Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Where Monsters Gather: The Caribbean Bigfoot






Revered by hundreds of thousands of readers in dozens of countries, Robert E. Howard, a native of Peaster, Texas (near Dallas) made a name for himself as the creator of Conan the Barbarian and other fantasy heroes. Aside from his compelling descriptions of kingdoms in an imaginary terrestrial antiquity, populated by bold warriors, lovely women and sinister wizards, Howard made room for monsters - not dragons, but terrifying simian presences. The giant apes were found throughout the lands of mythical Hyboria, feared destroyers of armed warriors. In Conan the Conqueror, published in 1950, he writes: "It was a gray ape, one of the grisly man-eaters from the forests that wave on the mountainous eastern shores of the Sea of Vilayet. Half mythical and altogether horrible, these apes were the goblins of Hyborian legendry, and were in reality ogres of the natural world, cannibals and murderers of the nighted forests." Similar fearsome descriptions abound throughout his work. Had the author perhaps seen the inspiration for his creations in the woods of East Texas?

Further consideration of the matter will have to wait, as our journey takes us  to the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean in search of other ‘goblins of the nighted forests’

In Search of the Cuban “Yeti”

A curious incident allegedly took place in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, reportedly involving the presence of a “Type II” Bigfoot creature captured by the armed forces of that country after a search involving columns of soldiers and an elaborate ruse to capture it in a cave on Cerro El Labra in the location of San Ambrosio, Province of Pinar del Rio.

The event occurred sometime in the year 1987 and was reported by young recruit known only as “Mario”, who described how news of the pursuit of the strange entity made its way to the battalion in which he served. The entity had been caught in the Sierra de los Oréganos, a densely forested area, and taken to a military hospital to treat the injuries suffered during the capture. In an interview with the late researcher Virgilio Sanchez Ocejo, “Mario” said the strange capitve was remanded to the Medical Sciences Laboratory at his base.

“This fact,” said the young recruit, “caused a commotion, as it was said the captive was an animal. I did not see it up close because we were not allowed to approach it.”

The restriction notwithstanding, Mario was able to get enough of a look to provide the following report. “It looked more like a man than an ape, although it was taller than a normal person. It was naked and hair all over its body. It also had a broad nose and the skin on its face had pores and small black spots. Its hands were very long. I wasn’t able to see its feet, but it issued guttural sounds. A technician took photos and it was given a name taken from a book, but I cannot remember it. They said it would be employed for research purposes. That is all I know.”

Researcher Ocejo adds: “Unconfirmed rumors were later circulated that the Bigfoot had been sent to Havana aboard a military truck.”

This intriguing bit of information is followed by a lengthier report concerning another creature (referred to as ‘el yeti’, given that the nomenclature used for the abominable snowman has been extended to its cousin the Americas in Spanish sources) also in Sierra de los Oréganos.

A Cuban academic by the name of Manuel Iturralde, a renowned speleologist and geologist, mentioned in his book Aventuras en el Mundo de las Tinieblas (Adventures in the Realm of Shadows) published by Editorial Cientifico-Tecnica in Havana, 2001, that the quest for exploring larger cave systems in Cuba led him to join the Marianao-based Grupo de Exploraciones Cientificas, which had ventured into vast caverns containing river systems in the village of Sumidero, nestled in the Pica Pica Valley (Pinar del Rio).

Iturralde goes on to say that his expedition in the year 1962, consisting of eighteen men and two women, ventured to the remote island valley and accessed the Pio Domingo cave, an immense opening on the side of a local hillside. Their guide, local explorer Perfecto Hernández, told them that “el Yeti” had been prowling the vicinity in the dark, giving his son a fright. This creature had never been seen in the area before; it was described as strong and hairy, light brown in color, going about on two legs and all-fours. Colorful local accounts followed: how a man had been attacked by the creature and lost one of his arms in the process, how others had seen it tear a pig apart without any difficulty. Dogs would whine if they could feel its presence, and Perfecto’s son had gone to investigate the commotion. The youngster had been so overwhelmed by fear that he was left mute. Later he was unable to utter a single word about his experience. On a subsequent instance, another local was able to run the intruder off with gunshots, and it tore its way through branches and vines as it fled the torrent of rounds.


But the Caribbean odyssey becomes even more compelling. Iturralde writes: “In a separate instance, twenty men gathered together in order to surround the Yeti and capture it. After an extensive search, they reached a cave known as Los Soterráneos. It seemed that some of these creatures lived within, and they fled upon smelling human beings. Inside, they were able to ascertain the presence of large, new Yeti prints as well as an abundance of droppings. The footprints allowed us to ascertain that the animal had large claws that dug deep into the mud.”

Iturralde would have his own experience one evening in the valley, as the temperature dropped to a very un-tropical thirty three degrees. His slumber was interrupted by a sharp howl that sent a chill through his body as everyone else in the camp woke up to the eerie, echoing sound.  “The possibility exists that the strange creatures had formed part of the menagerie of a prominent zoologist from Pinar del Rio, whose specimens from other countries had escaped.”

