capturing everything that can be used with it. It isn’t for pleasure. Far from it. In fact, I’m totally broke, and am limiting myself to the minimal resources that the $75USD can buy me. I can tell you, this money will not last the week. It will likely be gone in a day or two. When that happens, I’ll feel like a leach, needing others to pay for what I’ll consume. It won’t be a good feeling, and I’ll owe yet another person money.

Even though financial challenges exist, the trip is almost entirely necessary to complete our goals. It’ll be possible to raise money in various ways later, and so I’m not really worried about paying them back down the road. What I’m most worried about, is the officials from the government giving me a hard time. Last time, I was able to pretty much shoot anything I wanted while traveling with the GVSU baseball team. We were, after all, there on permission from the president’s office, and there was a big diplomatic event surrounding it between Cuba and the United States. They let me do what I wanted to do, and I never felt restricted in any way. The first time, was exactly as I wanted it to be, and it was fun.

This time could be a lot different. My camera isn’t protected as much anymore, my group is more spread out, I have far less luxury accommodations, and I’m basically broke.

Welcome to Havana.

Cuba Journal: Getting Settled In

We had made it safely to the island on the plane, and after over 2 hours of stressful investigations from customs, all but one of us made it out of the airport okay. Cuba was already looking different than I remembered, and the government was looking to have a much different face than when we traveled with the baseball team.

We left the airport in vans and headed to our Casas (which means “houses” in spanish). Instead of staying in a luxurious hotel for tourists, First Hand Aid crews stay in more modest living situations that closer resemble the situations of the people here in the city. It’s still a little nicer, of course, but far from the Occidental Miramar.

The room I’m staying in is small, but has plenty of features that will allow me to be comfortable. There is a fan above the bed, and an almost full-sized refrigerator in the corner. A dresser is available for my clothes, and the bathroom is actually rather clean and modern compared to my expectations. There is also an air conditioner in the wall, which allows me to cool the room enough to actually want a blanket for warmth. I’m rather happy with it.

After getting our living situations sorted out, the group decided it was time to unwind, and grab a few drinks from a restaurant down the street. It gave us a chance to talk more about what was happening to the last member of our group (who was still waiting in line for his bags to be checked), and to talk more about the activities in our near future. Some people were hungry, and so food was also on the menu.

This gave me the first preview of how long my extremely tight budget was going to last. A can of beer and a ham and cheese sandwich at this small little restaurant on the side of the street, was over five CUC (Cuban Convertibles, which are basically Pesos for tourists, which are traded for the US dollar attached to a 14% fee). My $75 budget was already reduced by over 10 percent, and I hadn’t even stayed one night yet. Wonderful.

Around 3am we received a call that the last member of our team had finally made it out of the airport, and was on his way to us. He was a little angry (duh) at what had happened with him, as would anybody be. It wasn’t exactly the way he wanted to start his journey back to Cuba, but now that it was all over-with, and our team was back together, we all felt like we could finally get to bed, and sleep a few hours for the day ahead of us.

Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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