By Wm. Van Ness
1st day – Arrival
John “Bubba” Thompson, Lord High Sheik of the Ali Baba Oasis of the Noble Sons Of The Burning Sands, stared idly at the endless expanse of ocean passing far below the seaplane. When the NSOTBS’s Grand High Sultan had announced that this year’s Annual Convention of Sheiks was to be held at a resort in the far off tropical Spontoon Islands, Bubba couldn’t have been happier! He’d seen nearly every movie set in the South Seas that had ever been made, and owned a copy of nearly every Hula Music record he could get his paws on! This was going to be the bear’s dream come true! The long miles of the trip, however, with hours of train, steamship, and now over 12 hours of seaplane travel, had worn down his sense of excitement and he just wished he was there already!
Maybe if Hawaii hadn’t been such a disappointment? He’d been eager enough when his steamer had arrived in it’s first tropical port, but as they came ashore the native girls who presented the new arrivals with floral garlands had been dressed more…”modestly”…that he’d anticipated. Not a grass skirt in sight, only those shapeless “Moo-Moos” as he thought they were called. “Damn missionaries!” he thought angrily.
Still, Bubba felt he’d spent his layover time in Honolulu usefully. He’d stocked up on a supply of the colorful “Aloha” shirts that were the common style of dress out here in the Islands. After all, the last thing Bubba would want to do would be to stand out of the crowd like some common “tourist”! Well, maybe the tall green fez with its white tassel that he wore on his head might stand out just a little, but that fez was the proud badge of a Son Of The Burning Sands, and was respected around the world!
For a moment, a dark cloud passed over his memory, of that horrible State Convention of the NSOTBS a few years ago that came so close to tarnishing that hard-won reputation, and all due to that crazy Coyote from the Motorcycle Corps of his very own Oasis. Bubba never did learn how Coy got that big old Harley up there on the high-dive! And the little redhead…!
The bad memories vanished as the Cabin Attendant made her announcement that they were nearly at their destination at last and would soon begin to descend for their landing approach! The bear fastened his safety belt and again looked out the window to catch his first glimpse of the fabled Spontoon Islands!
Their pilot made a smooth landing, and taxied up to the private docking area of their resort, the Khan-Tiki. As he finally was able to ease his portly body off of the seaplane, Bubba couldn’t have been happier at what he saw! The docks were of the sort of weathered board and bamboo construction he’d seen in all the tropical movies, and the baggage handlers and dock crew were dressed in just the combination of native and tattered cast-off western clothing as he’d expected. And some of the female worker’s clothing was quite “artistically” tattered, too! Not a “Moo-Moo” to be seen!
As Bubba and the other Sons Of The Hot Sands followed their baggage towards the small thatched custom’s shack by the gate marked “To Resort Compound”, he noticed the seaplane’s crew and through-passengers took another path marked “To Seaplane Plaza” leading towards a large building within the bamboo fence surrounding the docking area. It was a weathered, wooden structure with a wide veranda and thatched roof, and Bubba was sure he’d seen it somewhere before. Then it came to him:"Of course! Beachcomber Bob!” It was the spitting image of the trademark “South Seas Trading Post” that graced the menu covers of the Beachcomber Bob restaurant chain! All it lacked was the addition of Beachcomber Bob himself stretched out on top of some rum barrels, and surrounded by lightly clad Island Girls, to complete the famous picture!
The check-through at Customs was quick and courteous, and soon the bear and his fellow guests were following a well-manicured path leading gradually uphill between swaying palm trees and well-groomed tropical foliage. Brightly colored flowers of all descriptions were everywhere he looked.
They finally arrived at the Resort proper; a bamboo gate in a surrounding hedge, with a carved wooden sign saying, “Welcome to Khan-Tiki! Aloha!” From the gate their path became a boardwalk through a lush tropical garden, lined with burning torches and ending at an arched bamboo bridge crossing a rushing stream and ending at the most amazing building Bubba had ever seen!
The structure had a towering, curved A-Frame thatched roof, with the planks making up its front and sides carved and painted in wild and barbaric geometric patterns. Two huge pagan idols served as doorposts, with a carved mask of some sort of island sun god learning down with bulging eyes and protruding tongue over the doorway. As they crossed over the bridge, a loud gong sounded, and the massive doors to the building swung open! As each guest entered, an attractive island girl wearing a tight colorful sarong, bare-pawed and with flowers in her long hair, would approach and throw a flower garland (Bubba would later learn that they were called “lays”) and escort them to the front desk.
