Hello again, one and all. There's just something about this blog that draws me to it on exact one-month intervals (or at least beginning to write on said intervals). In any event, here I am once more, for your reading pleasure.
Last month when we left off, Kathryn had begun her work with the Belmopan Library and I had just overcome a bout of strep throat. Following these events, we absconded for a Valentine's weekend at the beach in Placencia. We enjoyed good food, sea breezes, an arts festival, as well as cloudy skies, chilly swimming, and lodging that smelled like feet. Oh well, you can't win them all. We did enjoy ourselves, though, and were quite happy to have some one-on-one time without the usual day-to-day interruptions.
Following our little excursion, the month flew by with little to report. Kathryn took a day-trip to visit some other libraries with Ms. Mary (the librarian) and some members of the library board. They results were a mixed bag. On one hand, both libraries are well-stocked, facilitate computer labs, and enjoy plenty of space to meet their needs. On the other hand, the Belmopan library is struggling on each of these fronts. So, as per usual, Kathryn has plenty of work to do. On a positive note, Kathryn began her after-school reading program last week and has enjoyed participation of ten students. And that's even before she began promoting!
On my end, I've been scheduling and occasionally presenting workshops for the conflict management program. I say "occasionally presenting" because I have postponed three in the last few weeks, which has been quite bothersome. But we persevere, and I'm determined to make sure these schools hear what I have to say. Also, I attended a meeting with some other Peace Corps Volunteers to create a volunteer support network. We're still in the development stages, but I'm pretty excited to be a part of it.
And finally, the single most time- and energy-consuming part of the past month has been La Ruta Maya. Each year for the past 14 years, people have come together to participate in this four-day, 175-mile canoe race on the Belize River. Kathryn and I have been hearing about this literally since we arrived last year. "Grueling," "painful," "exhausting," and "friendship-destroying" are just a few of the descriptions we heard from friends and other volunteers. But Kathryn decided, despite the words of caution and warning, to participate. And so our adventure began.
In the beginning, it was simple. "Cisco, if I race, you'll be on my support crew, right?" Of course I would. I'm supportive. I don't have any other plans that weekend. I can watch the race and cheer you on. But then, as race day closed in, responsibility set in; "You and Elsa are going to be in charge of getting food," "Can you help ask around to find sponsors?" and "When we're on the water, you're in charge of...". Then, two weeks prior to the race, Kathryn went up north for a training weekend with the other two racers, Kaitlyn and Heather. The three of them, and two more support crew members, made a girls weekend of it, and Kathryn came back pumped. They spent five hours on the lagoon that Saturday and got the feel for how they would work together during the race.
Before we knew it, the race was upon us. Despite some last-minute scares, we found enough people willing to chip in and a vehicle-owning friend kind enough to drive us all over the countryside. Thursday morning we finished packing, and a little after lunch-time we were on the road in two separate cars headed to San Ignacio. I went with our driver-for-the-weekend and some other volunteers; Kathryn went with the canoe and the kindhearted friend from church who agreed to transport it. We made it in town early in the afternoon, setting up camp with another volunteer friend, and I finished off the worst of the grocery shopping. Buying food for eight people over 4 days is no small task. Kathryn and the rowers left at 4:00 for the pre-race meeting that was scheduled to start at 4:30. When they returned at 6:00, they informed us that the meeting was being pushed back to 7:00. So all the supporters began dinner preparations, knowing full-well that we wouldn't have things ready before they left for the meeting. In any case, they left shortly thereafter, and returned at 7:30--we just finished making dinner, and the meeting still hadn't started. They did find out, however, that the race would begin promptly at 7am, which meant leaving no later than 6:00. We hit the hay pretty early that night.
The next morning we arrived under the Hawksworth Bridge shrouded by the early-morning mist. I would have worn my track jacket if I hadn't given it to Kathryn. We prepped the canoe--securing the extra paddle, tying down the paint bucket with their lunch, strapping in the seat-cushions, duct-taping foam on Kathryn's seat since she was the odd-one-out. The girls were in the water by 6:30, nervously paddling around the congested waters. We later found out that more than 80 teams had entered the race. It was a sight to see. Despite my knowing better, the support team decided to hurry down the road to the second bridge in San Ignacio, only a couple hundred yards by boat but half-a-mile by car, to watch everyone pass. We heard the starting gun as we pulled out of the parking area, and I barely saw Kathryn pass after running from where we parked towards the crowd covering the bridge and areas around it.
