La Ruta Maya – Hi from Caye Caulker!

Colleen McCarthy – Jericho

It’s day 6 in Belize, our 1 full day in Caye Caulker. Day 1 was all about travel. After our 4 airport red-eye flight, we landed in Belize City at 9:30 am to be greated with a sign “Colleen and Sabrina – Go
Baracudas!”. Jason the taxi driver, a friend of Allie’s, took us to meet her at the water taxi station, and then off to the bus depot.

A few hours later we arrived at Aunt Helen’s in Georgeville in the north western Cayo district – close to where “La Ruta Maya” begins. Aunt Helen welcomed us with a big plate of rice and beans with deer stew. We spent the evening watching the parade of family members coming and going.

Aunt Helen is the matriarch of a rather large family with 31 grandchildren. Not bad for a 61 yr old. She is not only the matriarch of this beautiful family but also provides many things for the rest of the community as well. Being a forward thinker, she provided a hot lunch program for the school kids as far back as 20 yrs ago – feeding over 100 children. She’s also built them a library and a catholic chapel where the priest comes once a month to say mass. Throughout the almost 4 days we spent there she took it upon herself to introduce us to the local flavours and fatten us up for the big race. Never before have we eaten so much beans and rice, meat, powder buns, johnny cake and fry jacks. Here Sabrina met her new boyfriend, 7 yr old Devon, who followed her everywhere. And the evenings were beautiful. One evening we took a sunset walk up the lane and were guided home by the light of the fireflies.

Day 2 we met up with our toughest competition, Ana and Coy (sisters) for a 2.5 hr river paddle. The canoe is a few years old, and like everything else here, looks beaten up by the elements (but she runs beautifully!). We got in, watched by Ana and Coy’s whole family – and like we said before, families are big here. Aunt Helen’s family are Creole. Ana and Coy’s are Spanish. All the children are beautiful with big smiles, beautiful skin and curly hair. This family has 7 kids, small by Belizian standards. We managed to get in the canoe without tipping it over and off down the river we went. Our goals were to learn the canoe and how to negotiate the little rapids. We did pretty good. The river is low and we are a heavy crew. We didn’t tip over until we were 100 yds from the end and had spectators. Then we bottomed out under some bamboo and got dragged enough to carry scars. The 2nd attempt wasn’t much better. The bamboo wrapped around my arm and we were over again. Looks like we will be portaging some of these low spots.

Day 3 started with a cave tour – done in a canoe. Except this time we got to luxuriate in the middle. The only things we had to negotiate were the flashlights so we could see this sacred mayan place which included burial pots and skulls.

In the afternoon we were back on the river for another 3 hours. this time we went to the race start in San Ignatio and paddled from there. Only one little crisis, it’s a very shallow start and there’s some fancy negotiating under a couple of bridges. We took it a couple of times, trying to find the deep spots without hitting the bridge pylons. They’re talking of releasing some water from the dam on race morning, but it looks like we may be running our canoe through this part too.

Day 4 – Saturday was the day before our first race “Boom to Belize City”. No paddling. Instead we were tourists for the day, visiting the ancient Mayan city of Xunantunich. This was a fairly large city from 400 – 1000 AD, uncovered by archaeoligists within the last 60 yrs. You wouldn’t believe this place. Like Egyptian pyramids, it makes you wonder how a culture could build such amazing structures, 13 stories high with 9 foot high rock sculptures. The pictures we took do a better job of explaining this wonder. The top of this ancient city gave an outstanding view of Guatemala on one side and the Belizian country side on the other.

That night we headed to another friend’s house closer to the next morning’s race start and were in bed by 9:30. People get up early here. The city we were now in was Belmompan – the new capital of Belize. 30 yrs ago most of Belize City was wiped out by a hurricane so they decided to more the capital further inland to keep official documents safer.

Day 5 – Race Day!
We met out canoe and Wendy our sponsor at the site at 8 am after an hours travel in a cushy, comfy truck – in the cab this time. Gave the canoe some lovin and jumped in for a warmup to get rid of the shaky leg syndrome – still getting used to the canoe. 27 canoes lined up on a very skinny start line. We had canoes within 12 inches of either side of us when another one decided to sneak up in between. There is no ama on this canoe, greatly adding to our stress levels. I regretted this mostly when the thought of having no space between the canoes to put the paddle came to mind, but soon found a solution. That boat that squoze in and chocked us on the start line mustn’t have seen our logo. With the horn it was “take it away” paddles clashing, and I’m happy to say we came out the winners. You see our logo has a picture of a Baracuda snapping a paddle in half and that’s what happened. That dumb guy ended up holding two separate pieces, his paddle destroyed and we wwre off. Didn’t get very far though, a couple of strokes and there was another pile up. Our competitor and friend Ana was swimming in the water beside us. Someone had jammed the back of their canoe and she was catapulted out. The boat was upside down and needed to be swum to shore. It was all we could do to stay upright with all the wash and fury. Again, we started and this time broke through. It took 5 minutes for my legs to stop shaking so the boat could settle down.

It didn’t take long to pass a half dozen crews, mostly men, and find our spot in the pack. Strong head winds, deep water and current made us feel at home and happy for our training at Jericho. We did pieces for all of you and felt your energy and well wishes helping us through the first 2.5 hours. Could have used a little more help though during that half hour piece through the mangrove covered canal with its shallow still water. No worries, we got through it, and stretched it out as we hit head winds again for the final stretch to the finish line. Thanks to our support crew cheering us along the race course, we kicked some local butt to give our sponsor another 1st place trophy and ourselves $200 Belize. Not bad for the 3rd time in that canoe. The girls who flipped on the start line were less than 2 minutes behind us, so I guess we better keep training. Our time was 3 hours 6 mins. We will do this race again as day 4 of la ruta maya. Wonder what our time will be that day. By the way we were 12th overall out of 27 teams – mostly men. Not bad.

Today is day 6 and we are sitting on our sarongs sipping a cold beer at the Lazy Lizard watching the tourquise colored water drift by at the split. The reggae boys are seranading behind us.

Allie has been amazing, teaching us about the local customs, flora and fauna. Guiding us on our tours and planning the perfect pre race agenda to set us up for first place. She runs a tour agency here on Caye Caulker so we look forward to our unlimited access to the tours and the first class accomodations our sponsor Auxillou Beach Suites has provided us right on the beach. Check out coverage of Boom to the city at her website

Allie’s husband Joe is also a godsend putting us up in his hotel for two nights, feeding us frozen yogurt and fresh squeezed orange juice while teaching us how the locals wash their clothes. We are booked here for a week but will go back to the river if need be. La Ruta Maya calls.

Lots of Love,
Colleen McCarthy and Sabrina Schwanebeck

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