Guest Post: The Ancient Game of Mayan Pok-Ta-Pok

By Guest Lecturer Sandy Cares

Visitors to Central America stroll among stunning Mayan ruins that stir the imagination about a lost civilization’s great past. But what would it feel like to be an ancient Maya and actually sit in the stands of a ball court and watch a game?

mayan-games-pok-ta-pok-sandy-caresOne of the biggest draws to the Mayan ruins has to be the ball court. This is where the ceremonial game of Pok-Ta-Pok, similar to a cross between modern-day basketball and volleyball, was played to the death. There is still considerable controversy over whether the winners or losers were sacrificed.

Players outfitted themselves with protective gear like bone collars, cuffs and belts. The hard rubber ball weighed about ten pounds and had a human skull, a sacrificed victim from a prior game no doubt, at its core.

They hit the ball with any part of their body, except their hands or feet. The goal was to get the ball through an ornately carved stone ring protruding from the ball court wall. Walls of some ball courts were vertical and others inclined. A variant is at Lamanai in Belize, where goal markers on the ground were used instead of suspended stone rings.

mayan-games-pok-ta-pok4When I was touring the Maya world while on Riviera, we had the rare opportunity to attend a spine-tingling re-enactment of a Mayan Pok-Ta-Pok game in Cozumel. New to the line-up of cultural offerings, this riveting re-enactment was played out with all the attendant flair and ritualistic solemnity that gave the Maya their reputation as celebrated ball players, warriors and dancers. Tattooed women opened the ceremony by parading about in stunning feathered headdresses proffering bowls exuding exotic wafts of incense, all while a musician sang in a fevered pitch to ancient rhythms he pounded out on traditional drums.

The ball players poured onto the court decked in exotic bird feathers and lifelike animal masks. Shiny metal wristlets glinted in the scorching Mexican sun as bone necklaces and jaguar pelts flashed and swirled above their quick-stepping legs. Anklets of nuts and seeds added percussive rattling to their every move. They smacked the ball back and forth, scoring every so often to the wild and unrestrained cheers of guests completely swept up in the excitement.

mayan-games-pok-ta-pok3By the end of the fevered demonstration, spectators genuinely felt they had gone back in time to experience an authentic Mayan ceremonial ballgame!

I hope to see you in the Caribbean this fall or winter – join me on one of the sailings below:

Regatta | November 17, 2016
Miami to Miami, 12 Days

Regatta | November 29, 2016
Miami to Miami, 23 Days

Regatta | December 22, 2016
Miami to Miami, 16 Days


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Cruise With Purpose: Six of Our Favorite Tours That Allow Guests to Give Back

Holland America Line’s innovative Cruise with Purpose Collection of shore excursions is centered on improving our planet one voyage at a time. For thoughtful cruisers who wants to give back or pay it forward, these tours provide the perfect opportunity in destinations around the world. Assist in scientific research, bring much-needed supplies to an orphanage, participate in a fair trade program or cultural exchange, replant native forest or restore fragile habitat — we provide meaningful ways for you to help at these destinations.

Lisbon, Portugal: Tagus Estuary Wetlands: A Bird Watchers’ Paradise

Flamingos are just one of many bird species you'll spot at Tagus Estuary.

Flamingos are just one of many bird species you’ll spot at Tagus Estuary.

Calling all bird lovers! The Tagus Estuary Wetlands tour at Lisbon, Portugal, takes you into the heart of one of Europe’s great countries. Portugal is a hotspot for bird watching, thanks to its rich habitat and a relatively small population. Many types of species congregate in the country’s protected wetlands including at its finest — Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve. Seasonally, the wetland is home to more than 120,000 waders, waterfowl and other aquatic birds, and during migratory periods you can observe more than 100 different species in a single day.

Part of your entry fee to Tagus Estuary helps ensure that this corridor of safety for European birds is maintained and improved. The Institute for Conservancy of Nature & Biodiversity uses the proceeds to operate the Estuary.

Huatulco, Mexico: Rural Communities & Traditions
Go to the heart of Oaxaca on the off-the-beaten-track Rural Communities & Traditions tour at Huatulco, Mexico. On this excursion, you’ll head into the communities adjacent to the Huatulco resort area and learn about their cultural and social characteristics, and get involved with local habits and customs. This tour offers a glimpse into the roots of Mexico at four small communities where your tour fee will help support small, family-owned businesses. At these communities you’ll learn about local liquors, watch tortillas and tamales be made, and visit a cactus plantation to sample cactus. You’ll also visit the Iguanas Wildlife Handing Unit that was established in Piedra de Moros to foster reproduction and release of reptiles.