Following the chaotic start to the race, we sped back to pack our things into the vehicle. It was only then that we realized that we had taken multiple vehicles to get to San Ignacio but only had one to leave it. After much shoving, cramming, swearing, and general frustration, we finally packed everything into the car and hit the road. We waited for the girls to pass Spanish Lookout around noon, tossing them some fruit as they sped by. Then we were off once more, heading to the final destination of the day to set up camp--this time, with tents and all.
Kathryn, Kaitlyn, and Heather crossed the finish line that day a little after 3:00, after more than eight hours on the river. Definitely tired, I think that evening they began to truly understand what this race would require of them. The sun set by about 6:30, leaving us to dine in darkness. We ate well, tried to attend to the needs of the paddlers, prepared the next day's lunch, and were in bed by 7:30.
The next morning began right around 5am. We rose to cold like none of us had ever experienced in Belize (don't worry, not cold enough to frost or anything). We realized that we didn't have time to get our grill burning to make a decent breakfast, so the girls made-do with some burritos provided by the race. Not ideal, but passable. The race began at 6:30am, though I don't know how any of the competitors could keep their eyes open. The crew went to Belmopan to pick up a few sundry supplies we had missed and then took off for Bermudian Landing. There we stayed at Shannon's home, which was incredibly kind considering the amount of time she was already dedicating as a member the support crew. We unloaded, relieved that we would be spending two nights there and not have to repack everything. The girls finished the second day around 3:30, clocking more than nine hours on the river. That evening we were all feeling the beginnings of exhaustion, but we made time for dinner, shower, and massages for the paddlers before bed.
Day three was the one Kathryn describes as the most difficult. After finishing the longest day, she had the impression that it would be smooth sail-... er... paddling for the last two days. Unfortunately, most of the current of the river dies out for the third day as it widens and winds slowly toward the sea. We on the crew were able to see a decent amount of the action, and as I mentioned, were able to continue using Shannon's as home base since the 40-miles of river only cross about 10-miles of land. I also discovered how stressed I get when I have to wait. At each spectating stop we made, I jittered around nervously in anticipation for about 45 minutes to an hour before we finally saw the girls. What I mess.
By the final day of the race, we had all reached the point of resignation. We resigned ourselves to finish in spite of the way our minds and bodies screamed. After watching the start, the crew ran back to pack all our gear for the journey home. Ugh. Then we raced to Belize City, trying to decide what to do next. We began by scoping out the finish line. Unlike the rest of the race, which occurs near the river in very rural areas, the finish is right in front of a bridge in the middle of the city. There was absolutely no shade whatsoever. We also realized we had to drop off some of our things before the girls finished if we were to have a chance at fitting the canoe equipment in the vehicle. So we took the opportunity to get out of the heat. We did see the first teams finish. They finished in a cool two-and-a-half hours. It was incredible to see, though, since the overall results for the first two teams, separated by seconds at the finish, were decided by a matter of seconds as well. Can you imagine racing for four days within seconds of the same opponent?
The "Three Little Birds" arrived just before one o'clock. The joy and elation of the finish was inspiring. It almost makes me want to try it next year. Of course, I spent most of my time letting the girls celebrate and taking care of the canoe and equipment. It all ended rather quickly, really. They wanted to shower before doing anything else, and, due to bus schedules and work commitments the following day, everyone was quick to depart. Kathryn and I were a bit tense on the way out, leaving it until that day to find a ride home. We normally have no qualms with taking the bus, but given the extreme quantity of belongings we had to return, we had to go for private transportation (By the way, the US ambassador and his family are wonderful, down-to-earth people to whom we owe a bit of thanks).
And that gives you some inkling of what it's like to support a Ruta Maya team. Apologies for the play-by-play nature, but it's really difficult to boil down all those days in any sort of concise narrative fashion.
Anyway, by this point Erebos is four days neutered. After being disturbingly over-dosed (not overdosed), to the point that he went to the litter box, missed, and passed out, he recovered incredibly well, and we can no longer tell any difference in his behavior. So much for this calming him down. Also, Kathryn's mother and step-brother Danny are arriving tomorrow. We have an action-packed schedule for the next week or so, so that should be exciting indeed.
Finally, thanks again to all of you who read about, think of, and care for us from afar. Despite loving our experience here, we miss you all very much. For all the emails, facebook messages, wall posts, blog comments, letters, and packages: Thank you. Until next time.