By Phil Plait | August 14, 2008 3:54 pm

Oh, it has to happen. At some point, no matter how cool the trip is, you just have to say, "I wanna stay in today". That happened today. Sorta.

The trip so far has been magnificent. Yesterday we walked over a volcanic landscape so reminiscent of Mars that I was thinking I was Spirit, roving over the surface. Lava flows had cooled into jagged aa, smooth rolling pahoehoe, layered into fine almost sedimentary structures, and dropped as bombs onto the ground. It was a geologist’s dream, and though my knowledge of such things is limited, I have always wanted to learn more (my love of meteorites is spurring me on, too, merging my two great scientific loves). This is a great place to start — and I’m hoping to find a good book on the Galapagosian geology at the next town we visit on Saturday.

Mrs. BA watches as we pass by Galapagos penguins

We also saw penguins (yes, penguins, at the Equator; proof is in the above photo of Mrs. BA and two of the cuties), more sea lions, and lots of other creatures. But today, the ship-to-land excursion was at 8:00 a.m., and that was too much for the weary BA family. We were thinking of staying in anyway.

I say "anyway" because events forced this on us without our consent. On a small boat — 100 passengers — it’s all too easy to get some errant virus that has deemed our DNA to be its slave labor factory. One skeptic got ill two days ago, and we were hoping that would be it… but then last night The Little Astronomer succumbed. She’s doing much better now, but this morning was no fun. Mrs. BA and I are fine so far, so I’m hopeful. I had a norovirus in Seattle two years ago, and the nightmares have finally subsided; I have little desire to repeat that little slice o’ hell. One other passenger was reportedly sick, but I saw her up and about earlier, so this looks pretty much like a wham-bam-thank-you-TAM kinda thing.

Still and all, being trapped on board isn’t so bad. The coffee is pretty good — weird, like most of the food is, but I like weird. It’s Ecuadorian cuisine, which is different than in the US. A lot of the food is the same, but subtly different. The hamburgers, for example — they are cow meat, with lettuce and mayo and mustard, the way hamburgers are legally required to be… but they’re still different. Odd. I can’t explain how, exactly, but they taste a little to the left of what I’m used to. Like I said, I enjoy trying different foods from distant lands, so I’m delighted to eat things I’m used to but are somehow altered in ways I can’t precisely determine. That’s fun!

On the other hand, the margarita I sipped the other night was simply awful. That ain’t right.

And lest you think this is all milk and honey, I’ve been doing JREF stuff here as well. We had two meetings of JREF personnel, and one lasted a whole hour! I had to try another magarita after that. And we were forced — forced I say, at sword point — to listen to PZ Myers talk about Darwin and the Galapagos for almost 15 minutes! I almost walked off the boat, and sharks had been spotted nearby recently.

Seriously, we are getting quite a bit done on this working vacation, JREF-wise. I’m starting to slip into my role as El Presidente, and I think there is much we as a team can do. I’ll be happy to tell you more as we progress, but for now I’ll say that I see a shining future for us and for critical thinking.

The BA cruising in a zodiac boat, seeing the Galapagos sights.

And there are perqs here, too. Randi has been doing some great (I daresay amazing) tricks during meals, and other amateur magicians among the skeptics have been delighting us as well (including TLA, who has one trick she learned recently that is baffling some folks, and she’s gaining a repertoire courtesy of The Amazing One generously teaching her). George Hrab has played twice for us (once is a treat, twice is an honest-to-FSM coolgasm). We’ve been meeting the skeptics at dinner, making sure we get spread around to spend time with all the delightful folks. And may I add, the naturalists on board are terrific. Fun, funny, smart, and very knowledgeable about this remarkable place we’re visiting. The whole crew has been terrific, cheerful, and helpful.

We have more critical thinking cruises planned for the future, oh yes we do. And if they are even half the trip this one has been — even counting the virus — they’ll be Amazing Adventures indeed.


Comments (30)

  1. They did put PZ and you at opposite ends of the ship, right?

  2. Todd W.

    Every post you make about this cruise just makes me more and more whistful…and jealous.

  3. Evil German

    oh god it looks like so much fun. Please post more pictures.

  4. I second the plea for more pictures!

  5. Chip

    The BA writes: “…I’m delighted to eat things I’m used to but are somehow altered in ways I can’t precisely determine. That’s fun!”

    Yes. Those burgers look and smell just like the one’s back home (yummm) yet somehow are subtly different. That’s because they are recreated on the molecular level from Robby’s synthetics. Dr. Morbius “tinkered” Robbie together while we was stranded on the Galapagos last year. Robby also has some whiskey stacked up somewhere near the Giant Tortoises. – “Would 60 gallons be sufficient?”

    If you ask nicely he might show you the underground Krel lab. 😉

  6. My jealousy knows no bounds. Rather than getting to sip margaritas and explore pseudo-Martian terrain, I’m stuck moving both myself and my mother-in-law over the past week through into next week. Oh, to be as internationally beloved as Mr. Plait…

  7. IBY

    I know what you are talking about food being different even though they look essentially the same. It was kind of like that when I moved here in Delaware from Venezuela. Anyways, so sorry you had to listen to PZ talking. :)

  8. Fernando Magyar

    I wandered over here from Pharyngula, since PZ wasn’t home, to see what the new President of JREF might be up to and I find he’s off in the Galapagos listening to PZ’s talks?! Anyways I really didn’t know that JREF was actually located in my own back yard in Ft. Lauderdale, well at least you can tell I’m not psychic…:-)

  9. Bigfoot

    JREF Prez or no, do not cross PZ! When accomodated aboard a small craft set upon the Central Pacific amidst a chain of biologically isolated islands, it is unwise to embark on a path which may result in being Expelled.

