August 2002 Return to Umboi Island

Chapter 2 August 2002

Gomlongong Village, Umboi Island , Papua New Guinea

After eight years, I have returned to Gomlongong Village. This expedition includes only me and my oldest son Nathanael. We have traveled 27 hours by bus, 19 hours by plane, and finally, a slow, 17-hour boat ride to arrive on Umboi Island.

This time the ferryboat was an old rusty freighter called “Total,” which was placed into service because mechanical problems had disabled the newer ferry. There was only a single, open, seatless, and constantly-flushing toilet to serve all the passengers. When it rains,  passengers spread a large blue tarp over themselves and everyone hangs onto the fabric to keep it from blowing away. There was no way all the people could get out of the weather.

Arriving on pier at Lablab Mission

Arriving on pier at Lablab Mission

Plowing through the water at barely six knots, the rust bucket slowly makes it way to Umboi. Food and water are what you brought with you and since we did not know about the ferry’s lack of conveniences for its passengers, we suffered. With us was our translator, Harry Bonjo. Fortunately for us there were several  men from Gomlongong village riding with us. After some time together on the ferry, they and Harry started talking together and remembering us from our other expeditions, which also stirred my memory of them. It was through Harry that we found this common link because he was able to speak their language and explain to the people the reason these two foreigners were going to Umboi. They offered us some of the food and water they had brought along and it helped to offset our hunger and thirst. Through Harry’s translation of our conversations, we had an interesting time of visiting with the men and reminiscing about the last expedition of eight years ago.


Dancers of the “Pig Clan”

After seventeen exhausting hours, we finally landed at the concrete pier at Lablab Mission. The best thing about this boat ride was that the seas were very calm! As we were unloading, we noticed a large crowd already on the pier. As we got closer we saw it was a local dance group from the “Pig Clan.” Dressed in the old traditional dress with pig-tusk-necklaces and shells, they performed nearly all the dance in the squat position, bouncing up and down to the rhythm of the drums. This was quite an exciting welcome for us, even though no one knew we were coming. Thankfully, it was because of coincidental timing that we were able to be entertained by this group.

On arriving at Umboi, we needed to find a way of transport to Gomlongong Village. Since the lumber company  left the island, the road became unusable, and we discovered that no rental trucks were available for us. Well, when traveling in this part of the world, it is imperative to always have a plan “B.” That plan resulted in Harry’s finding a banana boat we could rent that would take us one-quarter of the way around the island to Bunsil Station. From there it is about a ten-mile hike uphill to Gomlongong. Soon we discovered that several passengers wanted to travel with us to Busil Station. The plan was for each of the passengers to pay a little for the ride. However, as it turned out, I covered the whole expense and these people received a free ride. This gesture did open up a couple of friendships which would later prove useful in Gomlongong.


Unloading banana boat on beach at Bunsil Station

One fuel stop and a four-hour ride in the banana boat placed us on the beach at Bunsil Station. From there, we unloaded and started our hike to Gomlongong Village. The first day is always the hardest, getting our packs settled in and our bodies used to carrying those heavy packs. We spent the first night in Mize Camp. This was a new camp of people from the interior who were cutting out land to build huts and be closer to the beach at Bunsil Station in hopes of finding a better life. Mr.Mize was a hustler and tried to get me to do things with and through the United States Consulate for his new camp. I had no connections and had never talked with the Consulate but he believed that as an American I could pull many strings for him. (Later I discovered that he actually traveled to the U.S. Consulate Office and made inquiry about me and the earlier expedition in hopes of using that information to his advantage. Of course, nothing resulted from that as we had no influence.) Because there is no postal service on the island, he actually sent me a hand-carried letter in a white envelope while I was in Gomlongong. He tried to make the letter sound official and that I was required to come back to his camp and photograph as much as I did in Gomlongong! Needless to say, we were glad to leave the Mize camp the next morning and travel on to Gomlongong.