Juneau, Alaska: Discover Alaska’s Whales

Spot humpback whales and contribute to research in Juneau.

Spot humpback whales and contribute to research in Juneau.

Alaska is beautiful and memorable, and you have the opportunity to leave it better than you found it on the Discover Alaska’s Whales tour at Juneau. This small-group outing takes guests on a research vessel for a closer look into the habitat of humpback whales. As you head out from Auke Bay, a guide will share information about humpback whale research and what is known about the activities and feeding patterns of the whales in Alaska. Unlike many animal tours, whale sightings are guaranteed on this one, and you’re also likely to see seals, porpoise and sea lions. You’ll get to be a marine scientist for a day, drawing plankton samples and using a GPS camera to identify whale species while recording their various behaviors. Your work will help researches continue to understand these whales.

Reykjavik, Iceland: Iceland Tomorrow: Planting for the Future & the Ancient Ring of Fire

Visit the Ancient Ring of Fire in Reykjavik.

Visit the Ancient Ring of Fire in Reykjavik.

The Iceland Tomorrow tour at Reykjavik first takes guests to circle the active Hengill Volcano, located just a couple miles from the city. Hengill produces hydro and geothermal power, providing the capital with hot water and electricity. At the Hellisheidi Geothermal Plant Visitor’s Centre you’ll learn more about how it works. Next you’ll head to the town of Hveragerdi, featuring bubbling hot springs, and follow the River Solid past the Ljossafoss Hydro Station to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thingvellir.

The Cruise with Purpose portion of this tour involves planting a tree. At the time of Iceland’s settlement (in the 9th century), an estimated one-fourth of the country was covered by woodlands but today just a little over 1 percent of Iceland is forest. You’ll take part in Iceland’s afforestation program, planting a tree in your own name.

Fuerte Amador, Panama: Authentic Emberá Native Village

Amador During a call at Fuerte Amador, Panama, you can travel back more than 600 years to a Central America few people ever experience with the Authentic Emberá Native Village tour. This journey into the lives of the Emberá Native tribe highlights a proud people who maintain their traditions and lifestyles as they were before the Spaniards colonized Panama.

Your guide will give you an overview of Panama and share the history and culture of the natives. The Emberá people are keepers of the rain forest and the Chagres river, which you’ll see with a visit to Chagres National Park. At the park you’ll board a dug-out canoe to get to the village. The chief will welcome you with traditional Emberá hospitality and a series of dances. Guests can wander through the village and interact with the locals. The Emberá people make some incredible crafts so be ready to shop for a souvenir to remember your experience.

Brisbane, Australia: City Sights, Koala Sanctuary & Tree Planting

Plant a tree, hand-feed a Kangaroo and cuddle a koala -- all in one tour.

Plant a tree, hand-feed a kangaroo and cuddle a koala — all in one tour.

The City Sights, Koala Sanctuary & Tree Planting tour in Brisbane, Australia, lets you do a little bit of everything. Begin with a tour of historic Brisbane, passing Parliament House, the Treasury Building, City Hall and the Old Customs House. You’ll head to the top of Mt. Coot-tha. to enjoy spectacular views over the city. Next, you’ll head to what might be the most adorable part of the tour: a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and you’ll love getting up close with some of its sleepy residents.

The Cruise with Purpose portion of the tour involves planting a gum tree in the sanctuary’s eucalyptus plantation. By doing so you will be helping to provide a habitat for local wildlife, reduce carbon emissions and feed Australia’s koala population by helping to meet their needs for increasingly scarce food resources.

Aside from getting to cuddle and take a photo with a koala, you’ll also have the opportunity to hand-feed a kangaroo and see platypus and other Australian animals.

If you’re taking a Holland America Line cruise to one of these destinations, remember you can pre-book your tours here so you don’t miss out.

Have you participated in a Cruise with Purpose tour? Tell us about it in the comments below. Or tell us which one of these piques your interest the most!

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Signature Mai Tai Recipe

The classic Tiki drink, a Mai Tai is the perfect way to transport yourself to a far-flung South Pacific beach complete with swaying palm trees, aquamarine waters and ukulele music. This refreshing tropical cocktail pairs best with warm weather and wanderlust.


1 ounce rum
½ ounce orange curaçao
½ ounce amaretto
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces Mai Tai mix
1 ounce Myer’s Dark Rum

Serves 2

Mix all ingredients together, except for the dark rum, and shake over ice. Split the mixture between two glasses, pouring over fresh crushed ice and float the dark rum on top. Serve with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint – and imagine yourself in sun-drenched Tahiti. Manuia!

