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Sunday, October 3, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Drums Along The Congo: On The Trail Of Mokele-Mbembe, The Last Living Dinosaur

----------------------------------------------------------- "Drums Along the Congo: On the Trail of Mokele-Mbembe, the Last Living Dinosaur" by Rory Nugent Houghton Mifflin, $21.95 -----------------------------------------------------------

In "The Search for the Pink-Headed Duck, Rory Nugent sold everything he owned to finance a solo search for a bird not seen in India for 50 years. The duck eluded him, but his adventures were so entertaining, he set off again in 1986 "chasing a dream. . .to substantiate the obscure." This time his quarry is Mokele-Mbembe, a dinosaur reputedly surviving in the remote Lake Tele of the People's Republic of the Congo.

For 40 days while awaiting permits in Brazzaville, Nugent kills time fishing, birding, studying the stars, and observing local customs. Once a French colony, today's Congo is a bizarre blend of native superstition and Gallic bureaucracy gone bananas. Curiosity and unfailing good humor finally win the proper paperwork, and Nugent flies by twin-engine Cessna, then is paddled by pirogue, to Epena, a bush village he's amazed to see resembles a "retirement community near Palm Beach." Here, he eats barbecued crocodile - "very greasy, not unlike tuna packed in heavy oil" - and drinks Scotch from a plantain-leaf cup.

Nugent treks through swamps infested with skin borers, the greatest concentration of venomous snakes on earth, 70-foot philodendron, air "as hot and sticky as a dog's breath," wondrous butterflies and orchids, as well as Pygmies and poachers. At last he sights, if not Mokele-Mbembe, an "elongated black form." His outlandish ordeal is delightful.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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