Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge, an extreme endurance race that entails running, biking, canoeing, spelunking and certainly not limited to these, now joins Belize’s top races. It is now the longest race in Belize with over 300 miles spanning 4 days, a record previously held by Belikin La Ruta Maya at 180 miles in 4 days and followed by the Holy Saturday Cycling Classic at 130 miles in 1 day. This new adventure tests the human ability and pushes it to its very limits. It is unbelievable what the participants are put to do. This race is to be held every 2 years and covers an area of San Ignacio Town, Mopan River, Xunantunich, Macal River, El Pilar, rural farming areas, the Mountain Pine Ridge and the Chiquibul National Park.
The Chiquibul National Park is a large broadleaf tropical forest covering an area of 423,000 acres and is home to some of Belize’s most beautiful wildlife like the Jaguar, Scarlet Macaw and large hard woods like the Mahogany and Cedars. They are all being affected by the treat of deforestation and poaching. Years of research by Friends of Conservation and Development (FCD) show that these animals are being smuggled into the neighboring country of Guatemala. Major areas of the forest is being destroyed for agricultural uses by those living within the adjacency zone of the Western Border. The losses of timber are in the millions and not the entire wood is being used, but simply that which can be carried on horse back. Small streams are even being redirected and dredged to allow for gold panning. The Maya sites in the area are also being looted for items that can be sold in the black market. Friends for Conservation and Development needed help to bring attention into the Chiquibul for awareness and to fund their projects, and one great way to do this is with tourism, as new areas will soon be accessible by the tour operators to take tourists. Another way is via the Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge.
I had the opportunity to share the experience and witness the start of the race with my friend, Stephanie, from the marketing team for the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. A total of fourteen teams entered the race, with participants from the United States of America, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France, Norway, Sweden and Belize. The two Belizean teams are Team sanignaciobelize.com with Scout Underwood and Hilberto Rash in the 2 man team, and the Chiquibul Grisons, comprising a mixed group of four: Derric Chan (team captain), Boris Arevalo, Jose Sierra and Gina Lovell. The Cayo Tour Guide Association sponsored the Belizean team Chiquibul Grisons and San Ignacio Resort Hotel sponsored both teams.
The race started at exactly 10 a. m. on Saturday at the Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio. The participants ran the 12 miles journey westward towards the border. Awaiting them by the river side were the canoes that were to be used for the next leg of the race. The participants took some time to resupply themselves with water and promptly dragged their canoes into the river and paddled downstream on the Mopan River. On this section of the river, the danger is very high. There are very sharp and protruding rocks that can easily flip a canoe, as well as many other hazards like logs wedged in the river. The paddlers made it to the ferry in San Jose Succotz, where they trekked the mile up hill to Xunantunich Archeological Reserve, an ancient city once occupied by the Maya. They had to climb to the top of El Castillo and quickly register that check point. El Castillo is a palace standing 130 feet above the plaza where the elite family lived. Immediately thereafter, the teams ran back down to the river bank and continued to paddle downstream, passing villages like Calla Creek and Bullet Tree Village. From there they paddled to Branch Mouth, an area where the Macal River and the Mopan River meet and become the Belize River. They paddled upstream the Macal River and entered into downtown San Ignacio, and made their way through the town and up to Cahal Pech Resort, completing that giant loop. They then got on their bicycles and rode to El Pilar Archeological Reserve, a journey of approximately 12 miles. At this point, the teams were exhausted. It was night time, but they had the will to move further and push their bodies. They then registered the check in there and began the journey towards the Mountain Pine Ridge, and ultimately into the Chiquibul National Park, where more checkpoints and tests awaited. This journey for them was only the beginning, the first day.
As a spectator you could feel the adrenaline in the air. The energy surrounded you. I can compare it to the same positive energy when you watch the Cross Country Cycling Classic or the Ruta Maya. This is a new race that many did not know about but has certainly earned its place as the top and longest race in Belize, at least in my book. All participants are winners in this sport.