The Beginning Of A Fantastic Journey To Cuba

Riding On A Bus To Toronto Takes A Long Time.

We took a really long trip to Toronto on January 3rd, stopping only a few times for a snack and bathroom breaks. The drive was long, and for the most part very quiet, as most people were sleeping. A few found listening to their favorite songs soothing, while others played games on their phones and iPods. There was no movie on the TV screens, although that probably would have been a cool idea to think of, and other than the Customs officer boarding the bus to ask a few questions at the Canada border, nothing really exciting or out of the ordinary happened on the way to Toronto. our Journey to Cuba had begun.

We arrived a few hours early for our flight, which is a positive thing. We began by hauling lots of bags from the bus, and into the airport. I wasn’t able to film too much here, because I also had a heavy bag to carry, along with my camera bags and my real luggage (I call my clothes, toothbrush, and other various every day things my “real luggage”). As far as shooting a documentary goes, airport footage is useful in a lot of situations, but not necessarily a requirement. Still, I managed to get quite a lot of the guys walking around, and sitting around talking. It’s likely uninteresting to look at when you think about the raw images on the screen, but assembled in an artistic manner that carries the story into the next section… well, that’s another thing. It’ll be useful, although only very short bits of it will likely be used.

Airport Security in Canada = Epic Fail.

Getting through airport security in Canada is quite similar to the United States, having to take your shoes off and remove articles of clothing before being allowed to pass. However, there is something the deeply concerns me, and I really hope that somebody from the airport in Toronto reads this and takes it seriously. I’m safe and sound now, and don’t have to deal with this information effecting me on my flight, so I’ll say upfront that I had items left in my carry-on luggage that shouldn’t have gotten through the checkpoint. For example, two flathead screwdrivers, which I needed for my camera equipment in case something happened. Also more seriously, was my Gerber Utility set, which features a set of pliers and a nail filer, and a 1.5″ knife. Yes, I say to you now… I got a knife onto my plane on the way to Cuba.

Now, I didn’t really KNOW that the knife was in there. I thought 100% that I had packed it into the large bag of tripods and other miscellaneous equipment for shooting the trip. However, when I arrived in Cuba, and unpacked my suitcase later, I discovered the Gerber knife right next to my toothbrush, neatly tucked away in a zipped up pocket of my carry-on bag.

Pretty scary right? I mean, if you consider that the flight from Canada flies right over our nations capital when it heads south to Cuba… yeah, that’s pretty messed up. Granted, it’s a tiny knife, and not anything truly capable of doing massive harm to hundreds or more people, but it can easily be seen as a weapon, and that thing should not have gotten through. I shouldn’t have this thing right now. I’m glad I do, but I shouldn’t.

Our Plane Was Small, But It Had It’s Perks.

The plane was quite small. I’m not entirely sure about the number of seats, but what I can tell you is that the GVSU Baseball Team (and the people accompanying them, like myself and a few others) took up two-thirds of it. There are a total of 40 people in our group, plus some folks from First Hand Aid (which I’ll be telling you more about later). If I had to guess, I’d say the plane had about 30 rows, and 4 seats per row, although I’m likely not accurate on that number.

Despite being a small aircraft, the Air Canada jet featured television screens in the headrests, which allowed all passengers to choose their entertainment individually. We were able to watch TV shows, hollywood movies, foreign films (to us), or play games even. This isn’t something you typically get on a small plane, and I was quite surprised (and grateful) to see it was included.

The flight seemed quite short (likely because I was watching Moneyball on the way there), and there was very little turbulence while in the air. The only real excitement, as far as the plane goes, was during the landing of the aircraft. I’m not entirely sure if the pilot was new, or there was a strange gust of wind pushing us around (small plane) as we made our approach, but we did not land nicely at all.

As the landing gear dropped down, and we began to descend closer and closer to the pavement, the plane began twisting a bit in the air, almost as if the pilot wasn’t sure if he was straight on the runway or not, and was dramatically overcompensating on his adjustments. The plane shifted left, then right quickly, then darted left again, tilting the wings on each side up and down in a most uncomfortable way, until finally (and violently) bouncing off the pavement below, and then coming down once again right after. The bounce was rough, and as it happened I could feel the tail slightly shift behind me, almost like my rear wheel drive car does on a slippery road sometimes when I hit the gas a little too hard. We got out of it safely, but it wasn’t the most comfortable experience to have on an airplane.

Welcome to Havana, Cuba

We got off of the plane via airstairs (which is basically just a set of stairs that they wheel up to the door of the plane), and got onto a shuttle bus for a short ride to the airport arrival terminals. We walked inside to a large area that looked as if it had been built in the 1950’s, and hadn’t been updated since then either. The paint was a dull red on the lower half, and a bland yellow on the top that somehow wasn’t as bright as the dull red (cause, you know, yellow is usually brighter than red). Around us as we entered were several airport security personal, and many other various people in nice clothing who welcomed us with a smile on their faces as we all proceeded as a group to the check point.

There were over 15 stations open to check in travelers, and despite being told previously that everything in Cuba moves slowly, the process for getting past the first part of the airport was rather easy. We’d stroll up to the window (after waiting in line of course) and hand out passport and tourist Visa to the officer inside a booth. We were then asked to look into a small camera hanging in front of us, which they used to perform an eye scan. After answering a few simple questions as to why I was there, and if I had been there before (which they would know I’m lying due to having just performed an eye scan), I was allowed to quickly proceed to the next area in a matter of a minute or two.

Cuba does things a bit differently than other airports. They don’t only scan your luggage and belongings when you leave the country, but also when you arrive. I’m not sure if they don’t trust the security of the other country to do their jobs properly or what (*cough* Canada), but I found it a little odd that we needed to go through the process of screening ourselves twice in a single one-way trip. The Cubans may have noticed a knife in my carry-on, but since I wasn’t getting on a plane, I don’t think they really cared all that much about it.

I also didn’t need to empty my camera bags, take off my shoes, or really do any of the time-consuming tasks that we need to do in America. That’s likely because they aren’t as much of a target of airplane hijacks in the world, but it’s still far easier to get through the Cuban security in the airport than it is to get though in America.

As a disclaimer, the government knew were we coming on this flight, and the personnel was likely told to allow us to pass easier than a normal person would, given the popularity and conditions of our visit). While I cannot confirm this, I can say that it was a popular belief among several people who have traveled to Cuba before, and were thinking the same thing when seeing how quickly we got into the country).

After a short wait for our luggage to get to us from the plane, we made our way out into the front of the airport, and towards to bus. Along the way, we ran into our primary contact, and the main reason we were able to come here in the first place, Angelo Fuster. Angelo has gotten himself to be a pretty influential person in Cuba, and without his help, the GVSU Baseball team wouldn’t have ever went to Havana, Cuba.

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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2 Responses

  1. Aunt Donna says:

    Explain the eye scan please.

    • They take a picture of you when you check in to get your Visa, which scans your eyes. Then they can prove you are who you say you are, and when they ask you if you’ve been to Cuba before, they’ll know if you’re lying. It’s just a little camera. The “Eye scan” is done on the computer from the photo. It’s not actually a laser in the eye or anything.

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