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Partner Recipes: Sushi and Asian Dishes with Renowned Sushi Expert Andy Matsuda

Holland America Line’s partner Sushi Chef Andy Matsuda recently cruised on Nieuw Amsterdam. During his time onboard, in addition to providing training to our chefs, Andy delighted guests with cooking demonstrations and a private class. Guests who participated in the personal lesson were in for a treat. After all, it’s not everyday you get to learn how to create sushi and Asian dishes from a true expert. But on a Holland America Line cruise opportunities are plentiful to learn from the foremost experts in their field.

At Andy’s Sushi Chef Institute in downtown Los Angeles he teaches aspiring chefs and professionals from all over the world about sushi and Japanese cuisine. And guests on Nieuw Amsterdam had first-hand access to his expertise. Business Development Manager Karen Seiler took part in one of the classes and sent in these photos and recipes.

From left:

From left: Tsutsumi Sushi, Beef Tataki and Green Beans with Miso Dressing.


5 oz green beans
3 oz miso
3 oz sugar
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sake
1 piece fresh ginger
Sesame seeds

Boil green beans and drain, then put into an ice water bath.
For the miso sauce, mix white miso and sugar together and add one tablespoon each of mirin, soy sauce and sake.
Mix dry green beans with miso sauce and toasted sesame seeds with ginger.


Serves: 1

Sliced fish – 1 piece each of shrimp, tuna and salmon
1 spoon fish eggs – tobiko
1 spoon salmon eggs
Shizo leaf and soy sheet
3 oz sushi rice
Sushi-zu (sushi vinegar)

Steam rice and mix with sushi-zu and cool it down.
Boil shrimp then slice in half and wash with salt water. Slice tuna ½ oz a piece. Plastic wrap with shrimp or tuna with 1 oz of sushi rice. Wrap together to form sushi ball.


Serves: 5

5 shrimp
2 bunches of somen noodles
½ cup chives, chopped
½ cup tempuro crunchy
3 cups dashi
½ cup soy sake
½ cup mirin

Boil the shrimp for a few minutes then put into an ice bath.
Boil the somen for two minutes and then place into a water bath.
To make the dashi broth, add 3 cups, ½ cup mirin, ½ cup sake and bring to a boil.
Put the somen in a cup and place the shrimp on top of the noodles.
Add the broth, chives and tempuro crunchy.


New York steak
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Cayenne pepper
4 oz ponzu sauce
Sesame oil

Season the New York steak with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Sear the steak in a hot pan for five minutes and then put into ice water.
Cut the beef sashimi-style and decoratively put on the plate.
Mix the ponzu sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, garlic and ginger together.
Pour the sauce over the beef and add sliced onion on top for decoration. Garnish with microgreens.

Are you a fan of sushi? If you make Andy’s recipes send us a photo and you might be featured on social media! [email protected]

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La Bella Vita: Take an Insider’s Journey to Italy

One of Europe’s most evocative and charismatic countries, Italy never ceases to amaze us with its ancient ruins, Renaissance riches and mouthwatering meals. It’s a country that’s irresistible because of its legendary sites, but also because of that enviable Italian sensibility for savoring the finer things in life and the sweeping dedication to enjoying the moment and living well – la bella vita.


Another Side of Italy
The iconic sites of Rome, Venice and Florence are truly only the beginning. You’ve seen Botticelli’s masterpieces in Florence and the Coliseum in Rome, but have you cooked a meal side-by-side with an Italian family in their farmhouse or discovered the Florentine art of paper marbling? Experience Italy’s celebrated cities in new ways and explore hidden secrets like Gaeta and Olbia. Go for the drive of a lifetime down the Amalfi Coast or explore the gourmet shops and markets of Rapallo while in Portofino. Authentic Italy awaits.


Buon Appetito

Gaeta Fort, Italy.

Of course, every great jaunt to Italy doubles as an invitation to delve into the local culinary scene, whether it’s sampling the delicious local street food – arancini or farinata, anyone? – or sipping a rare vintage at a centuries-old vineyard in Tuscany. On board, our gourmet restaurants complete the circle. Toscana isn’t simply an Italian restaurant – it’s an Italian experience, complete with an olive oil tasting menu, fresh bread and pasta made from scratch, delectable DOC cheeses and an exquisitely curated wine menu. You’re invited to come along on an insider’s journey with us to Italy this fall or next summer. Uncover the very best of this country’s cuisine, art and culture on our expertly curated Mediterranean voyages.

Benvenuto a Italia!

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