Cuba is known worldwide for its spectacular cave systems, and the Santo Tomás and Cueva del Indio sites welcome visitors year round. Fossils from the Holocene Era are found in abundance, as well as pictograms from the island’s ancient inhabitants. The presence of the diminutive figure known as “Guije” in Cuban folklore hints at a possibility that non-human entities also shared space with primitive humans, competing for resources until finally driven away by Homo Sapiens. During a visit to Cuba in 1803, Alexander Von Humboldt toured the area and was impressed by the similarity between the Jura Mountains and the Cuban formations - both of a karstic nature, like the 'mogotes' of Puerto Rico. The 'Guines caliche' enabled the formation of these vast cave systems.

Although mentioned in passing earlier, further discussion is warranted about the diminutive figures known as Guijes, a staple of Cuban folklore, standing three to four feet tall, black-skinned and hairy, and gifted with amazing strength. They were also associated with ponds and pools of still water, and its presence was considered an ill omen. One is tempted to associate it with the ‘aquatic apes’ or ‘merbeings’ mentioned by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe's The Field Guide To Bigfoot, Yet and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide.

The legends of the town of Sagua la Grande, compiled by Gómez de Avellaneda, include this colorful description of the Guije’s behavior: “It is said that in that place near Barrio de Guatá, where the river is at its deepest, there is a pool which popular fantasy has assigned as the dwelling place of a monster that devours anyone who dares bathe in its waters, leaving no trace but a splash of blood on the surface. And what might this monster look like? To those who have seen it, it is a mixture of man and ape, with powerful claws and sharp teeth.” The mention of bathers who are apparently slain in the water is reminiscent of accounts from Oklahoma Salyer Lake, involving swimmers and boaters apparently taken by an aquatic Bigfoot.

Hairy Monsters in Puerto Rico

“And you expect people to believe that?”

That was the reaction of a fellow paranormal researcher to my monograph on the elusive Chupacabras (The Chupacabras Diaries) but not about the paranormal predator itself. His reluctance had to do with an incident that took place in December 1995 involving a reported sighting with a Type I Bigfoot in the island’s southwestern corner. Winged bloodsucking monsters were one thing, but a Caribbean Sasquatch was asking the reader to suspend disbelief a little too much. Regardless, this was the information presented in the monograph:

“Human nature is curious. Many of us prefer to carry out certain tasks at different times from others; therefore, no one should be surprised by the urge to wash a car at 2:50 a.m., which is exactly what Osvaldo Rosado was doing on December 23 -- just hours after our visits to the Gómez and Sánchez residences.

“Rosado, a resident of the city of Guánica, where the Chupacabras had already made its presence felt earlier in the month, had allegedly finished hosing down his vehicle and getting ready to disconnect the hose when as strange hairy creature approached him from behind and gave him a bear hug so strong that wounds appeared on the victim's abdomen. Rendered speechless by panic, Rosado was finally able to scream and struggle with the entity until he managed to break the deadly embrace. Turning to face his assailant, he was doubly shocked to find that it was a simian creature, much taller than his own six-foot height. The shaggy embracer turned tail and ran away from Rosado's backyard. Neighbors responded to his screams, and eventually took the badly shaken victim to a hospital in Yauco to have his wounds treated.

“Conflicting stories circulated for a while. One newspaper blamed the incident on the Chupacabras, but the victim claimed never having spoken to the reporter who wrote the story. The creature in no way matched the descriptions given of the Goatsucker, and was certainly not winged--Rosado believed that the assailant must have been at least two feet taller than himself.”

Four days later, a local researcher phoned a radio program to provide an update on the "Bigfoot attack": As fate would have it, the creature that attacked Osvaldo Rosado had been seen by people in the vicinity of Guánica, offering corroboration for the intruder's girth and height. To compound matters further, the researcher added that hairy creatures of lesser stature had been reported in the vicinity of the Laguna Cartagena aerostat facility, the base of a drug-interdiction balloon that was a source of popular discussion at the time.

Two years later, in a series of conversations with Willie Durand Urbina of the Puerto Rican Research Group, the long history of hairy hominid sightings on the island emerged.  Reports had been featured in the island press as far back as 1979 regarding creature sightings in the heart of the island – the municipalities of Cayey and Aibonito being named most frequently. The entities were bent on destroying plantain and banana groves; witnesses described them as humanoids with long, drooping arms and large red eyes, making guttural noises likened to ‘a mute person trying to talk’. The locals did not take to the predation kindly, and firearms were deployed freely but to no effect. On their part, the creatures did not take kindly to being peppered with lethal ammunition – a case was mentioned in which a hairy creature vented its fury against a home, banging against the concrete walls and steel jalousies covering the windows, leaving them badly dented.

