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Mar 7, 2003

6th annual Ruta Maya kicks off in Cayo

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Most of its publicity was drowned out by the noise of the election campaign, but this morning as dawn broke over the Hawkesworth Bridge, you’d never know there was any event this week more important than the big canoe race. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports from the banks of the Macal River in Cayo.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

…And they’re off in the sixth annual La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge. Depending on how serious you are about canoe racing, the event can be described as a four-day nature tour or one hundred seventy-four miles of back bending hell.

This year’s competition features a total of eighty-two boats…and with over sixty thousand dollars in prizes, it’s no wonder that the river jockeys are always looking for faster horses. According to committee chairman Orlando Harrison, trying to handicap the race can be confusing.

Orlando Harrison, Organising Committee, La Ruta Maya

“There’s been a lot of changes. Big H/Stamina Seaweed team is the one that Pine Lumber had last year. And Pine Lumber has my team from last year. Koop Sheet Metal winning champions are now riding for Builder’s Hardware. And Koop has come out with a new team, so it’s interesting what is going on out there right now. We can forward to a very competitive race.”

But while a dozen or so high tech boats will dash madly for the station prizes, the bulk of the entries are in it for the fun and challenge.

Stewart Krohn

“Why do you go in this race?”

Anne Foster, Swamp Witches

“For the joy of the river. It’s not so much as the race, but there’s a different side to Belize that most people don’t see until you go on the river.”

And going on the river-albeit at widely differing speeds-is what close to two hundred and fifty people were doing this morning. In canoes with names raging from “Maaga Tiny” to “Bling Bling” to… Old Farts boat) whatever they made their way from San Ignacio to Banana Bank on the first leg of the four-day challenge.

Stewart Krohn

“How much practice you put in for this race?”

Hugo Moguel, First Time Participant

“To be honest, a little but. Two full hard days, maybe a total of eight hours.”

Felipe Reyes, Kolbe Team

“Paddling down from San Ignacio, it’s very adventurous. It’s big money out there too.” (laughs)

But while some competitors are hoping to paddle all the way to the bank (Belize Bank boat), others are in it for more personal reasons. At age sixty-five, well-known Belize City businessman Johnny Searle is the oldest entrant, having convinced two of his sons to come along for the ride.

Johnny Searle, Oldest Participant

“Well I entered this race because my boys have been doing it. It’s something — have been doing for the last three years. We felt that we wanted to make a family affair our of it, and I felt I needed to do it while I was still young enough to still be able to do it.”

Stewart Krohn

“Any secret training that you’re been doing?”

Johnny Searle

“None at all. I had a good supply of gin and tonics.”

And speaking of gin and tonic, you don’t have to be in a canoe to enjoy La Ruta Maya. From the Hawkesworth to the Belcan there are hundreds of great places to watch the show.

Orlando Harrison

“Look for the nearest spot next to the river and get yourself out there with your icebox and everything and make sure that you’re in it for the fun.”

From the banks of the Macal River, I am Stewart Krohn for News 5.

The first sixty-two mile leg of the race was won by the Pine Lumber team in a time of five hours, twenty-nine minutes and nine seconds. In case you were wondering, the top canoeists average ninety strokes per minute over twenty-one total hours of paddling. By the time they reach the Belcan Bridge on Monday each team member will have made just under one hundred and twenty thousand strokes.


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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