7 Reasons why you can’t miss the Homecoming Voyage

The Semester at Sea Homecoming Voyage is happening again this year and I’ve been badgering my SAS friends to come. I don’t know everyone and we’re all #millennials so here’s a lil’ Buzzfeed-style listicle you can share with your friends to cajole them into attending. #contentmarketing

#1 Alcohol

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Remember how you spent all your time on SAS talking about alcohol? When’s the next pub night? Who snuck booze onto the ship? How did they get it on? There were HOW many people in the drunk tank last port?! blah blah blah.

Well, this time you’re invited to come party on the ship, Party with DJ Leopard and drink as much as you damn well please!

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Let me see your drink card. Psych! #popbottles

#2 Old Shipmates

 

 

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Reconnect with a friend or two. There will be people from your voyage on the ship. They might not have been your best friends or your future bridesmaids but you’ll still have plenty to reminisce about, like meeting Desmond Tutu, or what happened in Mauritius, or Cuba, or when we crossed the ocean…

#3 The crew

 

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The crew talent show was a performance of a lifetime! #sas #sasfa15 #studyabroad #studyatsea #StaySASsy #SASForever #crew

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Speaking of familiar faces, there’s the crew! Besides the fact that they’re all awesome human beings, a lot of them are lifers. I’ve been back to the ship at least four times since my voyage and it’s amazing how many of the same crewmembers are still with the program. Come and find an old favorite, make friends with your new cabin steward, and of course, there’s going to be a crew talent show!

#4 Old friends you haven’t met yet

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You won’t know most of the people on the Homecoming Voyage and that’s a good thing. We’re not trying to recreate the magic of our voyage. We’re here to join with others who had the same life altering experience, celebrate the new year, and support the program. By the end of it, though, these people can almost become as special to you as your shipmates. The connection you share with another SASer isn’t the same as “Oh my gosh you also like drinking beer after doing yoga?” The connection is so deep that you form a bond with new friends very fast.

#5 New Years is already expensive

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At the time of writing, the cheapest cabin available is $675 per person. Some of you might think, “Wow that’s a lot of money for one day in Mexico.” Let’s address this first. If the goal was to get to Mexico from San Diego, the SAS Reunion Voyage would rank the least cost effective method besides maybe flying private (Can I get a USD kid to fact check that, please? #jokes). The fact that the ship goes to Ensenada is just because we need some place foreign to park this bad boy. We can’t just go float in the ocean and come back to SD because laws.

The SAS reunion voyage is all about the experience of reconnecting with the most transformative  experience of your life (pre-Trump). You get to do that for five action-packed days, and support the program. That’s good value for money on a regular day, but considering that half of us lose our minds on New Years ($50 cover to get into a bar that normally has $2 beers. wtf is wrong with you people!?) that makes this experience a great New Years Eve value.

#6 Support the cause

 

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In case you forgot, it’s really ‘spensive to have a cruise ship full of college students that sails around the world almost year-round. There once were some alumni who supported the program so that you could have a Semester at Sea. Now it’s your turn to be one of those alumni.

#7 This is our moment, people

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I’m not going to say that this is the last homecoming voyage (although as far as anyone knows, it is. Last chance, people!) but I will say that if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve reached peak SAS reunion. The first couple years after SAS most people are too young and broke to fly to San Diego and do something like this (Although, S18, if you can afford it, I’ll see you on board!). Now most of us have decent jobs and it’s actually feasible for us to make this happen if we want it to. Meanwhile, more and more of you are popping out babies, which means where money used to be the constraint, the practicality of dragging your S.O. and your offspring along with you will start to limit potential turnout. So what do you say? As everyone’s favorite SAS alumnus likes to say, “Let’s hit it!”

DJ Leopard

Click here for the official Reunion Voyage website

24 hours in Tijuana

I assumed that upon crossing the border, my cell phone would begin working on a Mexican network. Instead, I had no service, so Erin and I were forced to do things the old fashioned way. First, we were approached by the normal onslaught of taxi drivers offering us rides. Then we decided to wander in the general direction of Tijuana’s downtown tourist drag, Avenida Revolución. After becoming lost (despite the fact that I had a map of Tijuana preloaded on my phone) I decided to stop and ask a shoe shiner how to get there. I asked in Spanish, and was given helpful directions in English, which came to me as a surprise. In Tijuana there were definitely tourist businesses and Mexican businesses. If signage and menus are purely in Spanish, there is a good chance that English is not spoken, so I definitely was not expecting the shoe shiner to speak English.

After walking through an abandoned mall (Erin and I have a knack for finding ourselves in abandoned shopping centers), we found the pedestrian walkway that connects the border to Avenida Revolucion. Along this strip, besides the usual gift shops, there are dozens of pharmacies. They most prominently advertise their low prices for Cialis and Viagra, but they seem to have all medications. Apparently many Americans travel to Mexico to buy prescription drugs for a fraction of what they cost in the United States. Fortunately, the only cost savings Erin and I were hoping to reap by traveling to Mexico was on the tacos and beer!

We eventually found an HSBC branch. We had to ask the exchange rate from the teller. It felt so quaint not to have all this information at my fingertips for once. Local currency in hand, we decided the next step was to get to the hostel. We asked a local taxi driver and he quoted us $10 (200 pesos). I remembered that the Uber quote was that it would cost us about $4 to get from the border to the hostel. When I travel, I know that I will frequently pay more for things than the locals pay, and I’ve made my peace with that, but asking more than double feels like a scam. I offered him 100 pesos ($5), still 25% more than what the locals would pay, and he refused, citing the cost of gasoline, and so we set off in search of Wifi, so that I could call an Uber.

