Four days. 170 miles of rapids and rushing waters. Welcome to La Ruta Maya. The annual canoe race sees teams of three paddle down the Belize River on their epic journey, beginning on March 9.
Here at Ka'ana, we're privileged to be just eight minutes from the race's launchpoint at Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio. Hundreds of locals see the racers off with rowdy cheers and a marimba band. From there, the groups of professional and amateur canoers speed through 49 winding miles to Banana Bank. Resting for the night, the 100 or so teams—from the likes of Belize, USA, Canada, Japan, and Britain—start out again the next morning for another day of paddling, this time for 60 miles. The last two days are sprints: 36 miles on the third, and a marathon's-worth 26 miles on the fourth, ending in Belize City where the river meets the Caribbean.
Along the way, canoers have to brave the elements and battle rapids. Some shallow areas require teams to carry their canoe by foot, and heavy winds near the Caribbean can upset the tip-prone vessels.
Who would want to race in such a grueling event? Ka'ana's very own Miguel Mangadid, one of our beloved bartenders, has been participating since high school. "Back when I was a student, I got scholarships from the annual race to finish my studies both in high school and college," he says. "So participating each year is a form of appreciation for me."
This year, Ka'ana is sponsoring Miguel's team, and our whole staff is excited for his chances of winning. "They've organized a set schedule of training for me," jokes Miguel. "It's been an intense few months!"
With less than a month left before the big day, Miguel sat down with us to share his thoughts about the upcoming race, and what makes La Ruta Maya so special.
What is your team's name?
For now our team name is still pending, but we're leaning towards "Western Invaders."
Does your family watch the race?
Yes! We have the tradition where they follow my team through the 4 days of the event, cheering us along all the way to Belize City.
What's the sense of community amongst racers?
I have really close family and friends in the event, and since I've been in the race for so long, it feels like everyone knows each other. During the race everyone is focused on winning. But after the race, it's incredible to gather with everyone and talk about the challenges and exciting moments during the race. I've built up a sort of popularity over the years among a lot of the participants, and the more experience you have the better paddler you become and better position you get on the team.
What are you most excited or nervous about with the race?
Every year the race is different. The river changes, the teams change. My main concern, but also excitement this year, is that we have changed one of our team members. Now instead of 3 men, we are competing in the co-ed category with a woman joining the team. She is well experienced, but it's a change from the previous year, so it is both exciting and nerving.
Come cheer on Miguel next month! Can't come in March? No problem. He'll be happy to share his experiences along the river with you anytime at Ka'ana's bar. Reserve your next stay at Ka'ana here.