Once in Gomlongong, we immediately learned we would not be allowed to climb Mt. Bel because it was off-limits to us. That was strange because we had not come with the intention of climbing Mt. Bel again. There was nothing on the mountain we wanted to reinvestigate. Now that I think about it, there was a “large-sounding” waterfall about halfway up the mountain. I say “large-sounding” as we were never able to see it. While we walked up a ridgeback, the sound was close below us, but with all the trees and dense foliage, we could see no more than fifty feet in front of us. Our time was too precious to stop and spend time looking at a waterfall. My thought was that the waterfall would have a plunge pool large enough for a flying creature to land and drink freshwater. Perhaps a cave would be close by in which the creatures could stay and rest. Now we may never know.

Back to the reason we were banned from the mountain. The story got to us that while we were on the mountain eight years ago, the villagers heard two loud explosions from Mt. Bel. To them, this was proof that we had found something of great value, gold or diamonds. They never would believe that we were looking for a bird! They are now convinced that we had found “the mother lode” and they wanted to know what it was and where we found it. The problem with this story is that we never returned to claim the supposed “gold or diamonds” and eight years later I show up again. It was a story I had to refute over and over again. There was no explosion on our part and those of us on the mountain never heard anything. My thinking is that a jet plane broke the sound barrier and produced that double “explosion” everyone heard. Many times I had to say that “I am not a geologist or a prospector!”

The reason we got an order not to climb Mt.Bel was that eight years ago, the first expedition had paid a high price for the “rights to the cave” on the mountain. Eight years later, they still thought something of value was on the mountain but they did not know what it was. It was all about the money. If I had come up with enough money, I could have gone back up the mountain. But on this trip I had other plans for research.

With this stigma of my having some knowledge about the mountain’s supposed riches, we could hardly go anywhere without having to hire some local landowners’ “representative” to walk with us. This was just to make sure that any “discovery” was made known to the landowners.

Interestingly, it was this situation that played a main role in allowing me to contract malaria. Please let me explain. Since our research was to be for about two weeks in and around Gomlongong village, I had decided not to buy malaria pills in order to save some money. In the mountain area malaria is not much of a problem and mosquitoes are rarely seen, or so I believed.

Large "walking stick" bug on trail

Large “walking stick” bug on trail

Everything was arranged for us to go investigate a small lake at the base of Mt. Bel which I thought could possibly be another source of freshwater for this creature. The lake increased in size with rains and decreased with no rain, so it was not fed by a river or spring, but rather existed as a large pond of water at certain times of the year.

With me, my son, Harry, and two representatives of the landowners I had arranged to go with us, that would be five people going. I had agreed to the payment price for the five of us. When I showed up at the main lodge the next morning, there were nine people ready to go and obviously I had not paid for the unexpected four others. I tried to explain that I had already agreed on five and not nine. Besides having to pay extra, the noise the natives made while traveling in the bush was very loud and I was trying to keep things stealthy. It turns out that I would be crossing other landowners’ property in the jungle and needed to pay for the right to cross that clan’s land.

After about an hour of discussion and seeing no change in their attitude, I decided to accept an offer I had been given from some natives to visit the beach down from Opai Village. From that point we headed down to the beach. That night the mosquitoes were plentiful and from the bite of just one of the females, I came back to the States with the kind of malaria that can be fatal. Fortunately, I was in the States when the full-blown symptoms hit and I received excellent hospital care in Trinidad, Colorado. The malaria incident happened during the very last days of our time on the island. Had I been able to conduct the research I had prepared for at the higher elevation, it is doubtful I would have contracted malaria.

On our way back  from the beach, going to Opai Village, I had an opportunity to interview one the strangest eyewitness reports.

A local native named Jefferons had reported to Harry that he had seen a bioluminescence flying from Mt. Bel to the ocean. I asked Harry to question Jefferons about his sighting but to do it in Jefferons’ mother tongue.

Jefferons saw “sparks” falling off as the creature flew

My thought was that I would get much better descriptions and details if Jefferons spoke in his mother tongue and not have to search for words to describe what he saw. I could get this interview translated once I got back to the States.

Later in 2002, I got this interview translated and I thought what a disaster it was! Jefferons spoke of seeing this creature fly from Mt. Bel to the ocean with “sparks falling off the tail” of the creature. He said this creature was “bright and had lots of fire.” I was so disappointed with these seemingly outlandish statements that for several years I left this testimony on tape never thinking anymore about it.