The building’s lobby was as exotic as it is outside. The walls were of bamboo and some sort of woven matting and decorated with primitive masks and native shields and spears and similar artifacts. The furniture was also typical tropical – rattan and cane chairs and low tables predominantly. Two wings off of the lobby led to the Lounge and the dinning rooms. Bubba was also aware that from the moment he’d stepped inside, there was soft and barely audible background music of steel guitars, birdcalls, and low drumming.
Some of the guests were staying in rooms at the main building, but most of the Noble Sons, such as Bubba, had opted for the private grass huts of the resort’s “Lagoon Village”. So, as soon as each guest finished checking in, their baggage was sent on ahead and they were escorted by their lovely hostess (in Bubba’s case, an attractive Vixen with a name that sounded like “La-Lo-Loo”) through the rear portals of the building and towards their quarters. Their path, lined now not only with the torches but with a number of various carved pagan idols (“Them called Tikis” as La-Lo-Loo told him), went by the usual resort facilities of tennis and croquet courts, and the main swimming pool, and his charming guide pointed out the path down to the resort’s private beach, and to a large open thatched structure in the other direction that she said was the Luau Pavilion. The brief walk brought them to another stream where yet another arched bamboo bridge crossed just over a small noisy waterfall and at the gate of a bamboo palisade. Here La-Lo-Loo said she and the other hostesses had to leave, but before Bubba and the others could be disappointed, another bevy of island beauties came out to greet them! Also bearing the flower “Lays”, these girls were dressed in a more primitive fashion; their short sarongs wrapped low about their hips and bare from there up except for a sort of bathing suit top made from two coconut shells!
The Lagoon Village consisted of a large number of small bamboo thatched huts, set between shady palms and around a swimming pool shaped like a natural pond. And surrounded with torches and more of those Tiki idols. Designed to give their guests the real feel of live in the islands, the huts were furnished simply with rattan chairs and table, a low bed, and inviting looking hammocks. The bedspread and curtains were printed in a pattern that copied the fur pattern of spotted jungle cats, adding to the wild and primitive feel of the hut! The only concession to the outside world was the attached bath and dim electric lights. After showing him to his designated hut, Bubba’s guide (a Rabbit this time, but he wasn’t able to catch her name) left him to unpack and get ready for the evening.
That night there was a welcoming cocktail party for the Noble Sons at the main building, where Bubba learned there was an all-day buffet available in the dining room every day, and some very interesting rum cocktails available at the Loa-Loa Luau Lava Lounge every evening! It had been a long trip, but Bubba felt he was a very happy bear as he finally left the party for his little grass hut, where he was soon fast asleep to the sound of far-off drums.
2nd day -- Convention & Lounge
Bubba woke early the next morning. A quick dip in the “lagoon” and dressed in his fez and brightest tropical shirt, he was ready for breakfast! The all-day buffet in the main dining room served Island breakfast items that weren’t all that different from what he had at home, but with pineapple added they had an exotic edge that Bubba enjoyed.
This was the day of the Convention proper, so there were a series of meetings after breakfast, followed by a boat-taxi ride over to the nearby Casino Island where the Spontoon Authorities had kindly marked out a route for the NSOTBS Sheiks to hold their traditional Convention Parade. Due to the cost of the trip to the Spontoon Islands, the number of attending Sheiks were less, and therefore the size of the parade smaller than was usual, but it was still the principle of the thing!
After the parade, most of the Noble Sons stayed to take in the attractions of Casino Island, but Bubba felt that if he wanted all that civilization he could have stayed in Hawaii, so he headed back to the more authentic tropical life of the Khan-Tiki! He spent some time there relaxing on the resort’s private beach and bought some real native-made trinkets to take home from the “Seaside Souvenir Sales Shop”. One item, a straw beach hat decorated with native picture-writing that he was told said “Honored Guest of the Islands” would really “Wow” them back home!
The formal Convention Banquet was held in the early evening; rented black tie and white dinner jackets replacing the day’s comfortable “aloha shirts”. While Bubba counted a full nine boring speeches they had to sit through, the Tropical Buffet served by the Khan-Tiki was a great improvement over the cold roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes of other years!
