La Ruta Maya River Challenge held Print E-mail
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Friday, 15 March 2019 00:00

The team supported by the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) are the overall first place winners of the 22nd Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge. The three paddlers, Hener, Efrain and Felix Cruz, with six months of rigorous training behind them, reached their destination at the Bel-can Bridge on Monday within a combined time of 18 hours, 22 minutes and 11 seconds in the four-stage race.

NICH was followed by Crunch Time and the Referendum Paddlers, who reached the Belcan within 18 hours, 29 minutes, 38 seconds and 18 hours, 34 minutes and 24 seconds, respectively. For NICH, it was a close shave in lead time.

The now internationally-renowned river challenge began  at 7:00 a.m. underneath the majestic Hawkesworth Bridge in Santa Elena on Friday.  This time, 61 teams had placed paddle to water with intent to undertake the grueling 108-mile river course within a span of four days.

The first challenge for the paddlers was the 46 mile course from San Ignacio to Banana Bank last Friday where the defending Champion Team NICH was the first to cross the marking point in five hours, two minutes and twenty-five seconds. The NICH team was just three minutes ahead of Burn Box, and Be Informed, going in third place on the first day.

On Day two, Saturday, 61 teams took the difficult 60 miles from Banana Bank to Double Head Cabbage where Crunch Time arrived first within five hours, fifty one minutes and twenty seconds, followed by the Referendum Paddlers.

This was followed by the deeper 36 miles of crystal water that had to be traversed from Double Head Cabbage to Burrell Boom on Sunday with the NICH Team leading just like in the first stage and Crunch Time trailing closely. In the fourth stage of the race and after 25 miles of paddling from Burrell Boom to Belize City, the NICH team had accelerated in the last few minutes to their triumph.

In 1998, the La Ruta Maya River Challenge was seen as an opportunity to launch Big H Products around an event. It was also seen as an opportunity that had the components of culture, history and the environment intertwined. Today, while the number of racing paddlers have decreased, it has added enterprising aspects such as food, music and canoe making.

The Macal and Belize Old River have had a great historical significance to the development of the Cayo District and Belize. While the Macal River joins the Mopan River at ‘Branch Mouth’ form the Belize Old River, the Macal River has its origins in the Chiquibul Area, which is now guarded by the Friends for Conservation and Development.

As early as 1905, the first successful trip was made along the Belize Old River from Belize City to the area now known as San Ignacio Town. According to the late Elias Awe, at that time the only access to El Cayo was via steam boats or Cayo boats. It took some four days to travel from El Cayo to Belize City. It was customary for the boats to bring luxury goods and canned foods from Belize City and take back fresh bananas, fruits, vegetables and ‘bush meat’ on their return trip.

The Belize Old River, now forming a scenic back drop to the current La Ruta Maya paddlers, also served as a major trading route for several Maya centers such as Xunantunich, El Pilar, Cahal Pech and Altun Ha.  Over the years this historic river has also been the life blood for many Belizeans living downstream, not only as a drinking supply but for major agricultural activities.

“There are a lot of things that are centered around this race. Importantly, it is creating awareness on the environmental aspects of the river, as there is erosion, there is garbage on the river and we try to highlight the need to maintain the river clean and healthy for the use of people downstream. So, we are happy that we have partnered with… the communities along this river to create that awareness, the history, the environmental aspect and the cultural aspects of this race,” says Roberto Harrison, the Vice Chair of the 2019 La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge.

“The important thing is that the race is kept alive. The race becomes a part of a four-day weekend where people join and are able to enjoy, learn about the things happening in the river, learn about the communities along the river.”

This year’s race would not have ended well had it not been for the great support rendered by BECOL, service boats and others. Even the Protected Areas Conservation Trust had strategically placed a cook in the course in support of its paddlers.