We found a cafe with wifi and had our first meal in Mexico (fried tacos and Pacificos) and then summoned an Uber. The car was clean and new. Our driver told us that Uber drivers make more money in Mexico than cab drivers, so I felt like this was a win-win situation; the Uber app didn’t price gouge me because I was a tourist, and the driver makes more money.

Our hostel was in Playas de Tijuana (Beaches of Tijuana). It took about 15 minutes to get across the city heading West. We passed by a few wide open spaces without houses or developments; just the border wall in the distance. Tijuana is a massive, sprawling city. 246 square miles, 1.3 M people, compared to 47 square miles and 837K in San Francisco. We arrived in Playas de Tijuana (Beaches of Tijuana), the neighborhood where our hostel resides. The Lifestyle Hostel is a brand-new hostel located right across the street from the beach. Erin and I found it by searching HostelWorld for a hostel in Tijuana. This was our only option in TJ and there was only one review posted online. The hostel wasn’t even located on TripAdvisor. At first, we had our doubts because of the lack of streetcred, but we decided to book it anyway, and boy are we glad we did. I walked into the hostel and immediately noticed and clean and new everything appeared. Sarahi checked us in and we got settled into our room. Lifestyle Hostel has one dorm room with about 10-12 beds and then 3 private rooms. It’s a small hostel and it wasn’t even full.

After getting settled we decided to take a walk down the beach boardwalk. The boardwalk is lined with small cafes and restaurants (and one 7-Eleven that has to have to best Sunset view of the entire chain) As we approached the border wall, my cell service began working again, so I quickly called and got roaming turned on so that I could continue calling Ubers. It’s pretty apparent from the border wall who is trying to keep who out. On the US side you can see armed border patrol agents in SUVs, whereas on the Mexican side the wall is covered in poetry and the only people around are beachgoers enjoying a sunset stroll.

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After our walk down the boardwalk Erin and I posted up along the railing at a restaurant to enjoy the sunset. She had a margarita and I had clamato con camarones y cerveza (Clamato with Shrimp and Beer). This delicious round of cocktails cost us $12, which was expensive by Tijuana standards and an obvious steal by US standards.

We returned to the hostel and some of the other guests were hanging around the lobby playing pool. We hung out for a while, heard their stories, and then set out for tacos, after receiving a recommendation from a Dutch guy who had been there for a few days. The taco joint he recommended was

 

 

Experiencing San Ysidro: the world’s busiest border crossing

APTOPIX Mexico Checks Foreigners

Erin and I arrived in the San Diego area a day before the Homecoming Voyage began. We had decided that rather than hang out in San Diego, a city that Erin had visited once and I had visited four times, it would be more of an adventure to cross the US – Mexico border at San Ysidro, and visit Tijuana. After having breakfast at Bob’s house in Lake Forest, we drove to the border. There were numerous parking lots where you can leave your car in the United States, which we wanted to do to avoid the bureaucratic hassle with Erin’s company car. We decided that rather than pay for parking in a lot ($7 for 8 hours), we’d leave the Traverse on a quiet residential street and hope that nothing happened to it. Instead of paying to park, we paid less than $4 for a Lyft to drop us off right at the border gate.

We walked down a long sidewalk that was lined with barbed wire fences on each side. After less than 5 minutes of walking, we arrived at a building that had one of those revolving doors made out of metal instead of glass; the kind they use in the NYC subway. Once inside, there were two lines. One is for Mexican citizens.It appears Mexicans don’t have to talk to a immigration official in order to enter their own country. They breeze right through. Everyone else stands in line for a short time (roughly 30 minutes) to pass through Mexican immigration.

Immigration was a standard ordeal; no fancy fingerprinting or intense questioning. There were, however, numerous soldiers inside the immigration hall with automatic weapons. Our bags passed through an xray machine before we entered the country.

Allow me to fast-forward to our immigration experience returning to the United States. As you can imagine, it was a very different experience, so let us compare the two border crossings.

At the outermost entrance of the border into the United States from Mexico, there were over a hundred black people waiting around for no apparent reason. They weren’t standing in line; just hanging out. I asked a security guard (a Mexican, despite it being the US entrance) and he explained that these were immigrants from Africa and Haiti who were there applying for asylum in the United States. They looked at us longingly as we passed them by, down the long walkway. This walkway was probably 3 to 4 times as long as the walkway into the Mexico immigration hall. As we approached the building , there were two lines that began to form. One side read “Ready lane” and the other line was labeled “General travelers.” Not knowing what “Ready lane” meant, we assumed we were a part of the general traveler population. I liked this idea because the general line was shorter. As we walked passed the Mexicans standing in the Ready lane, we eventually reached the general traveler line, which was still a long distance from the entrance to the immigration hall. I didn’t want to stand in the wrong line for an hour, so I walked past both lines until I reached the front, where a Customs and Board Patrol agent was stationed. I asked him which line was for US citizens with US Passports and he told me to stand in the Ready Lane. This was discouraging news. I returned to Erin where she was holding our place in the general traveler line, and rather than walk backwards to the end of the Ready lane line, we furtively swapped across. I felt anxious because the line was very long and not moving. We had to be on the ship in 4 hours time or we would miss our voyage, and I began contemplating if it would be necessary for us to try to cut the line or pay someone off to let us jump in front of them. Thankfully, my anxiety didn’t last too long because when the line did begin to move, what seemed like a hundred people were granted access all at once. We’d be just fine.

Besides this ambiguous line nonsense, the immigration process was fairly routine. It even seemed slightly more relaxed than Mexico in that they did not x-ray our baggage. All in all, it probably would have taken an hour under normal circumstances, which I was grateful for, because we were told during peak hours it can take 3 hours to get across to the US.

In my next post, I’ll describe our time in Tijuana.