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Mar 4, 2022

Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge Begins; PACT Wins First Leg

After a two-year interruption caused by the COVID Pandemic, and very short notice, the Annual Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge is on. For the next three days, forty-six teams competing in eight different categories are paddling from Santa Elena Town, Cayo, to Belize City. Our news team of reporter, Marion Ali, and cameraman, George Tillett, were there at the start this morning.

 

Marion Ali, Reporting

The sounding of the horn and the sprint from the Hawkesworth to the low-lying wooden Bridge in Santa Elena Town at seven a.m., marked the resumption of what has been one of Belize’s biggest sporting traditions – the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge. Forty-nine miles and five hours two minutes later, the team paddling for the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) zipped across the finish line in Banana Bank first, about a canoe’s length in front of Slim and Trim Like Guava Limb. Jerry Cante, a familiar face to the sport, is team leader.

 

Jerry Cante

Jerry Cante, Team PACT

“We didn’t have enough training to come out as a team, so we had to come out here and gamble it out to the finish so we used our experience on the other team and that’s what helped us. We got the victory today.”

 

Marion Ali

“What were the challenges along the forty-nine miles?”

 

Jerry Cante

“Well it was a very tough start for us from the beginning. We didn’t come out the way we expected to come out.”

 

Marion Ali

“You won!”

 

Jerry Cante

“Yes, we won but the river is pretty shallow for us. I think we are the heaviest team of all those other teams because they are lighter than us so they were making use of their weight today because today was a very shallow day, so we had to work pretty hard in those shallows.”

 

Another veteran to canoe racing, former champion Chris Guydis, told News Five he still gets a thrill taking part. But he admitted that the COVID pandemic has likely taken away some of the steam paddlers once possessed.

 

Chris Guydis

Chris Guydis, Guydis Canoe Steeler Team

“Nobody in shape for this one because we get probably a month or so notice, so nobody in shape so everybody will take lick today. Yoh have a couple guys weh probably have a month training – some of the top guys them, but for me and my team, just three days training for this one.”

 

Marion Ali

“But you have experience on your side?”

 

Chris Guydis

“Yeah, we have the experience but we will just take our time today and try finish.”

 

The female team members for Koop Sheet Metal this year are confident enough to take up the paddle, despite the short training time.

Lily Cruz

Lily Cruz, Koop Sheet Metal Team

“We did the best of training we could have get.”

 

Marion Ali

“How much did you put in?”

 

Lily Cruz

“Exactly a month.” 

 

Marion Ali

“Was it as long a leg as one of these ones?”

 

Lily Cruz

“Yeah, we did five long legs the first day and then we did short ones.”

 

Organizing a race of this magnitude came with its challenges this year because of the uncertainties of the pandemic. But organizer Roberto Harrison said experience took them through.

 

Roberto Harrison

Roberto Harrison, Vice Chairman, Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge

“We started out late in terms of planning. The Ministry of Health gave us the go-ahead at least verbally the middle of January. We didn’t know until about the first week in February, so that was the amount of time we had to plan the four-day event. What we wanted to do is to have the world out there know – the paddlers that are participating today got the word that the race was on and that we also knew there were some COVID protocols that we had to follow. Thank God some of those were relaxed.”

 

This year, even the river posed some problems.

 

Roberto Harrison

“There is some difficulty between San Ignacio and Banana Bank because there are a lot of rapids and low spots along this forty-nine miles. So those would probably be the challenging spots. I also know that because of the floods of 2020 there’s quite a bit of trees on the route which we have highlighted and pinpointed to the paddlers to look out for.”

 

Harrison reminded us that the event was borne out of concerns raised in 1998 over a long Baron Bliss holiday with few activities to entertain people.

 

Roberto Harrison

“We were toying around the fact that it was a long weekend – the Baron Bliss day it was called then – nothing happening in San Ignacio. We thought that we wanted to do a canoe race but to commemorate or in appreciation of Baron Bliss Day. We said well, a race to where? A race down the race, yes, but to where? And we thought that a one-day race wouldn’t be enough and hence the four-day (idea) came along.” 

 

As the race has evolved and drawn international attention, many of the competitors look to the event to earn bragging rights, others find the long-distance therapeutic, but for Guydis, the race has also been an income earner.

 

Chris Guydis

Chris Guydis

“I went to Canada and did some studying on building wooden boat and with my idea and paddling the race, whenever I sit eena one ah deh ya I can see where I can adjust the boat soh I could get it goh faster. All of the top paddlers today are paddling one of the Guydis boats soh I grateful to all these guys who buy a boat from me. They have faith in me and that’s a big plus for me.”

 

This year, as in the past, there will be prizes for winning teams in eight categories. The next two stops over the weekend at Double Head Cabbage, Burrell Boom and the finish in Belize City.

 

Marion Ali reporting for News Five.


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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