Literally translated – the Maya’s route, the Belize Old River, served as a major trading route, with various important centers as Xunantunich, El Pilar, Cahal Pech and Altun Ha lining its banks. Later it served as the predominant highway for transporting valuable timber and logwood for the British who settled in Belize.
Today, the race follows this historical route and occurs each year in March, coinciding with Baron Bliss Day (March 9th). Hundreds of canoes line up to make the journey of almost 180 miles of grueling paddling down the Belize River. Teams of three per canoe start early on Friday morning vying for the station prizes along the way at the various villages they pass through, then stop to camp together each night. Every morning it’s a shotgun start and off again to conquer the next stage. The British Army keeps the official time and the standings are determined by accumulative time over four days on the river.
The first canoes enter Belize City to cheering crowds at about 10:00 am on the last day, coinciding with the Baron Bliss Day Celebrations in honor of Belize’s great benefactor Henry Victor Edward Bliss, who left a significant will to the people of Belize.
The winners of this race are world class teams but every single team is racing the other canoes around them. The paddlers in the race vary in experience levels from the world class to the novice. A great deal of canoeing experience is not required but having the heart to compete in a marathon-like event is.
The La Ruta Maya River Challenge has now become a major public and tourist attraction. It rivals other Belize Sailing events such as the Baron Bliss Harbour Regatta. The event is open to the general public and everyone is invited to enjoy fun filled days with food, live entertainment, games, prizes and of course close up of views of the action as the race passes populated areas.
See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CibtbsoBF5E