Sunday, March 7, 2010


Pile up of 72 canoes as they pass under the Santa Elena Town wooden bridge at the start of the race. There is only a narrow vein of water to get through with dry season in full swing and the river low.

Near the START of the Friday, March 5th, 2010 Annual RUTA MAYA CROSS COUNTRY CANOE RACE

The Ruta Maya is held every year the first week of March. The race takes four days. It starts at 7 a.m. on a Friday morning. The race consists of 4 legs. The longest leg is the first day. Each evening for 3 nights, canoeists, their families, relatives, friends and supporters camp out on the bank of the Belize River. As I write this it is Sunday and the early morning today will see the racers start out from their 3 rd stage camping spot, for the final dash to the Port of Belize City. The total race is estimated about 200 miles. The average speed to get into the winners circle is 14.5 mph. Canoes have three paddlers. This year 72 entries were registered and started. Each canoe has a team of three paddlers.
The start was just at turning daylight and the light was coming up, but the sun had not risen on the old wooden bridge crossing the Macal River between the two towns of Santa Elena Town and San Ignacio Town. The race actually starts 300 yards up the Macal River under the high STEEL Hawksworth Bridge, a colonial relice 40 feet above the water. The second bridge on which these photos were taken are 300 yards down stream and only 5 feet above the water. In floods, this bridge is usually buried by flooding water. There is a lot of bumping into each other as the racers try to get under the pylons of the wooden bridge. When they come out, there is a gravel bank across the river with only one narrow rivulet of water, deep enough for canoes to pass. Those that didn't do there research, end up on the gravel bank and you see them wading and carrying their canoes across to the other side, to continue the race. This Macal River which drains the Belize Alps, joins the Mopan River coming from the Peten department of Guatemala about 12 miles away. The two rivers, the Macal and the Mopan join together a mile from here at the photos and form the Belize River which then meanders down to the Caribbean coast and the finish is off a side creek that passes near the coast at the port of Belize City. The finish is passing in the port town under a steel BELCAN BRIDGE donated and built by Canadians.
The race usually has contestants from myriad foreign countries. We have had them from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The British Army always enter the race too, but have never won. Most of the race teams are local Belizeans and the winners of past years have entered competitive canoe races in TEXAS, called the TEXAS SAFARI and won it a number of times against the USA teams. Contestants are old guys, called the OLD FARTS, there are girls racing, older women and the whole experience is one of mental CHALLENGE. Believe me, if you do not practice for a couple of months, you will never finish the race. The race for most is an adventure, a chance to see the country and experience the Belize River as a highway as our forebearers did, as this road was the highway of early days in our history of Belize. The camaradie of the three nights camping out with friends and teams on the banks of the Belize River are a great experience. Lots of stories and lies are swapped in excited tales around the campfires.

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