The JREF is quite an amazing organization in many ways - including, of course, that the organization's founder is, in fact, Amazing. One of the ways you may not have experienced, though, is the sense of close-knit fellowship found onboard the JREF hosted cruises, called The Amaz!ng Adventures. The Amaz!ng Adventures are different from The Amaz!ng Meeting in that the group is so much smaller, so much closer, and you never have an incident where you didn't actually say anything beyond "Hello" to someone you swore you'd hang out with (Sorry again, Loon).
Chasing El Chupacabra was the fourth cruise of the skeptical variety, and featured talks on the psychic industry, Mexican UFOs, and El Chupacabra (the Mexican goatsucker, who we were apparently chasing - though why anyone would actively follow a coyote with mange is a tad beyond me).
What you don't see about the cruise on the site or in the literature, though, is the intangible sense of happiness that comes from being around individuals who have the same interests, share in so much fun, and create these wonderful in-jokes that will probably be bouncing around the internets forever (Hello, Handy Nasty).
The thing that we might have a tendency to forget when arguing with other-minded people on forums or taking that annoying ghost hunting group to task is how much, even in the midst of all this critical thinking and heated debate, we are one huge family tied together by this strange search for truth.
I was taken ill on the cruise and missed many of the talks, which is why I'm not discussing them at length. But even so, I still got the enormous pleasure of sitting with Mark Edward, skeptic and mentalist, and learning about his art during some downtime in a bar called Vintages.
I also had the honor of sitting on a panel with Mr. Randi, Jeff Wagg, Soccergirl, and Tim Farley for a discussion on skepticism in general, which resulted in some interesting revelations. Jeff posed a question to all of us: What is your personal gris-gris?
I'm not going to list everyone's, because it was a moment that should be put into context. It's a fascinating question to pose to skeptics, though, because it seems that if you dig hard enough, all of us believe in something that isn't necessarily true. And that's why this community of skeptics is so important - we are all here to gently fact-check one another, and for the most part, we're all alright with that.
One of the attendees at the panel asked us, as a group, how we deal with friends and family members who have beliefs that we disagree with. And there is a member of my family who is anti-vax and believes in homeopathic remedies. The answer, for me, is that we don't talk about it on any significant level. The people I care about can believe whatever they want. But within this community, I expect to be practically slaughtered if, for instance, I utter the word ‘orb' on national television. And that's not only okay, it's a good thing.
We live in a world that's, frankly, full of crap. And it's so refreshing to sit around as a group and collectively mock Uri Geller - which we actually did. One of the group activities was a game called "Who Am I?" wherein participants imitated famous skeptics and famous believers to the guesses of their groups. Adam Savage's love for explosions made our group's pretty easy.
For even more excitement, we had Fun Size Music, featuring the musical talents of Sean McCabe, Mr. Randi's personal assistant. I particularly enjoyed the freestyle song Mexican Woo, which he performed with fellow skeptic Adam Levenstein.
I guess what I'm getting at here is... sometimes we lose sight of what's important in all this, and much of what is important is camaraderie. We live in a world that's full of crap, yeah, but together we can take a moment and laugh about it.
So, next time a cruise is coming, think about joining the group. In addition to an awesome dose of critical thinking, you'll also be part of the family. And I don't mean that in a cultish Mafia way.