According to Durand, these improbable creatures retreated for a few years and re-emerged in the mid-80s when a young man was attacked by what he described as “a large hairy monster” that pounced on him in the dark. Much like in the 70s, the destruction of banana and plantain cultivars was a common factor, but the entities were not interested in eating the fruit – rather, they tore plants apart to eat the their hearts. This gave rise to the moniker “Comecogollos” (eater of plant hearts) to describe these hirsute intruders.

These initial sightings had been circumscribed to the central and southwestern parts of the island, but were now being reported elsewhere.  A family visiting the Caribbean National Forest had an encounter with a five-foot tall hairy entity at Coca Falls, one of the most visited tourist spots in the area. The creature was caught in the act of rummaging through the vegetation, and was reportedly as startled to see the humans as they were shocked by its presence. The encounter ended peacefully as the humans retreated to their vehicle and dashed off at high speed to notify the park rangers of their experience.

There was an unexpected sequel to this event, according to researcher Durand.  Prompted by this and other reports of ‘simians’ in the rainforest, a brash young martial arts expert had driven to the site with two of his friends to seek out the hominids and beat the living hell out of them.  As the popular adage suggests, ‘be careful what you wish for’ – the humans were soon confronted by four hominids with glowing eyes.  One of the creatures seized the would-be ‘karate kid’ and bashed him into a tree, ripping off his shirt in the process. His friends deserted him as the night degenerated into a frenzy of panic, to the extent that one of the monster hunters cut himself badly with his own machete. Heroics, one may conclude, are best left to the silver screen.

The situation involving the man-apes went on into the early 1990s, to judge by newspaper clippings thoughtfully provided by Mr. Duran. One such news item, dated July 26, 1991, bore the headline “Alarm Spreads Over the Comecogollos”, reporting that aggrieved members of the population were demanding decisive action from the Department of Natural Resources to go after one or more of these intrusive species.  The manimals had caused significant damage to local growers, who were further confused that more luscious tropical fruit was being ignored by the prowlers. A subsequent news item featured an interview with Manuel Rivera from the Lagunas district of the city of Aguada on the island’s western coastline.

“We have been affected by this animal for 90 days now,” fumed Mr. Rivera. “This animal has knocked down our plantain trees and killed one of our dogs. It has also killed goats, as I’ve been told by customers who come to my store.”

The planter went on to say that the nights were filled with ‘strange noises’ and suspected the mystery killer could be ‘a sort of mandrill’.  An unnamed local woman told reporters: “We have many children here and there is concern that something bad may happen. This animal seems to have gone wild. It destroys everything in its path.”


We have to assume that all the information presented above is valid, or as Merv Griffith once said “we’ve got nothing here.”  Assuming the presence of Type I and II Bigfoot, manimals, apemen, merbeings or any other handle we wish to apply to them, we must wonder how they got there, or if they were always part of the scenery.

The Caribbean was one of the last regions of the Americas to be settled, with separate waves of migration between eight and five thousand years ago, more than likely from the Yucatan Peninsula to Cuba. The thought of these early settlers bringing their pet Guijes along for the ride would make for a great comedy routine, but how did these entities – we are assuming them to be physical for this discussion, any reference to a paranormal origin has been set aside – get there?

Perhaps there is more truth to the possibility of populations having been brought in from elsewhere, as in the case of the nameless naturalist Iturralde mentions in the 1962 expedition to the Pica Pica valley. Could this person have brought creatures from Florida (i.e. swamp apes) or Louisiana (the ubiquitous boogers) and then let them loose?  The fact that specimens were still being captured as recently as the 80s would lead us to believe that breeding populations endured since that time, hidden in the mazes of caves throughout Cuba.

But what about Puerto Rico? This becomes a thornier issue and brings us into the realm of military/political and even UFO conspiracy.

In the early 20th century the U.S. military was allowed to operate freely on the island, using it for experimentation purposes. Agent White (the arboricide Picloram) was tested in the Caribbean National Rain forest 1963, as well as radioactive experiments by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as part of Project Plowshare that rendered part of the forest inaccessible in 1961. Similar tests in Bosque de Tabonuco (Dacryodes excelsa) date as far back as the 1940s.

In the 1930s, a scientist named Cornelius Rhoads visited the island to conduct research on pernicious anemia, but reportedly injected his patients with cancer cells with a view to treating them with radiation. Although an article in the New York Times (Feb.15 1932) says Rhoads was exonerated of all charges, belief in his unethical testing persists.

Given this pattern of unrestricted experimentation, one could be tempted to envision a scenario in which creatures were brought from Stateside locations – whether the Pacific Northwest or the Southern States – and let loose on the island to see how they would react in a controlled environment. As reports diminished in the media, we can only assume that the beings were rounded up and disposed of, or news outlets were discouraged from reporting on them. As of 2020 there have been no outbreaks of creature attacks and depredations similar to the 1980-1991 period, to the best of anyone’s knowledge.