There's nothing like a 24 hour travel day to conclude an epic journey. The day started at about 5:00am as I met Daniel, Lacey, and Mindy to stake out a spot on deck 6 for the sunrise and entrance into port. We had good intentions with the sunrise thing but unfortunately the muggy skies of Virginia didn't let us see much. The ride though some of the rivers into the port terminal was pretty exciting. Apparently SAS is one of the higher profile ship arrivals that Norfolk gets. Customs actually brought people in and did a decent amount of prep for our arrival. We also had a 3 boat escort into port which was kind of cool. As we got closer, the decks filled with people eager to see family and the sights of our final stop. A lot of my friends had family come out so it was fun to see the excitement on both sides as family eventually had visuals on students and vice versa (I still think I got a better deal by meeting my parents in Egypt...). We pulled alongside and sounded the horn as the excitement died down and we got to start the fun customs clearance waiting game.
We were released from the ship in groups by our sea/color and around noon I officially disembarked the MV Explorer. We went into a large storeroom where our bags (loaded the day before) were available for pickup. I had my main large duffle and a smaller black duffle filled with a few clothes and all my souvenirs. I found the large bag easily but wasn't so lucky with the smaller one. After an hour of combing every corner of the warehouse, it was officially declared missing. SInce it was a very generic looking bag, the most likely scenario was that somebody mistakenly took it. The ISE reps said this is fairly common; I got the name and number of a likely suspect because a similar looking bag was left behind. It was a little frustrating and made the day a bit more hectic than it needed to be (I was hoping to distribute weight between both but since the larger one was overweight for flying I had to layer on some clothes and toss the mouthwash at the airport). I got a message from my dad during my 30 second "layover" in Dallas that somebody had called having picked up the bag by mistake and would UPS it tomorrow. That's a nice thing to know.
Following the bag incident, I got the chance to meet the parents of Lacey, Mindy, and Kyle. Along with Daniel, we all decided to do a group lunch at the CPK within walking distance. We checked bags into a nearby hotel and had a really nice lunch. It was really cool meeting the families, they're friendly and great people. The time for goodbyes came as I had to cut out a little early to get to the airport. It's sad to say goodbye but I'm confident that the relationships established are strong and will remain so into the future. I got my bags and snagged a taxi. It was nice having a driver that spoke fluent English and even though the guy was a bit insane we had a great conversation en route. As I mentioned before, everybody in Norfolk knows about SAS because 800 traveling college kids invade the city twice a year. My flight to Dallas was about 90% SAS people (the TSA hates us) and was a pretty dreadfully boring 3 hours (although there were some great views from above the thunderstorms). The flight ran a bit late so a few of us made a fun little mad dash board the connecting flight. Dallas to LAX was rather slow as well, at least I got to enjoy a lovely dinner of diet coke, almonds, crackers, cheese, and a box of raisins. We finally arrived about 11:00pm (felt like 2:00am...) and it was great to see my parents excited and waiting.
Bittersweet is a great word to describe the past few days. Saying goodbyes and walking down the gangway for the last time was tougher than I thought it would be. The journey from fantasy to reality was aided upon arrival home by the waiting coleslaw and applesauce. Sleeping in my own bed (and one that wasn't moving with the roll of a ship) offered a great rest. I'm now among my family, friends and the familiar California landscape. I'm home, and it feels great.