THURSDAY, March 29 - 8:30 AM - (from producer Michelle Lacamoire) - "So when did you leave Cuba?," I asked the gentleman sitting next to me in the pew at the Cathedral in Old Havana for Archbishop Thomas Wenski's mass Tuesday, who was in a full-on tuxedo, I might add.  "I never left Cuba," he said.  "Oh, so you live here?," I asked confused.  "No.  I never left  Cuba," with a smile.  And the light turned on. 

That's the sentiment of all Cubans living in exile, isn't it? 

I know it's true for my parents, it's true for my family members living in the states, it's the same for all Cubans I've encountered throughout my life.  It never leaves you. 

This is my first time in Cuba as a journalist.  I've been in the past to visit family, but this time, from the eyes of the reporter, has been an amazing experience.  This time I've been able to show everyone what I see, the images, the emotion, the heartache.  Agree with the politics or not, the heart of the island does not lie. 

Take my family in Cuba.  I'll be 35 next month.  I didn't meet my aunt or uncles or cousins until about 6 years ago.  All those years, all the birthdays, recitals, school events, the snapshots, the kisses, the hugs, the laughter...they never existed.  And yet, every time I call them from Miami, every time I come to visit, it's as if they've known me all my life...seen me since I took my first steps or said my first words.  That's heart. 

Take our driver ironically named Chavez, hired by ABC to be on the clock, who waited outside the hotel in the hot sun all day waiting for our call, always ready to go with excitement, a handshake, a smile.  He could be a member of the family ... of my family ... he was so warm.  That's heart. 

Take the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who headed out to Revolution Square at 4 a.m. like we did to see Pope Benedict XVI give mass, disregarding the cold morning, their lack of sleep, singing songs, huddled together on the floor, that's heart. 

Take the Cubans we spoke to who know this island needs a lot of work, that it needs some change, but they don't lose hope and still express a deep love and sense of pride for their country regardless of politics.  That's heart, and the heart never lies.

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WEDNESDAY, March 28 - 9:45 PM - (from Calvin Hughes) - We're minutes away from our last report in Havana. Our Local 10 Special, "The Pope In Cuba" is getting a positive response from many of our viewers. It's a great feeling after a trip that we set out to accomplish so much in a short amount of time.

We're wrapping up seven days on the communist island. Considering it granted us access, the government allowed us more latitude to report objectively about the "Cuban condition." Were we being watched closely by Cuban officials? It's likely. Did I ever feel threatened during the reporting or editing of our stories? Absolutely not.

My final thoughts about Cuba: It was a life-changing experience as a person and journalist. I'll have a story to tell my kids and grandkids. The Cuban people have taught me about resilience and pride in the face of a political system that has little room for tolerance. The Pope showed all of us never give up hope. Cuban-Americans like Carlos Saladrigas, Andy Gomez and Martha Perez and my colleagues Jen Herrera, WPLG Bill Damas and Michelle Lacamoire taught me it's ok to go home even though a chorus of critics disagree.

¡Adios Cuba por ahora!

WEDNESDAY, March 28 - 1:22 PM - (from producer Michelle Lacamoire) - Envision throngs and throngs of people in Revolution Square...the media secluded on top of a platform.  Now squint and envision more than 200 yards away, two shining port-a-potties with halos overhead as saviors. For 2 girls with small bladders, that my friends, is the oasis! After being up for hours, Jen and I decided to hit the port-o-potties before things got worse with the crowd that was already growing by the tens of thousands, and eventually hundreds.  Of course, these portable restrooms are only meant for the press and the people involved with the mass.  The rest of the people have to hold it.  resized_Mass21[1]

So we tried to get out of our secluded press area that is heavily guarded by security when they stop Jen because she has her purse with her.  "Sorry," they tell her, "you have to leave your bag."  Jen: "What?  But, I have all my money in here."  Security: "Don't you have someone who can hold it for you?"  Frustrated, Jen storms back to our photographers to hold her bag.  We leave and enter the mob.  We make our way through, passing and stepping over everyone sitting on the floor, and me -- hearing all the cat calls for Jen of course -- hot chic from la "Yuma" (ha!) -- but we hit a barrier.  Again, we make our way back and find another opening.  Security there didn't want to let us through, but a nice lady noticed our badges and let us in.  