Once that last formality was completed, Bubba and the others were free to explore the mysteries of the resort lounge!
The doorway into the lounge was carved to resemble an oversized witchdoctor’s mask, and inside was a transplanted jungle! Small palm trees and large ferns were everywhere, and on one side of the lounge was an indoor waterfall, tumbling into an indoor stream that you had to cross with yet another bamboo bridge to get to the thatched hut containing the bar! Like the main lobby, the walls were of bamboo and matting, but decorated with pictures of unclothed native girls painted on what seemed to be black velvet! The dim light came from dried blowfish hung from the ceiling as lamps. Also hung from the ceiling was a full sized outrigger canoe! Carved wooden tiki idols and other primitive artifacts were every where Bubba looked. Even the bar stools were carved to look like tikis!
At the far end of the lounge, and also thatched, was a small stage on which a group of Avian musicians were just starting a set.
In the Loa-Loa Luau Lava Luau Lounge
In the Loa-Loa Luau Lava Luau Lounge
Hear the birds sing the words and make musical sounds
In the Loa-Loa Luau Lave Luau Lounge!
After they sang their introduction, the Avian orchestra began to play a series of soft Island melodies, with the combination of steel guitar, tom-toms and bird calls giving the music a strangely exotic, “jungle” character he’d never heard before but that seemed perfectly at home in these equally exotic surroundings.
Bubba found a vacant seat at a table where some of his friends were already sipping some strange fluid through long straws out of a single large carved bowl. As the sarong clad waitress handed him the drink menu, Bubba was amazed at the strangely named potions that were pictured in even stranger containers! There was the “Suffering S.O.B.” served in a ceramic skull! “Volcano Voodoo” had a mug resembling a shrunken head! The “Spontoon Sling” was served in a hollow pineapple while the “Coral Island Fog Cutter” came in a coconut shell. Both the “Long-Pig Luau” and “Head Hunter’s Hangover” came in vessels resembling different styles of tiki idols, as did Bubba’s own selection, the “Tiki Typhoon”. When it arrived, it proved to be a pleasantly iced mixture of two or more different types of rum, blended with strange fruit juices and unknown spices. Sweet, and unexpectedly smooth given it’s name, Bubba thought what a great improvement this was over the sort of bathtub home-brew poison they’d had to get by with back in the States only a few years earlier! He next tried “Hard Boiled Missionary” (served in what looked like a small stewpot) and a few others before he decided to call it an evening. It was only when he tried to get up that he discovered exactly how potent those tropical potions really were! Still, with the help of some brawny members of the Resort staff, Bubba made it safely back to his tropical bungalow and was soon deep asleep to the sound of distant drums.
3d day – Tour
The day of the jungle tour! Bubba and the others who wanted to go met after breakfast down at the beach. Soon a small fleet of outrigger canoes was ready for them to board, and they were introduced to their native guide, a strapping young feline with an impressive set of muscles, named Rotanga. He greeted them all cheerfully, but warned them to be careful when they entered the native village called “Trailhead”. Unlike the Islanders they knew from the resort, or who came from some of the other islands in the Spontoons where outsiders were more common, and native life more “modern”, and even though the government of the islands had gone as far as to put in a road all the way around the island, these jungle natives were still “wild” and it was rumored that at times they even practiced the cannibalism of their remoter ancestors! Rotanga said he thought that last rumor wasn’t true, but they should try to stay out of hot water anyway!
Carefully entering the canoes, the tour party was paddled across the opening of the bay. Off to their left was the civilized Casino Island, but ahead was adventure in the deep tropical jungle! The brawny native paddlers handled their craft with ease and were soon making landfall on a narrow beach. When all of his charges were unloaded and herded together, Rotanga led them to where a wide trail made an opening in the thick jungle. About a hundred yards from the beach was the native village. Like the Lagoon Village back at the Kahn-Tiki, it was surrounded by a palisade of bamboo poles. Unlike the Lagoon Village, though, many of these poles were topped by grinning skulls! As the nervous tour group followed their guide into the village, drums began to beat. Fortunately, Rotanga seemed well known and liked here. The village chief, a large leopard wearing a feathered headdress and a bone threw his nose, greeted him warmly, and graced the tour group with a big smile… showing many sharp teeth!
