The First Holistic Holiday at Sea
by Haije Nielsen, Macrobiotics Today, Aug. 2004
Because most of my “kids,” the horses that I have raised from birth on my ranch in Holland, are now with other people, I have been able to travel, study, and experience many new adventures. Of course, ranch life still keeps me busy, but nowadays my schedule is more flexible and I am able to get away from time to time.
I have sailed the seven seas three times during the past three years and joined the Holistic Holiday at Sea to guide and help people onboard, and to assist Michio Kushi. The cruise ships are big and one can easily get lost. It can take a whole week to explore all the places that one ship has to offer. For this cruise Costa Cruise Line had the pleasure of showing some 430 macrobiotic people the ports of Key West, Cozumel, Ocho Rios, and Grand Cayman on their International cruise ship with a capacity to carry over 2000 passengers, including people from many different countries in Europe, and 900 crewmembers.
Many teachers, who so wonderfully shared this new journey with us, were among the passengers. These included Michio Kushi, Christina & Robert Pirello, Lino & Jane Stanchich, Verne Varona, Yogi Desai, Kamini Desai, Ohashi, Patrick McCarty, Sherry Rogers MD, Scott Ohlgren, Warren Kramer, John Howell, Phiya Kushi, and Jami Lin.
For Sandy Pukel, it was time for change and a new direction, and Holistic Holiday at Sea. He took the steps, together with John Belleme, to create something new. They arranged a weeklong journey to health and well being while sailing the blue waters of the western Caribbean. The ship was the Italian style Costa Atlantica or, should I say, Italian style with a “Las Vegas” glitter and flare. She was a beautiful ship with activities and shows for all to choose from and of course the constant food that’s offered on a cruise ship. You sure don’t go hungry, but that’s another story.
We embarked from Ft. Lauderdale and our “ship to well being” started cruising breathtaking waters to exotic ports. The beginning of any voyage can have problems. We experienced some minor technical difficulties at first like food being misplaced in the big cargo area on the ship, a cooking class with a stove that was not working properly, and lecture rooms changed by the ship staff. These and other small glitches kept the organizers and staff on the run—there was no need for exercise class for them. But flexibility is the name of the game, and the experience was new for all of us. All eventually went well, and, after all, we were all on holiday too!
The daily schedule started with morning Yoga, meditation, Do-In, or other class on the deck. After breakfast there were a variety of lectures and workshops to choose from, including Ohashiatsu, Amrit Yoga, Feng Shui, cooking class, or a diverse choice of lectures by many different and well-known macrobiotic teachers. The lectures and workshops were designed for everybody, both beginners and for people with more experience in macrobiotics, or other disciplines. A recovery panel of people telling their healing journeys from cancers and other disorders gave the opportunity for people to listen and ask questions.
All the teachers also gave personal consultations, and Michio Kushi included two group consultations and two extra diagnosis classes. The variety of teachers, their topics, and the workshops they conducted with their senses of humor and relaxed presence made the week very wonderful. Everyone responded positively.
A bookstore was available for people to buy books for further study. Not only did people from the Holistic Holiday group buy books, but also other passengers onboard got curious and found some interesting reading. People working at the bookstore shared their knowledge and did a fine job. In addition to the bookstore the lecture rooms were a good place to spread the word as other passengers dropped in later in the week for a while to listen. The response, I heard, was quite positive.
Kamini Desai (Yoga teacher) and her father Yogi Desai (Amrit Yoga) commented that they where both very impressed with the quality of the participants and the depths to which people were able to go in yoga, meditation, and in the lectures. This was true even though people had not necessarily practiced Yoga before.
John Belleme shared his own thoughts: “In last year’s summer issue of Macrobiotics Today, I wrote a story about Sandy Pukel that contained a quote from his friend, macrobiotic teacher Lino Stanchich, who said of Sandy, ‘He is a visionary who makes the impossible possible and does it with chutxpa and humor.’ After working with Sandy on the Holistic Holiday at Sea, I think what Lino said may be an understatement. Sandy can turn potential disaster into an invigorating game of chance where there are no losers. Everyone learns what they need to learn as the universe nods in agreement.”