Now we are in the line at one of the two port-a-potties, with members of the choir who are also waiting.  One girl tells another, "I thought you went already?"  She answers, "No.  I attempted three times but every time the stench made me want to hurl and I couldn't."  Perfect! The line wasn't very long, but for some reason, it was going very slow.  In the U.S., you're used to portables running out of toilet paper, but here, it's non-existent.  The person before us finishes and warns, "Now I understand."  And now I'm nervous. 

With my portable toilet paper in hand (thanks Mom!) and a big breath, I head in.  I refuse to look at the toilet because I can tell from the corner of my eye that's it's pretty bad.  I finish quickly and am grateful for the clean air outside. 

"Don't look down, Jen," and with that, she heads in.  Jen said later she didn't look down and took a deep breath and worked as quickly as possible.  At one point she had to take a breath but covered her mouth and nose and didn't exhale until she got out, the stench following her for a few steps. 

"No es facil, chico, no es facil."  (Popular Cuban phrase:  It's not easy brother, it's not easy.)

WEDNESDAY, March 28 - 4:15 AM - (from Calvin Hughes) - Today is filled with much anticipation as we all get ready to hear from the Pope. It's the second papal visit in a couple of decades to the Communist island. John Paul II opened the door for change in Cuba. In 14 years, the time that has passed of the late pontiff's last trip, the Church in Cuba no longer has an icey relationship with the State. The first seminary in 50 years was opened in Cuba in November 2010. And, the Church has feeding programs to shepherd donations to Cuba's poor, elderly and sick. The Church even teaches business classes for people who are looking to open private enterprises. These would be advances in any society - open or closed -  but no question their steps forward for the Church in Cuba that were abandoned after "the Revolution." 

Our crews are getting ready this morning. I am up a little early and filled with "can't wait" energy for this historic moment. Talking with people like Dr. Andy Gomez, who hadn't been to Cuba in more than a decade, helped me more clearly understand what this means for the island's next generation. Though I haven't heard young Cubans here on the island express a desire  for a "Cuban Spring" it is in their hearts. Along the famous Malecon, they line up on weekend nights playing their music, dancing dreaming of a new life. One woman told me "I'd love to have more opportunities. I can't even visit Veradero beach or go to the Nacional Hotel." In spite of their harsh realities, Cubans - young and old, here and back in South Florida, there is still a lot of pride. I will tell their stories tonight during our half-hour special, which airs at 8:30 pm, that will also illuminate "Cuban ingenuity." It was fascinating to see how people here in Havana can keep a 60 year old car running, watches ticking and calculators working that should be in a technological graveyard. 

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TUESDAY, March 27 - 4:15 PM - (from producer Michelle Lacamoire) - Photographer Bill Damas and I headed back into Old and Central Havana. We headed down with our trusty chauffeur on San Lazaro alongside el Malecón

About every other building facing the sea wall is being renovated... a sign the city is getting some much needed upgrades.  But we wanted to go into the side streets and see what we may have overlooked. I've been here before and know what it's like.  But it's the first time for Bill, and he was amazed at what a difference a few blocks made.  Unpaved streets, tattered buildings, garbage in heaps on the floor, electric wiring sticking out...almost perfectly hidden from the rest of the city.  People walking the streets paid no mind.  Who knows how long they've been living this way?Cuba2

We continued on towards Old Havana.  Bill asked to stop again to film the government billboards and paintings on the walls sprinkled throughout the city.  "Todo para la Revolucion" -- "Everything for the Revolution!"  "50 anos y seguimos para siempre" -- "50 years {referring to the Revolution} and we continue forever."  The locals just walked on by. Tourists were the only ones who showed any interest in the signs... snapping shots in their cameras.