In company with the Chief, their guide showed them about the village, pointing out how the Islanders lived their daily lives; repairing fishing nets, weaving palm mats, sharpening spears, weeding gardens, carving Tikis, shrinking heads, cooking “poi” (whatever that was!), practicing hulas, and otherwise passing the time happily. One thing they didn’t have to spend time on, Bubba thought to himself, was washing laundry! Male or female, none of the villagers wore more than a short grass skirt, a “Lay” or two, and flowers in their hair!
After the tour of the village, Rotanga took them out by a back gate and the Jungle Tour proper began. The guide told them to stay close together, as even though this was considered a main trail, the jungle was never really safe!
For the next few hours Bubba and the rest of the tour group followed their native guide through a jungle wonderland of exotic flowers, brilliantly colored wild birds, still pools and majestic water falls. Here and there Rotanga would point out half-hidden Tiki idols marking forgotten shrines or the long-abandoned sites of ancient villages. He would then regale them with tales of the old days and the history of the Spontoon Islands. One such spot marked by a significantly larger Tiki that the others, he said marked the site of the home village of the ancient High Kings of the Islands!
A long, long, time ago, he told them, when the clans and islands of the Spontoons were often at war with each other, the great hero-king A’ll proclaimed he would hold a grand luau for the kings of the other islands to meet with him and talk peace. With some misgivings, they all still came to the feast, where it rained food and fermented pineapple juice for three days! At the end of that time, when all the kings were full and happy, A’ll (who had eaten and drank quite sparingly all this time) proposed that to spare their people the grief of further wars, that they the kings should engage in a wrestling contest, the winner to become High King of their combined islands! In their happy mood, and knowing that each of them was bigger than A’ll was, the other kings consented, and the bouts began that very hour. At the end of the day, however, it was the great A’ll who was victor and proclaimed High King of the Islands! With peace now established, A’ll gave thought to what to do with his new Kingdom. With 30 wives to be looking after, he had better things to do than spend all his days involved in government! So he declared that each village would send a delegate to meet in a council and that this new thing he was creating would have the responsibility of handling the day-to-day business of running of the Islands. And to this very day, even though the old monarchy past away an age ago, the government of the Spontoon Islands still carries the name of “A’ll’s thing”.
As Rotanga had warned them, however, there were dangers in the jungle! If nothing else, the vegetation was so thick they soon lost all sense of direction, and without their trusty native guide could have been walking in nothing but circles without ever knowing it! Here and there, the guide would point to a damp area just off the trail and let them know that what seemed no more than a harmless puddle was in reality a deadly patch of quicksand! Once he pointed to what looked like a thick vine but, as he told them, was really a large and highly poisonous snake! When they had to cross the frequent streams, the guide would first check the waters for lurking crocodiles, and was careful to warn them of the giant centipedes and leaches that lurked just beyond the edge of the safety of the trail, who might prove deadly to the unwary!
As the end of the day drew near, Rotanga turned the tour group’s path back towards the beach and waiting canoes. Before they got there, though, they came upon a clearing in the jungle. Within it was marked out a large circle of wooden tikis, with a large stone tiki directly in the center! The guide said this was a native sacred place for holding their pagan rituals, and had no sooner said this when drums began beating in the nearby jungle!
“Come” said Rotanga, “And I show you a’Mea Hoomanao’ – a ‘Thing to Remember”!
He quickly lead the tour group to a spot at the edge of the clearing where there was a sort of dry ditch toped with bushes. Crouching down there, they had a clear view of the ritual circle, yet remained fully concealed. The place was a perfect observation point as if it had been made just for that purpose! As they waited, the drums grew nearer, now accompanied with a weird chanting! Then, just at twilight, they at last saw figures emerge out of the jungle!
Into the clearing they could see an unknown number of natives enter the tiki ring, wearing grotesque carved masks over their faces. Other than some strings of shells about wrists and ankles, none wore anything else but the fur they were born in! The drumming and chanting seemed to reach a peak, and then stopped! Into the now-silent clearing strode a tall, dark furred, female Behind her mask, and in the flickering torch light, Bubba couldn’t even be sure what species she was, but could still somehow make out the bright gleam of her eyes even behind their covering. Picking up a basket of fruit and flowers, she placed it at the foot of the idol, then raised her arms and gave a loud cry! The same cry was repeated from the crowd of pagans, and then taken up as a chant. The drums began to throb again, but with a different, faster beat this time. The priestess then began a wild, jungle dance, making any hula Bubba had ever seen before seem like a waltz! Soon the rest of the pagan islanders, many brandishing spears and war clubs, joined her in the frenzied dancing.
