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May 26, 2015

Eleventh Lagoon/Reef Eco-Challenge Held in San Pedro

Twenty-seven teams in brightly coloured ocean-going kayaks – forty-two gruelling miles from San Pedro Town to the northern-most creek bordering Mexico, and then back to town. The eleventh Lagoon/Reef Eco-Challenge, observers say, was one of the closest ever, with the teams finishing in record time. The annual race is a test of physical and mental strength and stamina, but its founders say that it’s also about raising awareness of the importance of preserving the island’s precious ecosystems. Our News Five team tagged along and tonight Mike Rudon has part one of the amazing and unforgettable two-day eco-challenge.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

By six a.m. Saturday morning, the twenty-seven teams taking part in this year’s race were making final preparations – checking kayaks and paddles, water, Gatorade and fruits to sustain them during the gruelling first leg. There was excitement and anticipation from the participants and also from the service crews and observers who would follow the race from start to finish. And just in case you’re getting the impression that this is just a leisurely two days on the water…it’s not. It’s a serious race for serious paddlers only – maybe smaller in scope than the Ruta Maya, but just as challenging.

 

Armin Lopez

Armin Lopez, Ruta Maya Expert

“The two of them are really hard. You can’t say one or the other. It’s just different because of the river but back here is shallow and its sea. It gets really shallow and muddy. It gets very competitive back there. I love the race. That’s why I come follow it every year.”

 

Elito Arceo, Organizer, Kayak Eco-Challenge

“We leave San Pedro, behind the San Pedro Lagoon, we go through the middle of the island which is the creeks and different lagoons…we come out at an area called Brasilete. From there we head on to the Mexico/Belize border at which point we go into another lagoon, cross…run…jump, however you want to do it…to the other side of the island where we’ll camp out for the first night.”

 

Jordan Santos, Team Chicken Puff

“We trained for like two months…mostly all we need to do is long distance training because it’s a lot of miles.”

 

Jimmy Polonio, Team Bulldogs

“Yu hafto put in the mileage…you hafto put in the hours because it’s a really long distance race. If you only put in a little bit of time you won’t make the race because it’s not an easy race. It’s a brutal race.”

 

Jimmy Polonio

Jose Villamil

“This is a challenging race due to the fact that we have to go through a mudpit…mud to yu knee.”

 

After a minor delay to secure kayaks for all participants, paddlers lined up at seven thirty, awaiting the countdown to signal the start of the race.

 

And they were off, with some of the stronger teams already jockeying for position while some of the newcomers just struggled to keep up. The first part of the trek would take the paddlers about four miles up the lagoon to this inlet where they would be lost from sight for almost two hours as they manoeuvred the shallow creeks meandering through the centre of the island. They would emerge here in Frenchman Lagoon in an area known as Brasilete. To get back into the main body of the lagoon they would have to carry their kayaks over a stretch of land and mangrove swamp.

 

And that’s when the first team, one of the front-runners, called it quits…

 

Victor Hernandez

Victor Hernandez, Team Cool Riders

“We mi deh way da front but mi knee mi caan’t go nomo.”

 

Jessie Smith, Team Cool Riders

“We mi deh right deh pon di top three. Yu know but like di man seh if he can’t paddle I noh wah force di man fu paddle. Health come first so we decide fu just quit.”

 

Elito Arceo

“This is the fastest we’ve seen this race run. Usually we’re in this particular area around one o’clock, two o’clock in the afternoon and as you can tell right now it’s a little after eleven o’clock so we’re two hours ahead of schedule.”

 

Shortly after that another team called it off…and a half hour after a third – but the organizers made the decision to switch out paddlers so that one of the teams could continue the race…just for the fun of it. By that time two kayaks paddled by the Fisheries and Coast Guard teams were in first and second place, far from the rest of the pack.

 

The Fisheries team entered this narrow waterway at least ten minutes ahead of the Coast Guard team. Incredibly, this creek separates Belize and Mexico – Belize to the right and Mexico to the left. That’s a Mexican skiff passing by on their side of the border, so to speak. We waited around only long enough to see the Coast Guard kayak enter the creek – and also to drop off this young team which wanted to finish the race paddling – before heading around to meet the race at the finish line at Robles Point, where we would camp for the night.

 

And at a little after two pm, a new record for the race, the Fisheries team came in paddling strong, with the spectacular reef as their backdrop.

 

James Alford

James Alford, Team Fisheries

“Ih mi good. We only ketch wah lee cramp now and then but da mi still wah nice race. Ih mi easier this time. I done mi come last time but ih mi easier this time.”

 

Carlos Ramirez, Team Fisheries

“This has been pretty hard because you have a lot of guys that know a lot of shortcuts…so you’d be in front then sudden one you’d see the guys them pop up next to us..so that was actually the challenge for the race. And then the mudpits…mein that was no joke.”

 

James Alford

“Mi partner midi shove…although ih old ih midi do wah thing still yet.”

 

Minutes after, it was the Coast Guard team coming in.

 

Alfonso Lind

Alfonso Lind, Team Coast Guard

“We put in the hours that we needed to put in, and we trained hard so we could race easy.”

 

Reporter

“We saw that Fisheries was just fifty feet ahead of you guys…what happened?”

 

Alfonso Lind

“When we were there we closed the gap, we got on the wave, but we worked too hard to get on the wave so by that time we were all the way at zero. We were worn out already so we couldn’t stay with them. They dropped an attack on us and they left us.”

 

Daniel Gregorio

Daniel Gregorio, Team Coast Guard

“On the distance they took on us it will be hard but maybe…you never know. But to me I say it’ll be hard to try to close that gap.”

 

And then Team Bulldogs, obviously exhausted from trying to catch up to the two front-runners.

 

Roy Bradley, Team Bulldogs

“We hafto deh chase and lotta thing back deh…kill we body like dat.”

 

Roy Bradley

Reporter

“Unnu deh wah lee distance behind…maybe wah ten, fifteen minutes behind. You think you could mek that up tomorrow?”

 

Roy Bradley

“We can’t mek that mein. Da too much minutes that. If we lef dem like twenty minutes then maybe we could win the race like that. Cho ih too hard how dem bwoy deh paddle hard. They deh drill too.”

 

It was a spectacular finish of the first leg of a hard-fought race – a spectacular finish in a spectacular setting, reminding all those present that the Eco-Challenge is designed to draw attention to the environment.

 

Elito Arceo

Elito Arceo

“We want to bring an awareness of protection and conservation of the areas that we’ll be paddling through…and one way to do that is of course to highlight it so everybody can take a lot at it, enjoy it and keep it the way it is.”

 

Paddlers camped overnight at Robles Point, resting tired bodies for the final leg of the race which would end at the central park in San Pedro Town. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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