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My Lost World

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The jungles of Dak-To and its mysterious creatures, from the files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

 In the fall of 1967 I entered unaware into a magical land. I was in a paratroop unit which was sustaining heavy casualties in Vietnam near Dak To, a tiny Montagnard hamlet nestled in mountainous, heavily forested, triple canopy jungle abutting the Laotian border. The widely scattered Montagnard tribes there were true primitives, wearing loincloths, living in thatched huts and hunting game with spears and crude crossbows, smoking opium and wild tobacco out of 4-foot-long pipes. But the main thing I recall of those first few months was the rain—the constant, ever-present, monsoon rains. After picking up a new Lt. at the small Dak To airstrip in a tank to take back to our company HQ, he jumped off the tank before we could warn him and sank up to his neck in mud. It took us an hour to dig him out. Our fatigues were slowly rotting away on our bodies, our swollen feet covered in jungle rot sores, and we stopped hourly to burn or rip the leeches off our bodies... and still, the ever-present rain poured down.

Now, I bring up those first few months to point out the vast differences in the rainless six months I spent there over a year later in the spring of 1969. My unit was once more sent to the area, this time to investigate a rumored POW camp. (You can find an account of that mission in the book Code Name Arclight; The Untold Stories of the Search for POW’s in Vietnam). Instead of the ever-present rain we were in a constant state of thirst. Helicopter resupplies were unreliable and streams hard to locate, but the jungle was now mesmerizing, filled with the roar of tigers, chattering monkeys, and colorful twittering birds.

We scaled emerald mountains whose peaks were wreathed in fog, cut through bamboo grass with machetes ‘til our tired arms mutinied and refused to raise themselves, at times lucky to make 200 or 300 yards in a single day. I knew even then I was in a wondrous, magical land; the jungle was greener, the air cleaner (if hotter), and for six long weeks we marched, apparently directionless and zig-zagging through the thick, steaming jungle and mountains, enthralled at each new dawn with the strange worlds we awoke to. (I awoke one morn to find a foot long, day-glo orange centipede crawling lazily over my boot.)

Flash forward to the year 2000, when I began hearing scattered media reports of new and previously unknown animals being found in the region, as well as ones long thought extinct, including the Java Rhino, and a new half goat/half ox, plus a new species of deer that barks like a dog, and even a new type of tube worm. And still the reports kept coming in, leading taxonomist Colin Groves to state, “This region represents more than the find of the year, it could be the find of the century!” And so it was: a new golden-headed langur, a new civet, sarus cranes, a kouprey, the annam flying frog, a rare soala, new turtles... scarcely a month went by without some new and startling find. To me, the most interesting by far were those of the Nguoi Rung, or Forest Man, also known as Vietnam’s Bigfoot. There were so many reports of the Nguoi Rung near the Vietnam/Laotian border that the North Vietnamese themselves, in the midst of war, sent a wildlife team to investigate.

Vu Ngoc Thanh, a curator at Hanoi University, has casts of the footprints of the creature, and a copy of the (U.S.) Army Reporter (widely available on the Internet) has a report of U.S. soldiers firing on such a beast near Da Nang. Bao Dinh, a former Viet Cong soldier whose memoir, “Sorrow of War,” is still wildly popular there, has a section in it describing his unit’s encounters with the beast. Research is still ongoing; however, keep in mind that between 1997 and 2007, over a thousand new and unknown species have been discovered there. 

In my last TRJ report on Bigfoot (Matilda’s DNA) some six months ago, I was really surprised to find that so many TRJ readers, in their Internet comments, were even more up-to-date and knowledgeable than I on the convoluted science involved in such things as DNA research on mystery hominids; at least on this small occasion I can at least state I’ve actually walked those same jungle trails where the Nguoi Rung may lurk. 

‘til next time, keep spreading the word: Soylent Green is People! All homage to Xena.

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Author info

Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

cryptozoology, Surrealist Research Bureau, Dak-To, Vietnam, pow camp, Code Name Arclight, Java rhino, Colin Groves, Nguoi Rung

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