The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter

The Northern California Chapter of The Explorers Club presents:

Eva Spitz-Blum, MN-84, And Sandy Ross



Henri: Future Shaman. Elected by his Grand Dad, Don Casimiro Mamallacta-Mamallacta, pre-eminent Shaman of the Archidona region (Napo Province, Ecuador)

DINNER MEETING - Friday, January 24, 1997, St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco (see map )

  • 6:00 PM, Business meeting
  • 6:30 PM, Cocktails
  • 7:30 PM, Dinner
  • 8:30 PM, Speaker
  • $35.00 each

    Spitz-Blum, MN-84, and Sandy Ross will "show and tell" of their encounters with the Amerind Shamans, or "medicine men", they met with on two separate treks among the Quechua tribes of Ecuador during 1995 and 1996. One of the highlights of their talk will be their description of a ritual healing at which they were present as participant (S.R.) and observer (E.B.). More about this month's subject and speakers below.

    Sandy Ross with Shaman Don Casimiro who cured her of a toothache and possibly of other ailments as well

    The criterion for who is a "shaman", as opposed to "curandero" (herbologist/healer) or a "partera"(midwife), is whether the person experiences a trance state to communicate with the spirit world by whatever means, usually the ingestion or inhalation of mind-altering drugs. A distinguishing feature of the shaman is that he or she is said to be in control during his/her communication with the spirits. That is, he does not become an instrument of the spirits, is not possessed by the demons.

    It is known that from the time of the ancient Thracians, the use of hemp, burned and inhaled, to induce a trance-like state has been known over much of the Indo-European regions. The word "Shaman" probably arose in central Asia, and it is thought that the tradition spread from the Siberian regions via the Bering landbridge into North and South America.

    This fall, Sandy and Eva traveled along the "Valley of the Volcanoes" (Andean Sierra) to visit numerous local shamans. The expedition included Don (FN-78) and Louise Heyneman and Phil Rasori. All but Eva (who was too busy taking notes and photos) underwent various forms of mind and body cleaning, diagnosis, and healing, including a mix of exorcism (Catholic), traditional healing, fire-spewing, fire-walking, and guinea pig sacrifice (ancient Inca). Along their way Sandy and Eva met with a politically active shaman whose mission is to preserve the knowledge of the healing herbs for future generations. Shamanic healing methods are an oral tradition and, unless preserved and promoted, will disappear with the last shaman to hold the knowledge. Apprentices are rare, succession is in doubt, and the young are more interested in Western T-shirts than in shamanic crowns.

    Quichua Shaman crown and ceremonial gear demonstrated by guide Nelson

    Eva and Sandy will tell about their trip in detail, the fun an uplifting experiences along with the drear, cold, wet, and unpleasant parts.

    Dr. Sandra Miller Ross has a background in Holistic Medicine. She is founder, director and Executive Board president of Health and Habitat, which, together with the Jatun Sacha Foundation, is dedicated to preservation of the Ecuadorian Amazon native plant species which are facing extinction, through land acquisition. Presently Health and Habitat is creating a Shaman Rainforest Center in northern Ecuador, to help preserve traditional healing methods.

    Sandy Ross with the monkeys at Amazoonica Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

    Dr. Eva Spitz-Blum earned her doctorate at Stanford University, majoring in Clinical Psychology with a minor in Anthropology. She has co-authored several books on folk medical practices in various parts of the world. For over ten years she has been part of a team studying the use of mind-altering drugs in the United States and abroad. A number of books on which she has collaborated are now in print, which will be available to peruse at the meeting. Eva has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Tibetan Foundation, consultant to the Centro Mexicano del Estudios en Farmacodependencia, and to the U.N. Social Defense Research Institute of Rome, Italy. presently she serves as Director of Psychological Services, Women's Health Promotion Unit, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Stanford University Medical School.

    Eva Spitz-Blum in primeval forest at Aliñahui (Oriente)

    Eleutherodactylus iberia - What is it? This is the name given to the smallest known tetrapod, an orange-striped black frog about 1 cm in length., which inhabits the rainforests of Cuba (there is still a little rainforest left in Cuba). This tiny animal was discovered by S. Blair Hedges of Penn State on a recent expedition. The midget is approximately one third the length of its name as it is spelled out up there.


