New Explorers Welcome Tonight

By Mark Blazis


Dr. Nancy DeTora treats a young Quichua girl while her younger brother waits with mom. Submitted Photo.


The Quichua Indians of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador love her. After all, for twenty years, at her own expense, she has set up a clinic for them in the jungle and has saved many lives and alleviated much suffering.

This past February marked a special anniversary for Auburn’s Dr. Nancy DeTora. Since 1995, she’s been coming down with me and the students of Auburn, taking time off from her busy practice at Child Health Associates, and spending thousands of dollars of her own money for critical medical supplies for the Quichuas. She’s ready to do it all over again next year with a new Amazon Team that will meet at the Auburn Middle School tonight, March 30 at 6:30 pm to register, make deposits, and see a slide program on the Amazon that we visit.

One essential person who has been a constant by her side volunteering her time, too, is my wife Helen, who translates for Dr. DeTora, giving voice to the Indians’ symptoms and explaining everything Dr. DeTora needs to say to them from diagnoses to dosages. Together they have treated as many as 80 patients in a day, forgoing lunch and dinner.


Helen Blazis and Dr. Nancy DeTora pay a visit to a Quichua woman who recently gave birth. Submitted Photo.


This past February’s team that included Stephen and John Froio, Olivia and Dawn Hamel, Jill Lapato, John Waite, Kali Shamaly, Chris and Emma Gervais, and Bill, Jordan, and Melanie Straub all took part in a year-long collection of medical, educational, and clothing supplies to bring down to the needy Quichuas. Their presentation was fully reciprocated with a Quichua feast that included beetle larvae, fresh heart of palm, Amazon catfish, and fresh, made-on-the spot chocolate from the cacao they grow. They made a hundred friends that day, distributing their gifts. For the Quichuas, our arrival each year is a great cause to celebrate.

Mothers will come many miles, walking barefoot or by dugout canoe to bring their babies for Dr. DeTora to examine. A pioneering pediatrician in rainforest medicine, DeTora has expanded her services to help all the sick adults that seek care at her clinic.


The area that we go to every year is the very same route that Francisco Orellana took about 500 years ago when he discovered the Amazon River. The rainforest of the Sani Community is just about as wild as it was back then. That can’t be said about much of the adjacent Amazon, where oil companies are drilling everywhere, changing the rainforest and its people forever. By coming to the Quichuas of the Napo River and helping them medically and financially, we perennially hope to help them resist the temptation to allow the oil companies to come on to their land, give them a tempting one-shot financial reward, and leave them culturally impoverished. That’s why we go to the Amazon.

But while we’re there, we see the richest plant and animal life on the planet. This year, our team divided up into three dugout canoes, independently exploring and collectively recording 10 species of monkeys, sloths, fresh jaguar and tapir tracks, giant caimans, an anaconda, a tree boa, and hundreds of species of birds, including an amazing two-sightings of the world’s most powerful raptor, the sloth-eating Harpy Eagle.

While observing the parrot lick, a bare clay formation on the slope of the Napo River, they saw mealy parrots, yellow-crowned Amazons, blue-headed parrots, and Dusky headed parakeets by the hundreds eating clay. This unusual behavior somehow developed over millennia to neutralize the toxin in the seeds they inadvertently consume while eating fruits. The clay is their pepto bismol.


Three species of parrots gather essential minerals from a parrot lick along the Rio Napo. ©John R. Anderson.


The parrots can never be seen eating clay after a rainy period. That’s not because they don’t like to get their feet wet. Dry clay has crystalized mineral salts that they need readily available at the surface. When it rains, those vital salts leech deep back into the clay, becoming unavailable to them.

While students used their binoculars to see leaping squirrel monkeys and hear the amazing howling of howler monkeys (the loudest animal in the world), they found time to shoot blowguns and blow bamboo horns to send messages. They ate lemon ants and had Indians apply plant stains to their skin in the traditional Quichua designs. They entered deeper and deeper into a magical world, every hour making new discoveries, gaining knowledge and confidence, and discovering much about themselves that they never knew.

While climbing 140 feet high into the rainforest canopy, they found at eye-level an adorable, owl-like, teddy-bear-size potoo with a baby nestled in its breast, and gorgeous blue and gold macaws flying by in loyal pairs.


A Potoo and her chick were photographed through a spotting scope from the 140 foot tall observation tower in the Amazon jungle. Submitted Photo.


Students who would like to go next year need to be accompanied by an adult. They must be now in 7th grade or older. Dr. Laurence Reich will be at the Auburn Middle School, beginning at 6:30 pm on March 30, to take the $500/person deposits. I will present the informational slide program/lecture, which should end by about 8:30. For more information, email me at