My Next Journey Across The World: Havana, Cuba!

Yes, the title is correct… I’m going to Cuba.

Going to another country, and experiencing an entirely new culture is something I’ve only had the pleasure of doing once so far, and I loved every minute of it. I’m not going nearly as far away this time, and not staying nearly as long, however… I’m still very excited!

Normally, the United States Government doesn’t permit direct travel from the mainland US to Cuba. However, this time is different. Two governments, who don’t exactly get along, have agreed to allow this trip to be possible, after over two years of working for approval from US Government. The Cuban government was fine with it pretty much the entire time, so once all that legal stuff was out of the way, and the school received the “okay” in August of this year, the planning for the trip had begun!

But why the Communist nation of Cuba? Why in the world would Grand Valley want to bring the team to this location, and fight to have it happen for nearly two years? The answers are more simple than you may think, as MLIVE describes:

A year ago, Grand Valley State University baseball coach Steve Lyon and his wife, Sandy, packed their bags for a special trip to a remote tropical island where the simple pleasures in life — things like clean water, electricity and having enough food to eat — are never taken for granted.

He and his wife spent a week in Cuba last November.

The Lyons took part in a relief trip sponsored by First Hand Aid, a Grand Rapids-based charitable organization responsible for providing much-needed medical aid and supplies to residents of Cuba.

The 57-year-old coach, who approached school administrators almost 2 1/2 years ago about taking his team to the impoverished island nation of 11 million people for a series of exhibition games, wanted to see for himself what conditions were like in a place where both Communist rule and baseball are religion.

Baseball is HUGE in Cuba. It’s basically part of everyones life there. You may have noticed the large numbers of Latin American baseball players in the MLB. There is a very good chance that I’ll have the opportunity to record the next great MLB superstar while I’m there… before anybody has even heard of them.

My task is easy, and challenging at the same time. I’ll be moving with the baseball team, recording their journey in full-detail. From the bus rides, to the Cuban fields of dreams, the Grand Valley State University baseball team will go where hardly any US Citizen has had the opportunity to go before, and they’ll have the almost imponderable joy of playing the sport they love while they do it.

It’s not just about baseball though (although they’ll be playing a bit of that). The trip has a centrally charitable focus, helping the less fortunate living in Cuba. As you likely already know, Cubans are not nearly as, shall I say, “well off” as us Americans are. However, something you may not be aware of, is that even though this country is poor, their medical system is far greater than that of the United States, and their infant mortality rate is lower as well. Giving aid to people that are a bit less fortunate than us, along with playing baseball, are just a few of the activities that are being undertaken on this trip.

Seeing yet another country excites me, and It’ll be another amazing opportunity to not only hone in on my skills as a filmmaker, but to truly experience a culture (once again) that is way outside of what my life would label “the norm.”

Next question you likely have is “Why are you going? You don’t play baseball do you?” – Certainly not. In fact, I’m not there for sports at all.

I’ve been handed the opportunity to document the trip, recording everything I see, and creating an educational and entertaining production that will touch the hearts of all who see it. At least, that’s the goal anyways. I was contacted by Professor Frank Boring, an intense, yet quite intelligent documentary filmmaker and PBS Producer in the GVSU School of Communications. We’ve worked together in the past, and are currently working on something right now for Latin American Studies (which is currently in production). When asked if he could go to Cuba, his response was no, due to some conflicts in an event in his schedule he’d already locked in and paid for. Somewhere along the conversations, the idea of picking a student to go in his place came about.

I’m that student.

The funding is currently in the process of getting collected by university staff, however, all expenses are going to be paid for me, so I don’t have to worry about money this time. This is fantastic news, because it’ll allow me to focus on the job, and give me the flexibility to go where the players go, without worrying about finances. Since I already have a passport from my trip to Vietnam before, that too is already taken care of.

Some people may be a bit worried about my safety on this trip. To those people I say, “relax, I’m in great company.” Grand Valley State University President T. Haas and his wife will also be joining us on the trip. We’ll also be working with First Hand Aid, a humanitarian organization that is well known in Cuba, and has been providing medical aid for a very long time. We’ll be keeping to good areas of Havana, and will be staying in a nice hotel for the duration of our 7 day stay.

We will, however, need to travel north to Toronto, Canada, in order to catch a flight to Havana, due to the block the United States has on flights from the US to Cuba.

The only real worries I have, is when actually filming on the move, in the streets, on the field. Anytime where I have my equipment out and in the open, I’ll need to be alert. One thing most people can probably deduce from poorer populated areas, is that looting is a regular thing. I’ll need to be sure my equipment is secure at all times, which is something I haven’t had to deal with yet (not saying I won’t take steps to prepare for it).

At night, I look forward to gathering everything up from the day’s shoot, and logging it for editing later. I’ll also attempt to make time to blog about my experiences while I’m there, much like I did when I went to Vietnam. I’m pretty sure there won’t be any internet there (or at least, it’ll be highly-filtered), so I’ll look to post stories and photos of my trip when I get back, and have time to do so.

The journey to yet another country, begins January 3rd. I’ll get into Cuba by that afternoon, and will be there for seven days.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, or, on my Site Facebook Page.

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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8 Responses

  1. Robin Gwaltney says:

    Charlie, I can’t wait to hear all about it because my son is on that trip with you. What an amazing experience for all of you. Looking forward to seeing your documentary. Be Safe.

    • Charlie says:

      It was an amazing trip! We’ve arrived back in Michigan and got through customs with now issues. I’ll try and post some of the updates I had pre-recorded/written soon!

  2. Cindy Rudenga says:

    Same for me too, my son is on that trip and I can’t wait to see your documentary..hoping your trip is incredible.

    • Charlie says:

      The documentary will be awesome. There is so much great footage, and the guys represented their country very well. I’ll look to get updates up as soon as I can now that I’m in the states again. I’ve been without Internet the entire time.

  3. Dan says:

    Charlie,
    As most parents my son Patrick is there with you,he is on the GVSU baseball team. Any and all updates you may be able to communicate with us would be greatly appreciated.

    • Charlie says:

      I’ll try and post updates as soon as I can. I’ve been without Internet for quite a long time now, but I’ve managed to get some pre-recorded/written. Will push them out as I have time. Thanks for reading!

  4. Kurt & Melissa Cox says:

    Charlie,
    Can’t wait to see your documentary! Our son Jake is on the GVSU baseball team as well and we would love any updates!! What a wonderful experience for all of you. Go Lakers!! Kurt & Melissa Cox (and Jules!!)

    • Charlie says:

      It was a great experience, and it will continue to be a great experience for me as I work on putting together a visually powerful piece that will encompass the journey we’ve all taken in the last few days. I’ve been without Internet the entire time, so I’ll look to post the stuff that I have pre-recorded/written soon. Thanks for reading!!

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