For the first time in eight years, I covered an event with the general press, not in the tight pool or inner circle which allowed for unimpeded access. Three thousand journalists from around the world converged on Havana in the days leading up the visit. Getting the overall credential was easy, getting the credentials for the individual events required me to wait for 7 hours in a hot room, while they processed us in alphabetical order. This made me furious, as I was the first in line at 1:30pm, and didn't get out until 8:30 that night. Some people waited 12 hours only to be told they could not cover the events they had hoped.
The first buses left for the event sites from the press centers in each town at 4:30am. Once there, we were herded into a room where we left our gear for them to check for weapons or bombs. The general public, however, wasn't checked and was sometimes allowed to get closer to the Pope than we were..
We then got back on the buses with a new passes to show that we went through security. They drove us to our badly placed stills/TV platforms, usually out of the site line of the Pope. Some of us just stayed with the public and ended up getting better pictures.
The rules were many. Unfortunately many rules were made up on the spot by the security person there. If they didn't want you to stand on a railing 2 inches above the crowd, you could not. If you wanted to take a picture of something that tourists could shoot, they made up a rule about the type of camera allowed to make that shot. Things got very ridiculous and illogical as the trip went on. We cursed in frustration at the security personnel, and they did nothing, as they're not used to back-talk from the Cuban residents.
TIME's coverage was now very diminished. We had a two page story with two snaps to fill. Our team of 5 photographers keep on shooting as if this was still a 6 page photo spread. I edited & transmitted everything on time, we all did a great job. In the end our managing editor ran two wire photos.
This trip, however, was alot different. I wouldn't be able to walk around anywhere I pleased, so I brought one Leica and the 35, (in case everything else goes down, the Leica ALWAYS works!) and carried three EOS A-2's, 17-35, 70-210, 300F4-IS, and a 1.4x extender. I'm glad I had that extender because for a Pope trip the 70-210 is your wide lens! Plus the Canon Optura for video.
On top of the photo gear, I had to bring my laptop computer and scanner to transmit. I fit all this and some clothes into two carry-ons. I hate waiting for baggage, and baggage in Havana takes hours as they open up or X-ray everything before it gets to you on the carousel.
The problem was with the amount of cases every TV crew had. It was unbelievable and overwhelmed the baggage belt, which consequently shut down for a while. The ticket agents could'nt check in anyone with baggage until the belt moved again. I used this opportunity to go to the front of the line and get my boarding pass, as I had no checked bags.
This move got me on a 12:30 flight that was now leaving at 3pm. The original 3pm didn't leave until 5pm now. My connecting flight was at 5:10pm, and there's no way the original 3pm, now leaving at 5pm, would connect. So I'm on the 12:30, leaving at 3, figuring I'm home free. We get to Montego Bay, board the connecting flight to NY, and then learn that it's waiting for the original 3pm flight!
At 7:30pm, we finally lifted off from Jamacia on the way to NY.
The trip was a mess to say the least.
Next time, I'm either in the tight pool
or I'm at the hotel pool.
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