It was just a tiny island somewhere in the South Pacific, insignificant enough not to appear on maps and small enough to never have interested the explorers. Sugar-white sand heaped itself along the jagged coastline that framed an azure sea. Nature had graced this lovely atoll with three kinds of swaying palm trees and nearly every type of tropical flower, bird, lizard and fruit. Save the most desperate pirates who occasionally floundered through the surf during a full moon night dragging heavy chests of silver to bury in one of the caves that dotted windward side of the island, except for them no human footprint had ever marred this paradise cove.
But circumstances have a way of changing, and one dark night in late October a Spanish galleon bound for the new world lost sight of the North Star and, blown off course by fog and a fierce windstorm, ran aground on the hidden lava reefs that ringed the cove. The ship went down quickly, all hands 90 hands were lost screaming and thrashing about in an angry sea, calling out to gods that did not hear them. Their precious cargo of Indigo, Saffron, teas and spices sank straight to the bottom. All was lost save one thing -- a string of nine young donkeys being taken their native homeland in Bratislava, Austria to their new owners in America. These prize donkeys had been trained for the circus by a family of Romanian Gypsies famous for animal training. They brought a handsome price, payable on their delivery in Florida to the Greatest Show on Earth.
Now, these donkeys were yearlings, still just colts. Weaned early and trained rigorously to the tune of a sharp whip, each donkey in the string was selected for form, intelligence and temperament. But now, nervous from the unfamiliar sounds and smells, they stood looking anything but majestic. Heads down, shaking legs braced against the rolling of the ship, their eyes rolled white and they tossed their shaggy heads pulling as hard as they could against the leather restraints that tied them to the large metal reeve ring that tied them to the main beam. Beating against the boards with their hooves was useless until the listing ship began to break apart. As it listed left the great mizzen mast snapped ripping the ship’s floorboard open and snapping the reeve ring that held the donkey’s tie leads. The braying donkeys brought their sharp little hooves down on the leather straps again and again until they broke free. metal hook again and again until it shattered, and they were free.
Terrified, the animals used their muscular legs to kick through the side of the ship and one by one, nine little gray donkeys plunged into a vast and churning ocean. Swimming frantically away from the wreckage, the tide helped pull them in to shore. As lightening crashed around them and the terrible sound of screaming men filled the air, the donkeys dragged themselves out of the surf and collapsed on the sugar soft sand. There they fell into an exhausted sleep until the morning sun woke them.
One by one the bedraggled animals woke, tentatively nuzzling each other and sniffing the air for reassurance. One by one, they found their feet and with no humans or ships in sight, they turned their attention to the palm trees on the edge of the forest. Scenting no danger, they stepped into its cool glade of green and feasted on tender Sugar Cane and Cacao leaves, Dewberries and tender Papaya fallen from the trees. Thirsty now, the glade beckoned them deeper and they followed the pink muzzles down to clear lagoon where they splashed and frolicked in the cold spring water bubbling up from through the lava in the side of the old volcano.
Blissful days turned into weeks. Rotted through by saltwater and sun the last of their old leather halters fell away and they rubbed their heads against the trunks of young palm trees. Being young spirited donkeys that had, after all, been trained in the circus arts by a band of clever Gypsies, they grew bored with their idle time. The youngest donkey kicked a fallen coconut onto the sand and instantly the rolling motion of the orb reverted them all to their training. A spontaneous game of Coconut Polo broke out that lasted for hours. Inspired by this, other donkeys retrieved a barrel that drifted on shore from the shipwreck and began a game of the Barrel Toss. A few female donkeys broke away to perform high-stepping routines while marching in circles around the giant Tortoises that roamed the island.