Verne Varona, who was one of the dynamic speakers, gave guidelines, spoke of nutrition and how it works in one’s body and organs, and said, “When people are more relaxed, they are more open.” Combined with the good food served on the cruise, many people were going through positive changes; and the lectures and classes served as a good inspiration. The mood was friendly, so overall it was a most flexible atmosphere. People shared and learned new things, and also had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful ports, unless they wanted to remain onboard and hear all the daily lectures.
The shore excursions were organized trips ranging from two-and-a-half to six hours; or passengers had the option to walk in the port towns at anytime. All in all, this was a good opportunity to observe the life, people, and beauty of the ports.
One of the favorite topics of macrobiotic people is food. The friendly waiters seated us and placed the napkins on our laps, and the dining service started. Meals, from appetizers to dessert, were brought to us with a smile. But it was necessary to hold onto your plate if you wanted to finish your food because the service went so fast—it was nonstop from the very moment your first dish was served. Still you could enjoy the food for up to two hours, unless you ate fast (which was not so good of course). The first seating was at 6 p.m. and the Holistic Holiday group filled the restaurant together with the ship’s other passengers. The second dinner seating started at 9 p.m. and all tables had to be cleared from the first seating before that time.
Four macrobiotic chefs had an incredible week’s experience preparing food in a ship’s kitchen that was a size of a whole restaurant. There were even escalators for the waiters to bring and serve the food with all its beauty and warmth straight from the kitchen. The ship’s kitchen staff helped to prepare the food along with the macrobiotic chefs, and together they did a marvelous job! They managed to use up all the grains and dry food that had been brought to the ship one-week before the cruise departed along with all the fresh produce that had been delivered the day we set sail.
The daily meals, from breakfast to dinner, were a delight to behold. From among the beautifully decorated plates, the flashes you could often see in the dining room were from some people taking pictures of the food and friends, for future memories of a delightful time. One night the cruise held a midnight buffet that was served in the ship’s kitchen for all of the passengers. This gave the opportunity for everyone to see where their meals were being prepared, and the atmosphere of the cooking. All that wonderful food to observe, and at that hour I wasn’t even hungry. Another night a buffet was set up in the dining room and some of us were tempted to try some small treats—a special enjoyment and experience for us all.
As all cruise ships have their special formal nights, the dining room had its special celebration too. Just before the time for the sweet desserts, the dining room was filled with music, dancing waiters, and other shows together with passionate Italian music. You can only imagine Michio Kushi’s facial expression when he suddenly stopped chewing, his eyebrows went sky high, his eyes opened wide, and he wondered, “What is this?”
After leaving the dining room with a satisfied feeling, and still with the taste of the wonderful desserts in our mouths (we got so spoiled), the lectures continued until around 10 p.m. As the stars in the sky showed their bright light amid the softness of the warm tropical air, the evening events had their stardom in the Ship’s Theater. The night’s show was different every evening and performed twice, after the first dinner seating and then after the second. Other choices for evening entertainment were the different bars with piano music, and dancing places for all ages.
Since it was an Italian ship, we had the chance to learn how to dance the “Tarantella” and other different dances every night, as the decades of music changed daily. The Holistic Holiday group had its own show the last night—a talent show. Kamini Desai started the evening with inspiring music and gathered the dance floor full with people to dance to her Rasa dance. Then came the piano music and singing - even Michio was singing. That was followed by poetry and a few very funny shows about the life of Italians, and about the experiences of the Holistic Holiday staff onboard the ship.
All in all, the cruise was a success and the happy faces of people showed that Sandy Pukel’s idea was a great one. And the bonus was the royal treatment we all received from the ship’s staff, who helped us 24 hours a day, if needed. It’s not every day you have your very own cabin steward.
I’m just a new kid on the macrobiotic block, but looking at this adventure in my way, given my age and my own view of the macrobiotic way of life, this is a new and flexible way to spread the word and find your own way to the world today. Things change, and so we have to see that too.
What’s in store for the next cruise from Sandy Pukel and John Belleme? Give your curiosity a try and see for yourself. Give yourself a wonderful chance to listen, to eat natural food, and to enjoy the wonders of another holiday in the Caribbean with many new ports to experience and enjoy.