Three years later as I was reading about more creatures with possible bioluminescence, I came across the following:

“A German Jesuit monk, Athanasius Kircher is very much respected for the work he accomplished on classifying and collecting data on the flora and fauna of medieval Europe. The prolific 17th century writer Athanasius Kircher’s record tells how the noble man, Christopher Schorerum, prefect of the entire territory, “wrote a true history summarizing there all, for by that way, he was able to confirm the truth of the things experienced, and indeed the things truly seen by the eye, written in his own words: “On a warm night in 1619, while contemplating the serenity of the heavens, I saw a shining dragon of great size in front of Mt. Pilatus, coming from the opposite side of the lake [or ‘hollow’], a cave that is named Flue [Hogarth-near Lucerne] moving rapidly in an agitated way, seen flying across; It was of a large size, with a long tail, a long neck, a reptile’s head, and ferocious gaping jaws. As it flew it was like iron struck in a forge when pressed together that scatters sparks. At first I thought it was a meteor from what I saw. But after I diligently observed it alone, I understood it was indeed a dragon from the motion of the limbs of the entire body.” From the writings of a respected clergyman, in fact a dragon truely exists in nature it is amply established.” (Kircher, Athanasius, Mundus Subterraneus, 1664, tr. by Hogarth, Dragons, 1979, pp. 179-180.)

“As it flew it was like iron struck in a forge when pressed together that scatters sparks….”

How coincidental! These two descriptions of a flying creature with sparks! Two men separated by 10,00 miles and over 650 years! Two men describe something flying with “sparks falling off”! Is this creature a legendary dragon of medieval times that is still alive? If it still exists, it has chosen the most remote, less populated region of the world. Imagine if “dragons” were flying today, attacking cattle, flocks, and young children. The first thing humans would do is have someone hunt and destroy this “menace to society.” This would effectively chase this creature away from any civilization.

Am I saying this is a flying “dragon” or that flying “dragons” actually exist today? Just some intriguing food for thought concerning this mystery.

Modern Sightings of the Flying Bioluminescence

Mark Kau, the Ward Counselor for Ward 7, a respected man in the community, has seen this bioluminescence flying from Mt. Bel to the ocean, or from the ocean to Mt. Bel.

Kau has only seen the big light "glow" only flying--- no shape of creature

Kau has only seen the big light “glow” only flying— no shape of creature

Mark’s hut sits on a nice clear ridge just outside of the main village of Gomlongong. This situation allows for viewing of Mt. Bel without any obstructions. Kau has seen the “bright light, plenty of light” but admits he does not know what the actual flying creature looks like. All he has seen is the bioluminescence flying to and from Mt. Bel.

After my visit in 2002, I left Kau with a tablet of paper and a pen. This was to keep a journal of the times the bioluminescence was seen flying to or from Mt. Bel. I heard back from one other explorer who visited a couple of years later that he had only seen two occurrences for a year. This was not enough consistency of sightings to make it worth my time to continue researching  Umboi Island.


Big tree grubs eaten as a delicacy

During one of our hikes, we came upon natives building a new hut. While cutting down trees, they found huge grub worms inside the bark. These grubs were the size or a little bigger than my thumbs. They had collected a bunch on a leaf and were going to sell them at market in the next village, Taraway.


Tree grubs

I took pictures of them eating those monster grubs. Then they challenged me to eat one. After much discussion, I chewed one down and they all laughed. Not bad. It was crunchy with very little flavor, almost disappointing.

We headed back to Lablab and waited for the ferry to arrive on Sunday afternoon. Wow, we were thrilled to see the passenger ferry back in service! The ferry ride took only twelve hours back and had a bunk bed for resting! With food and water we could purchase, the trip seemed so much faster.


Passenger ferry arriving

Once back on the mainland, we found out about the ferries’ schedules. Yes, the week we had traveled over to Umboi, the passenger ferry was down for maintenance. However, each ferry alternated weeks. One week the passenger ferry made its trip and the next week was the the cargo ferry’s time. People who often rode the ferry could wait for the right week to ride the faster and more comfortable passenger ferry.

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