    SUE ESTEY, FN-92, reports that our account of her diving experience in the Sea of Cortez this past summer was not exactly accurate, and incomplete, and has written her own account of the events. It is so dramatic and well-written that your editors feel it is worth recounting in toto here: "I've never seen a whale under water, and still haven't, but this September I was lucky to encounter my first whale shark. This sounds like it could be scary, but the creature kept its vast plankton-scooping mouth shut, as if to contain its secrets from us divers intruding on its underwater world. And from there things got even better....

    It was calm on the Sea of Cortez that lazy Baja morning. We were slowly traveling southward along the eastern cliffs of Isla Espiritu Santo, just north of La Paz. Someone spied a pair of black fins protruding from the glassy water, just off our port side. Few of us had ever seen a whale shark, and those of us who knew what a treat we were being offered scrambled into the panga (motorized skiff) to follow the beast in the hope of having a chance of swimming beside it. As we slowly approached, four of us got into the water with masks, fins and snorkels, and were fortunate to see it twice. First, I saw the side and then the tail of it, slowly moving from side to side, propelling the 20-foot animal out of sight faster than I could swim, the remora on its tail swinging wildly with each great sweep.

    We scrambled back into the panga and entered the water a second time a little ahead of it. I dived down, to see its white belly and wide mouth. It swam on between us, and we did not see it again. No one got pictures.

    We stopped at a salt lagoon for lunch, relaxed, floated awhile, then I set out in a kayak for the next point south. Our dive ship, the Marisla, would follow a little later. Another diver took a second kayak and paddled on with me beyond the point..., and then...

    To the south we saw something leaping out of the water and splashing back down, as dolphins do. As I got closer I could see that as the animals leaped their ends were shaking up and down, and I finally realized that they were rays, their wings beating the air. The other kayaker with me had gotten much closer, by this time, and said he thought they might land right in his boat. We identified them as mantas, perhaps four feet across, a few of them. I didn't think there would be much chance to see them in the water, as it was unpredictable where they would leap, and visibility was not nearly as good in the water as in the air. But I slipped into the water anyway with my mask and snorkel, and there below me.....

    It appeared as if the ocean floor had become a moving mass of hundreds of mantas, easily a thousand of them. They formed a pattern, like manta-shaped tiles, but always shifting. Each one seemed to coast nearly forever, then the wings would lift and pull down to start another glide. They were fairly close to the surface, and seemed to be in layers. We returned to our kayaks and swiftly put on our scuba tanks.

    When we returned to the water we found they were still cruising in the area, and I twice saw them overhead. I stood at attention at 60 foot depth and saluted them as they flew over. It was amazing, awesome, memorable.

    One diver with us had been certified in Connecticut, and had dived in a quarry in Pennsylvania, but never in the ocean before. Suddenly he found himself diving in the midst of this vast array of mantas as they surrounded him and then flew on past. With this first open water dive, will he ever be able to equal the experience?

    Then, to top off the day, the skipper allowed me to climb to the crow's nest as we traveled back toward La Paz. I stood there, looking down only occasionally to the deck far below, with quaking knees.

    Tropical reefs and California kelp forests have their own special charm, but those encounters on that day in September, 1996, reminded me of the vast numbers of big creatures out there in the Sea of Cortez, living their lives largely unobserved by any of us."

    Alan Hutchison MN-67 reported that he missed the Golden Gateaway because he was on a diving trip in the Great Barrier Reef area of northeastern Australia, from Thursday Island down sailing down to Cairns. The best time for conducting these trips is during the month of October, when the trade winds die down, and the water becomes extremely clear. Alan reports this vast area of coral reef is the best-preserved coral in the world at this time, as most other areas are either over-fished or over-burdened with visitors, and the very fragile coral is dying out, and with it has gone the prolific fish life indigenous to living coral reefs. Alan is planning another such trip for next year at the same time.

    Don Bessey MN-82 reported that recently, while his wife was away on a short trip, he arranged for and undertook an adventure which he had always wanted to do and which he knew Ann would veto. He successfully parachuted from an airplane at 10,000 feet, was in free fall for well over 6,000 feet, skydiving in tandem with a partner, and came to alight gently at the pre-appointed place with a sense of exhilaration and a light heart. Asked if he would or will ever do this again, Don says, "well, no, once was really enough".

