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Monkeys, alligators, and a close encounter with a 60-pound tarpon

By John Edward YoungStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 11, 1988

Lim'on, Costa Rica

`I'M late. I'm sorry. I have no excuse. I'll make it up. I'll show you monkeys, and alligators, and things you've never seen before. I promise,'' puffed our petite guide, as she scrambled onto the bus at 5:45 a.m. Good. That's what we came for: monkeys, alligators, and whatever creepy-crawlies keep a safe distance.

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``My name is Anna - like `banana.' OK, we have a 3-hour ride to the boat. Let's go,'' she said, slapping our sleepy bus driver on top of his bald head.

Seven of us were aboard a mini-bus, ready to roll from San Jos'e, the capital city, to Lim'on, on the east coast. And from there, by boat to Barra Colorado, home of Archie Field's internationally heralded fishing mecca, Rio Colorado Lodge.

Anna, full of pep, kept us from dozing on that long, bumpy ride with her bouncy manner and banter and radar-like observations.

``Stop the bus!'' she'd scream. ``Back up. Back up. Back up. See it? A three-toed sloth. Hanging in that tree. See it?''

We all saw it. Sloths take their raps for their lack of alacrity, but they're a photographer's delight. Once they're spotted, everyone gets a shot. They just hang around, upside down. Most wildlife isn't that cooperative.

Back on the road, we passed banana and coffee plantations. ``That one's owned by an Iranian,'' Anna pointed out.

Water apples hawked by some young boys by the side of the road caught the ever alert eye of Anna. ``Stop the bus!'' she yelled. ``The more it rains, the better they are,'' she said, passing the smooth, pink fruit around. The white flesh oozed with juice. ``It rained a lot this year,'' she added with a nod of approval, biting into the squishy fruit.

Finally arriving in Lim'on, we boarded the Colorado Queen. If you've seen ``The African Queen,'' you've seen our boat - sans Bogart, Hepburn, leeches, and engine trouble.

The Queen was filled with plenty of sandwich fixin's, more fresh fruit, and cold drinks. And for our boating comfort and safety, a dozen US Coast Guard-approved ``Jim Buoy'' life preservers.

We chugged slowly through the still, khaki-colored waters, as Anna and Wendell, our Jamaican captain, scanned the trees and waters. The journey to Rio Colorado is through a 65-mile labyrinth of lagoons, rivers, and manmade canals - a spectacular, relaxing way to enter this tangle of vegetation.

No beach line on these waters. Massive palms stretch 30-foot fronds over the water, forming an umbrella for us to glide under.

The entire area teems with life. Payti turtles, with smooth shells shiny as a Marine's boot, jockey for position along half-submerged logs. Giant green iguanas sleep, soaking up the sun, with all four legs dangling limp over a branch. These dragon-like creatures drew gasps from the passengers - and drools from Wendell. ``Wooden chicken! That's what we call 'em. That one's about seven pounds. Very good eatin','' he said, as we passed under a snoozing lizard.

We were quite happy with our ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Occasionally we passed a little village of grass huts set up in a clearing beneath the palms. Kids would wade out and wave, while men quietly cast their blue nylon nets from the bank. Women stared solemnly, as we putted past. Other men fished from dugout canoes.

And yes, Anna, true to her word showed us alligators dozing by the edge of the water, and howler monkeys taking a siesta high in the ebo trees.

The only thing that seemed awake and moving that day was us. But after the six-hour noisy ride to Rio Colorado Lodge, we were ready for a nap ourselves.