Jambel Rebels Take Eco-Challenge

No one would have guessed that the number of participants at the second annual Ambergris Caye Lagoon-Reef Eco-Challenge would more than double this year with 45 teams competing, compared to last year’s 18 teams.

Last year’s titleholders Ramon’s Village Sponges competed to defend their title but were no match to the Jambel Rebels who finished strongly, paddling their way to victory at the Mar de Tumbo, grand prize station, last Sunday. Jambel Rebels’ team, consisting of 18 year old Elmer Cruz and 33 year old Leroy Romero stepped ashore Mar de Tumbo where they were cheered and congratulated by friends and supporters gathered at the beautiful beach area lying south of San Pedro Town. Defending champs Luis Rivero & Andy Carr finished at a strong 3rd place and Ramon’s second team Hamari finished 2nd.

This year’s race had a more diverse group of competitors, from amateur high school teenagers to experienced paddlers as were teammates of Jambel Rebels who were team members of the this year’s winning Ruta Maya team. (Ruta Maya being Belize’s longest canoe race). Participants of the race came from all over including neighboring Caye Caulker, mainland Sarteneja Village, USA and England, among others.

The kayak race took place from Saturday, May 6, to Sunday, May 7, in which participants were challenged on their strength and speed while at the same time enjoying a scenic trip through the mangrove creeks and waterways, lagoons, and reef ecosystems in and around Ambergris Caye. Organized by Elito Arceo, of Seaduced by Belize, the event had participating teams, navigating their way through lagoon waterways of North Ambergris Caye, lined with thick mangrove growth and teeming with the call of wildlife.

Organizers stress that the purpose behind the Eco Challenge is to promote awareness, protection, and conservation of the mangroves, lagoons, reef, and diverse species living in these beautiful natural habitats. “The race provides a fun way to help promote the conservation of the island’s natural beauty,” stated Elito Arceo, founder of the race. The race route took competitors on a thrilling 2-days of fun starting from the San Pedro Lagoon through more than twelve lagoons in the North Ambergris Caye area, including Laguna de Mata, Laguna de Cayo Frances, Laguna de Cantena, Los Arenales, and Laguna de Mexico. Other beautiful points that were traversed during the race were the San Juan area, Boca Bacalar Chico, Robles Point, Basil Jones, Punta Azul, and Mexico Rocks.

The race kicked off on Saturday, May 6, at the San Pedro Lagoon at 6:30a.m. and teams paddled their way towards the north entrance leading to the Mata Lagoon. Arriving first at the north entrance was Allie Ifield (single woman kayaker) followed by Jambel Rebels and the Ramons teams. But claiming the station prize at the end of the first leg of the race at Robles Point was the Jambel Rebels.

After all the teams had come in at Robles Point, they were fed with a delicious barbecue, including chicken, rice & beans, fresh fruit salad and cold drinks. And then the tired participants settled in for the night, dreaming about the next day’s final leg of the race. Out of the 45 teams that started the race only 10 teams succumbed to the strenuous conditions of the race and opted to drop out of the competition.

The race took off smoothly on Sunday morning, May 7, at 9:00a.m. Although still sore from the long trek on Saturday, the teams were very eager to take on the second part of the race and reach the finish line at Mar de Tumbo.

The loud fog horn signaled the start of the second leg of the race and after about 15 minutes it was clear to see that the three strongest teams were still Jambel Rebels and both teams from Ramon Village. They steadily pulled ahead of the group and set a strong pace towards the finish line. But the competition this year was very tight as the top five times were only a few minutes apart from each other.

Endurance was the key to the game and it was impressive to see all the teams giving it all that they had; they only stopped paddling for a couple of seconds to take a drink of water, Gatorade and the occasional Red Bull.

“This is one of the most challenging things I have ever done,” commented Suyapa Sosa to friends as she completed the race. “I loved the experience! It will be up there as one of the greatest things I have done in my life.”

Indeed it is a grueling race as all competitors expressed how challenging it was to paddle 29 miles on the first leg of the race, trek about one mile through waist-high mud and mangrove to cross from the lagoon to the front side of the island and then paddle the next day 14 more miles in rougher seas to the finish line.

Reef Radio kept everybody updated as they also followed the racers with Ambergris Today Newspaper aboard Seaduce’s Seaduction catamaran. A huge crowd gathered at the Mar de Tumbo beach, where the 10th annual Reef Festival was taking place, to witness the culmination of this one-of-a-kind race for Ambergris Caye. Shortly after 12:30 p.m. the first kayak emerged from the end of Banyan Bay’s pier and the crowd went wild, cheering for Jambel Rebels and Ramon’s teams Sponges and Hamari. In a time frame of about four hours, one by one the teams made it to shore and the crowd was there to cheer every single one of the teams giving them one final push of encouragement.

The top three teams were: First Place– Jambel Rebels (Elmer Cruz & Leroy Romero), Second Place – Ramons’ Hamari (Martin Carr & Loui) and Third Place – Ramons’ Sponges (Luis Rivero & Andy Carr).

The second annual Ambergris Caye Lagoon-Reef Eco-Challenge proved to be a bigger success than last year’s race and was again well received by the entire island as businesses supported and sponsored the teams and gave very generously towards prizes. There was not one team that left empty handed after the race as there were plenty station prizes all along the race track that assured each team to win something. Even last place took a prize home.

The organizing committee of the kayak race was overwhelmed at the increased response to the kayak race that they have already started to organize a new committee for next year’s race. Prize monies collected this year had to be divided amongst more participating teams thus the committee will commit to increasing fundraising efforts and broaden their search for more sponsorship to provide much better cash prizes. Even new junior (under 20) and senior (over 40) categories are expected to be added to the race.

The race is not a business venture, but a community event to promote environmental awareness and organizers hope to make the race grow each year, thus promoting the environment and San Pedro as a popular tourist destination, much like the Costa Maya Festival does.

The committee members asked Ambergris Today Newspaper to thank all sponsors, volunteers and participants of this year’s kayak race, in particular Martin Leslie, Miguel Alamilla and volunteers at Hol Chan for their huge assistance. Their participation made the race a bigger success. It is hoped that next year the race is even bigger and more successful!!

Wendy Auxillou
Auxillou Beach Suites
Caye Caulker, Belize