    Don and jump partner skydiving

    Rob Flint FN-82 reported that he has taken eight trips to Antarctica, and now sometimes talks about Antarctica to grade school youngsters, hopefully stimulating their interests in global adventure. An almost universal student question at these sessions is, "Mr. Flint, do your buggers freeze down there?" Rob's answer is "Yes!"

    Eve Iversen FN-86 reports that she has taken part in the production of a television nature series, "The Nature of Things", which will be aired over PBS and other television channels this year. One of the "Things" she has been involved with is the Eskimo Curlew. Watch the PBS program to learn more about it.

    Charlie Geraci MN-92 and Louise missed the Gateaway because they were away a good portion of October visiting southeast Asia, primarily Thailand. There they visited the far northwestern area, went on an elephant trek, rafted down a wild river, and visited three primitive hill tribes, the Hmong, the Karen and the Shan. They also kayaked in the Andaman Sea in Phang Nga National Park, among the Karst formation islands of the Park, and then traveled north to Guilin, southern China, to visit the only other Karst formation (a geological term) in Asia, the sugar-lump mountains along the Li river. On arriving at Guilin in the evening Louise was severely jostled in an airport bus. To save herself from falling she hung from the strap she was holding. She was pushed severely enough, however, to fracture her upper right arm. The Geracis' story of the trip to the only hospital in Guilin, and their experience there, is rather unbelievable for the year 1996 in a relatively modern country, and in a city of over 400,000 people. Suffice to say, Louise received care for her fracture after returning home 4 days later, and is recovering slowly but well.

    Win Burleson SM-93 reports that he is working with Canopy Trek, a non-profit organization founded in 1996 at Stanford University, and operated within the Mechanical Engineering Department's Product Design Program. This group is planning an expedition across the world's largest continuous expanse of rain forest canopy, in the tree tops, extending from the Andes to the mouth of the Amazon. The expedition is presently developing and testing equipment, supplies and support to make this adventure successful. The Project goals include: improving global understanding of rain forests, catalyzing resources, and energizing support for preservation. A reliable mobile access to the canopy will be an invaluable vehicle for these efforts. This project is an introduction and invitation to an exciting exploration of a unique and vital resource. Billions of years have contributed to the development and evolution of Earth and its resources, and the alarming rate of rain forest destruction punctuates the need for expediency in this expedition.

    Do you want to get involved with Canopy Trek? Anyone interested in contributing funds, expertise or time to this worthwhile endeavor is invited to contact Win. Work phone #(408) 927-1709. Internet: or


    At the December 6, 1996, meeting, Lawson Brigham FN-92, retired commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker, Polar Sea, described his last expedition, which crossed the North Pole with a Canadian icebreaker, the Louis St. Laurent and rendezvoused with the Russian nuclear icebreaker, the Yamal. In his career Capt. Brigham has spent time at both poles, and as a matter of fact made an expedition to the South Pole only about six months prior to one about which he spoke.

    The Polar Sea is 400 feet long, with a steel "skin" 31/2" thick. The framing ribs are only 12-14" apart for stability of the hull. The ship was built in the 1970's. An icebreaker's engines are extremely powerful, and are able to push the ship up onto the surface of the icepack. As the ship is propelled farther onto the ice its weight finally fractures it and falls back into the water, surrounded by broken fragments. In this way these ships can propel themselves through the ice at speeds of only up to 6 knots.

    Space will not allow for a full description of Brigham's 1995 Antarctic Expedition, therefore this article will be devoted to his adventure at the opposite pole. Brigham described the scientific nature of his trip as one to sample the "Arctic Section", which is really a cross-section of the Arctic Sea. The scientists aboard studied the biomass of the Arctic Ocean, which, they found, increases in density as it approaches the Pole itself. At 90 degrees the biomass is its densest, but not as diverse as the rest of the Arctic. It was also found that on this expedition the waters of the Arctic were "warmer" than ever before.

    While 1,000 miles from land the ship encountered a polar bear, which was tranquilized, tagged and studied. It was estimated to be a 3 year old male. What do polar bears eat when that far from land? Why, seals, of course, the same as they do near or on the land. Using the geo-positioning system the party found that any structure placed on the ice at the Pole to mark it will have moved a few feet within 29 minutes, and a couple of miles in a day, demonstrating how dynamic the polar ice is.

