Belize’s unique New Year’s adventure arrival

Recreation of Balboa’s 1500s Voyage by Jet ski?


When Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez De Balboa did it in the 1500s it was a big deal. Now that another Spanish adventurer is making the same trip, why is it a big deal?

Because Alvaro de Marichalar is doing it all by Jet Ski.

When Balboa became the first European to set foot in the Pacific Ocean via Panama he at least had a ship and crew, but de Marichalar is travelling from the US mainland to the isthmus of Panama all alone on a Jet ski, a 260 horsepower water scooter called “Numancia”, with 1,300 cc engine. Just like you see tourists zipping around on.

So when he pulled into the Princess Marina in Belize on New Year’s day, the average onlooker would be forgiven for thinking this was just another sun-darkened tourist out for a day of fun, and anyone would be hard pressed to believe he crossed the open seas from Havana, Cuba on his little machine.

Why, you may ask? Let’s let Mr de Marichalar tell us in his own words.

“The purpose is setting a new world record for my country (Spain) and commemorate 500 years of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Vasco Nunez de Balboa who was the first European who saw it from Panama peninsula. We are celebrating as well the 5th centennial the discovery of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon, who was the first European to see the United States of America.”

So, to achieve that goal, Mr de Marichalar has so far spent 10 days on the sea to cover some 500 nautical miles in the open weather and handling whatever the sea has to throw at him. And he still has another 1,500 more to go after leaving Belize to reach his goal.

Imagine, travelling the open seas, out of sight of land, alone on a jet ski.

What was it like? Again, let’s hear it from the man himself, as reported by Belize 7 News’ reporter Daniel Ortiz, who was on hand to greet the navigator when he finally pulled into Belize.

“I travelled alone, I started in Miami, so the first stage was Key West, and from Key West I cross all the way to Havana; that was 100 nautical miles at open sea, a bit bad condition. Then I went from the coast of Cuba all the way to Cancun; that’s 125 nautical miles without seeing any land. It took me 12 hours because it was rough and the current was strong like 6 knots strong current. Thank God I arrived in Cancun. I GPS broke, so I had to navigate with a compass, that was tricky.”

“And then from Cancun I went to Tulum and from Tulum I went back all the way yesterday to Belize.”

So how exactly do you travel such distances by Jet Ski?

“I travel all the time standing up, it’s the only way not to break a spine and I eat when I arrive to ports. I drink when I can stop at land, shower, find gas, food, water and sometimes I sleep aboard my water scooter; I lie down and I sleep like 2-3 hours at open sea.”

Now, like most people in Belize, we’re familiar with the sea – how can you not be when you have the most pristine, beautiful part of the Caribbean right at your front door, protected by the world’s second largest barrier reef? But, like most people, we like to travel in a boat where you can get out of the harsh sun, wind and rain when you want to, and even cook meals and have a bunk to sleep in.

The fact that Mr de Marichalar chooses to do it on a craft designed for hours, not days on the water intrigued us right from the start. But the more we learned about him, the more sense his voyage started to make.

First of all, he is no novice to sea adventures, having made a name for himself in 2002 by crossing the Atlantic from Italy to New York to grab a world record for longest voyage on a 2.9 metre boat called the “Atlantik” . That’s less than nine feet for the non-metric, or a small dinghy by comparison. Our surfboard is bigger. But no matter how you calculate it, that’s a tiny vessel for a 10,000 nautical mile trip.

On this latest voyage, his transport is named the “Numancia”, which he said stands for the small Spanish city that resisted Roman conquest some 20 centuries ago. “Numancia means that they are willing to fight and they are willing to survive against all odds and they are willing to make true your dream,” Mr de Marichalar said.

Again, in his own words, “it’s my passion for the past 30 years and this is my 12th world record on this kind of sport that I love because it allows me to be in amazing cathedral which is the open sea where I can pray and where I can figure out that we are very weak and that the creation of nature is powerful and we have to respect it and be very humble knowing that we are little creatures.”

OK, now it makes sense to us.

No, really. When someone is willing to follow their dreams and turn vision into reality, we’re all for it, having seen it all around us ever since Belize, for example, achieved independence just over 30 years ago. This country has always attracted the maverick; the kind of person who sets out to achieve what others think is impossible.

As Alvaro said, “I think anybody can do anything; if they fight for it and if they don’t give up. If you don’t give up you will make your dreams come true. That’s for sure and that’s my recommendation to anybody.”

Welcome to Belize, Alvaro. We think you’ll fit right in.

(Alvaro de Marichalar’s next port of call after leaving Belize is Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, in the Gulf of Honduras. This current journey is also partially to raise awareness for the organization, End Polio Now. You can find him on Facebook, or follow his website, –  although it helps if you can read Spanish)

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