  10. Gavin Flower


    I think Mrs BA is much better looking than you…

    Maybe you should prepare stuff and get her to present it!

  11. Jose

    margarita How could margarita be awful? And penguins near the equator? Come on. I knew it this whole Galapagos trip is a hoax. Look at the back of your wife’s shirt. Are we supposed to believe that man is technologically advanced enough to get to the Galapagos, but they can’t spell expedition? Blue life jackets? Everyone knows life jackets are bright orange. And if you really were at the Galapagos, wouldn’t the sky be yellow because of your close proximity of the sun? Stop this “food tastes different” charade and tell us where you really are.

    Man has never been to the Galapagos.

  12. Jose

    And tell me why there’s an extra margarita at the beginning of my post? Oh, I know. If somebody disagrees with Mr. BA, you insert grammatical errors to make them look stupid.

  13. Jose

    Sorry, I think I may be spending too much time on the UFO thread. My brain has partially shut down.

  14. madge

    Glad to hear The Little Astronomer is feeling better now. I reckon PZ is poisoning the food! That is why it tastes “different” :)

  15. Nemo

    How come you’re still blogging, and PZ has to bring in guest bloggers?

  16. Jose sounds about one step away from declaring that the reflections are all wrong in those pictures. A quick tip for you man — don’t browse the UFO threads for more than an hour at a time without stepping out to breathe some air, maybe read some science blogs or something. It’s something like looking away from the computer every once in a while to refocus your eyes.

  17. You’re much too far from Mexico for a good Margarita: you should be drinking Pisco Sours.

  18. Quiet Desperation

    Can you pet the penguins? I’m not sure I can bring myself to spend five figures on a trip to Galapagos to Antarctica (or some other place without casinos and buffets and cocktail waitresses) unless I can pet a penguin. That would make it worth it.

    Bonus points if I get to see a something chase and brutally take down something else (preferably not me). Probably one of the safari packages for that one, I guess.

    Or the country of Georgia. (rimshot) Oh! Pow!

    Hmm. Too cruel? Oh well.

    I second the plea for more pictures!

    I pi it.

  19. Walter

    Excellent use of the word “aa”, sir! As a sometime Scrabble player, I envy you.

  20. I hope you didn’t walk on the aa. It might hurt, and make you say “Ah! Ah!”

    (sorry… I had to)

  21. Arthur Maruyama

    Quiet Desperation:

    I’m fairly certain that petting the penguins is NOT allowed, the Galapagos being a fragile ecological site which the UN has placed on its list of World Heritage Sites which are in danger. You might check with your local SeaWorld or other such similar parks, but even then my guess is that penguin-petting isn’t likely.



    I wonder if the difference in the hamburger you had (being presumably from local Equadorian suppliers) was due to the cows likely to have been grass-fed rather than corn-fed like most American cows are. This may be anecdotal, but some people reportedly can distinguish between grass- and corn-fed beef because the flavor is different.

  22. Jose

    I don’t know about Ecuadorian beef, but there’s a definite difference between in Puerto Rican beef and American beef. It could be the breed of cow as much as diet. The cows there have a similar look like the type of cow you’d see in India or central Africa. In the tropics, fat temperate cows have a tendency to die of things like disease and heatstroke.

  23. Todd W.


    “Sorry, I think I may be spending too much time on the UFO thread. My brain has partially shut down.”

    I feel your pain, man. On the plus side, Michael Horn seems to have left that thread.

  24. Jose

    @Todd W.
    What are you thinking? Don’t mention his name. He can sense it. In no time he’ll be here claiming the Galapagos tortoises are from outer space, and he’ll have links to Gamera movies to prove it.

  25. Quiet Desperation

    I’m fairly certain that petting the penguins is NOT allowed, the Galapagos being a fragile ecological site

    Aw. :-(

    Well, maybe the Antarctic trip, then.

    Here’s some videos from Lindblad outings.

    They get pretty close. If a curious penguin were to wander over to me, hey, nothing I can do about that. :-)

  26. Zephryous

    I think this article will be a bit tintillating:

    It’s true all the same, there’s no such thing as “Darwinism”, only the facts of evolution and what science can do to make us understand those facts.

  27. Buzz Parsec

    Phil, shame on you for referring to penguins as “cuties.” What does their physical attractiveness have to do with their worth as individuals? This is extremely classist. There is nothing remarkable in the fact that non-mammals might be “cute” and you shouldn’t be commenting on it incessantly.

    P.S., since this is the internet, Poe’s law and all that, it might not be obvious that I’m parodying some of the comments on the next thread. Or maybe it’s just too lame. … Oh, no! “Lame” is a derogatory reference to people organisms that are differently abled.

  28. Dan

    You are making me jealous. Can we trade places?

  29. Don Snow

    Glad you’re having a good time. I’ll also be glad, when you return. smile


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