    For the first time, on this trip, the U.S. and the Canadians reached the North Pole together and, while there, a Russian helicopter arrived to salute them. The 'copter was from the Yamal, a nuclear icebreaker perhaps twice the size and weight of the U.S. and Canadian ships. All three ships then, visited the North Pole together, having a barbecue of musk ox, reindeer, and plenty of vodka, while there. The Russian Government has been offsetting the cost of its nuclear icebreaker fleet by offering Polar trips to groups for several years, and this trip was no exception. This time there were 70 gifted children aboard, and at one point they all swam across the open water aft of the ship. Not to be outdone, some of the U.S. and Canadian crews followed suit. Brigham did not.

    After crossing the Pole the ships continued on into the north Atlantic ocean, proceeding to the coast of Greenland, and to Spitzbergen. This expedition was the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean, collecting a full spectrum of data by all disciplines from this, the least sampled place on the globe. So: From the southernmost point on earth on 5 February, to the northernmost on 22 August.

    Brigham then presented Bob Schmieder with a letter as a memento from the Post Office aboard the ship, the stamp canceled at the North Pole. Incidentally, the weather is "excellent" in midsummer in the Arctic. On this trip the winds were never more than 20-25 mph, making for a very benign passage.


    This month Explorers Club member (and Northern California Chapter president) Bob Schmieder is traveling with 20 other "ham" radio operators to Australia's remote Heard Island, in the south Indian Ocean, to establish a field communications site, study the fauna and, in a series of high-tech radio experiments, make voice and Morse Code contact with an estimated 60,000 other "hams" worldwide.

    Known as the Heard Island DXpedition 1997, the trip is headed by Schmieder and Peter E.O.C. Casier, a communications specialist from Belgium. The international team will face bitter cold and extreme wind when they set up operations on Heard's active volcano, Big Ben. Its summit, at 2745 m., is 515 m. higher than Mt. Kosciusko, generally regarded as Australia's highest peak.

    Heard island is the closest land mass to Antarctica, and is inhabited by, among other exotic fauna, a colony of King penguins, closely related to, and almost as large as, the Emperor penguins of Antarctica.

    If this teaser piques your interest just a little bit, and you cannot raise KK6EK or ON6TT on your ham "rig", plan to attend the Feb. 28 meeting, where Bob will tell of his expedition in his own words.


    by Dan Goldin, NASA Administrator, after the death of Carl Sagan, on Dec. 20, 1996, at age 62: Sagan had succumbed of a rare blood disorder which led to cancer.

    "As much as any scientific figure of our time, Carl described for an entire generation,- the Space Age Generation-, the true wonders of the Universe around us."


    At the December 6 meeting the report of the Nominating Committee was read, and there were no other nominations from the Floor. Ron Reuther, FN-74, Past-Chapter Chairman, asked for election of all nominees by acclamation, which came to pass. Officers for 1997 will be:

    Chairman: Bob Schmieder, FN-86
    Vice-Chairman: Bill Isherwood, FN-70
    Treasurer: Folger (Jerry) Athearn, MN-82
    Secretary: Charles Geraci, MN-92
    Webmaster: Mike Diggles, FN-92

    Congratulations to all, and give these people a big hand for being willing to expend the time and energy to discharge their duties for the Club without compensation, except for the pleasure of knowing they are doing a good job and of working for a dynamic and worthwhile organization. Thanks again, gentlemen.

    Click for Calendar of future events


    Reservations: MAIL BY Saturday, Nov. 30, 1996

    Please Return To:

    Charles Geraci
    The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter
    600 Knoll Drive
    San Carlos, CA 94070
    Charlie's phone: (415) 593-3922

    Please reserve spaces for the Ross and Blum talk, at St. Francis Yacht Club on Friday, January 24, 1997.

    $35/person... $40 if postmarked after Jan. 17. Business, 6:00 PM, Cocktails, 6:30 PM, Dinner, 7:30 PM, Speaker, 8:30 PM.

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    Date created: 01/17/1997
    Last modified: 06/21/2015
    Content from Charlie (Chapter Secretary) and Louise Geraci email to Charlie and Louise
    Web page by: Mike Diggles, Webmaster, Northern California Chapter of the Explorers Club. email Mike

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