iSUP journey down the Belize River
story & photos by Todd Lawson
If we had known there were crocodiles in the Belize River, we might have changed our minds to undertake a week-long voyage through the middle of the country on what is essentially an inflatable piece of rubber. But here we are at the put-in and it's too late to back out now. “Well, put it this way,” said Paulo, a long-time local who we've been told to contact. “I've been running this river for more than 20 years and I've never had a problem with crocs....just watch out for the jaguars at night.” Right.
Nonetheless, we paddle into the calm current of the Macal River, the first few strokes slicing through the water with a sense of accomplishment that the journey has simply begun. The logistics and planning are over, the boards are packed with enough food to last us a week, and the stress is gone. The river takes it all away.
We're both new-b’s in the stand-up world, and as mountain-living Canadians, infinitely more comfortable in a canoe. We both make the mistake of trying to steer the iSUP too much in the mild rapids— the current tugs on the fins underneath and we go down one by one, laughing at our apparent lack of skills. As soon as we're stable and relaxed, the wonders of the landscape take hold. Towering stalks of bamboo line both sides of the river, their massive impenetrable greenery forming an eery barricade along both sides. While the slow-moving river is nearly silent, the air is most definitely not. Thousands of birds swoop down from riverside treetops — egrets, parrots, storks, herons and flycatchers — scanning the water for food.
The peace is soon broken by late-afternoon gusts of wind that nearly take us backwards. We stop to set-up an impromptu hammock-camp on an old river dock, pleased with our 'performance'.
“How far you think we traveled today?” I ask Christina, my girlfriend and paddle-partner.
She pulls out the map and we figure it out. Gulp. Our progress is minimal, maybe 10 miles at the most.
We agree that we have to start out real early in the morning to beat the wind.
We stick to the plan and are treated to a glassy-calm for the whole morning. We're loving the boards; ultra comfortable, easy to manoeuvre. Even fully-loaded they track nicely.
By midday there have been no croc sightings, Howler monkeys roar throughout the afternoon, our progress is better but we are still behind schedule, none-the-less we find another beautiful spot to set up camp. There’s no people in sight, and more importantly- no bugs either. There’s plenty of firewood and Christina and I set about building a fire and soak up our second day on the Macal.
After four full days on the water, we find a beautiful fresh-water stream spilling out of the forest. We stop for lunch and chat with some locals, we’ve kind of given up tracking our progress on the map so were curious to find out where we are and what lies ahead.
“Big crocodiles everywhere around the next bend. I think you are lucky to stop here,” says a local named Junior. “You can eat lunch here, or they will have lunch up there. You can decide.”
Christina looks around at the jungle, the sandy beach we're sitting on, the water cascading off the rocks.
“Umm, I think you just made the decision for us. Thanks Junior.”
Todd Lawson is the Publisher & Photo Editor of Mountain Life Magazine.
Todd Lawson approached C4 about this trip that he was taking, as a core waterman company we are always on the lookout for authentic ways to have our products represented. If you have a unique experience planned and would like some support from C4, please contact us liam@c4Waterman.com to see if you qualify.