“We go now,” whispered the guide, “while all plenty busy and no hear us. Plenty bad they find you this place!” Heading their guide’s wisdom, the tour group slowly backed away from the clearing and made a fast escape down the trail. Skirting around the too-quiet village of Trailhead, they found the canoes and the Khan-Tiki’s paddlers waiting for them on the moonlit beach. But first, there was a last word of warning from their guide to say nothing about what they had just seen as long as they remained in the Islands, not even among themselves, for who knew what ears might be listening in the shadows?
Bubba was a tired, but excited bear when he crawled into bed that night. What an adventure! It was too bad he couldn’t take pictures, but wait until he got home and told everyone about this! Till then, however, it would have to remain a deep secret. Even the friendly island natives working at the Khan-Tiki were still… well…island natives! Bubba didn’t know what might happen should they learn about the tour groups having stumbled on a secret pagan ritual like that, but what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt him! The bear drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face, and the sounds of drums still beating far away.
4th day -- departure
Bubba took care to have a smaller than usual breakfast this morning, as this was the day of the Big Luau! Already the bear’s keen nose could make out the wonderful scents of roasting meat from where they had been cooking on hot coals in underground pits since last night; their guide on the jungle tour yesterday had told them all about it! He took a swim on the beach, followed by a dip in the Lagoon Pool, and a visit to the large Souvenir and Island Paraphernalia Paradise Shop inside the Main Lodge building. After some hard bargaining he was able to get the price of an authentic shrunken head down to something he could afford. A quick research trip to the murky depths of the Loa-Loa Luau Lava Lounge to investigate exactly what a “Suffering S.O.B.” tasted like, and it was time for the Luau!
The Resort’s Luau Pavilion was an open sided amphitheater with a sharply pitched thatched roof supported by columns of tiki-carved palm tree trunks. On three quarters of the amphitheater, tables and chairs of woven cane and bamboo were arranged on tiers so that all diners could have a clear view of the central stage area. The back quarter held smaller stages, set into an artificial volcano.
At the appointed time, the resort guests were escorted to their tables, already spread with pineapples and other tropical fruits, as well as bowls of both a rum punch and one of an all-fruit punch. A band of Island Natives began playing while food was brought out; fish, pork, beef, yams, rice, Island vegetables Bubba couldn’t begin to put name to but tasted just fine, and a goopy sort of stuff (So that’s what “Poi” is!) that he sampled and carefully ignored for the rest of the huge dinner!
Once the food was finally eaten, and the remains cleared away and the punch bowls refilled, the drums began to beat faster and louder and a long line of grass-skirted native girls (wearing Lays but with no coconut shells to be seen!) danced out from behind the artificial volcano, followed by a like number of well-muscled native boys in Lava-Lavas who were juggling wicked looking knives and flaming torches as if the were simple parade batons! For the next hour Bubba and his friends watched as hula styles from all the islands of the South and Nimitz Seas were demonstrated, along with feats of strength and exhibitions of fire walking and flame juggling and knife twirling that just left them totally amazed! Finally, though, it had to come to an end. The applause was loud and enthusiastic, but with some sadness Bubba realized that his happy visit to the tropical island was coming to its end.
The bear slowly left the Luau Pavilion for a final trip to his little grass shack, and finished his packing for the long trip home. Soon (“Too soon” he thought!) his baggage had been collected and he was again being escorted by a pretty dark furred native cat-girl (who he thought seemed familiar, although he was sure he hadn’t seen her face before) back to the main desk for check-out, and then down the flowered trail to the seaplane docks. Customs was quick and relatively painless, and all too quickly Bubba was again settling into the seat of a seaplane with a long flight ahead of him. However, he was a happy bear! He’d found that the tropical Island of his dreams really did exist, and maybe someday he could find a way to come back to the Spontoon Island and his Khan-Tiki! As the plane lifted off he had to wonder, though, if he could still sleep as well once he got home and could no longer hear drums in the distance?