Fuego y Agua Fires Up Eco-Tourism on Ometepe

I’ve slacked off from blogging… even though, as usual, I have tons of adventure to share. In the next few days, I plan to catch up. But, in the meantime, check out this amazing initiative organized by a fellow couchsurfer. I met Josue in Denver, CO. Looks like I’ll be catching up with him again at his ultra-marathon event in Nicaragua. The following article is an article I wrote for Josue that he’ll try to get published in some running magazines in the U.S. A similar article that I wrote has already been published in the Nica Times in Nicaragua.

A brand new race is on the market for all you “tough as nails” ultrarunners. But, bear in mind, this race is for the serious adventurer.

“It’ll be a little bit daunting,” race founder and organizer Josue Stephens mused.

The most audacious of extreme athletes now have their chance to thoroughly explore and, perhaps, conquer Nicaragua’s volcanic island of Ometepe (La Isla de Ometepe) during the Fuego y Agua 100K and 50K. The ultra-marathon marks the island’s first-ever racing event and the first time ultrarunners have competed in a struggle to ascend the island’s, not one, but two looming volcanoes. Concepción rises to more than 5000 feet from within Central America’s largest Lake, Lake Nicaragua. Its twin, Maderas, summits at just over 4500 feet. Stephens says the race will bring an estimated 60 professional runners zigzagging through Ometepe’s steep volcanic slopes, white, sandy beaches, traditional villages, and dusty, dirt roads on December 13th, 2008.

“If it’s raining it’s very possible they’ll be in mud and water up to their knees,” Stephens said. “And when they get down to the crater, the lagoon, they’ll have to back climb out of the crater and it’s a very steep lava flow trail, that they’ll be climbing out of.”

Runners will battle temperatures that range from 65 to 95 degrees, bugs, roots, and steep, single-track ascents and descents, including “a narrow trail [that ascends] almost straight up the [Maderas] volcano for about 10 kilometers,” through a dense, tropical jungle.

“When they get on the single track in the jungle, they’ll be hearing howler monkeys,” Stephens said.

This marathon isn’t only meant to challenge extreme athletes though. Stephens established this event as a grassroots movement to promote various eco-tourism projects on the island. Local businesses will provide all site-specific resources for the race, including aid stations, safety guides, food, medical care, and lodging. The race will contribute to the islands two volcanic national parks and help raise awareness about illegal poaching within the parks.

“Plus, we’re helping to raise awareness about how to maintain the trails, to keep people from cutting too many trails, and to prevent erosion,” Stephens said.
Stephens has also organized a trash pick-up day that will occur two days before the race in an effort to demonstrate the importance of proper waste management to the island’s various municipalities.

“We’re getting the schools and the police stations involved,” Stephens said. “We’re going to get garbage trucks out there and everybody is just going to go out with a trash bag. Enough runners are getting there early and they’re going to be a part of it to help inspire the local people to help out and do it. Hopefully, it will kind of give them a sense of responsibility and cleanliness so maybe they think about it next time.”

Stephens is also trying to develop a legacy of sorts with the ultra marathon event. In conjunction with Fuego y Agua, local children from throughout the island will have the chance to compete in their own race, the Calzado para Ometepe 5k and 10k. Stephens says the idea is for the race to encourage local schools to organize their own cross-country teams. Traverse Trail Running, an organization Stephens co-created, is leading a fundraiser to help equip cross-country teams on Ometepe with running shoes.

“We’re doing a running shoe drive,” Stephens said. “We have cross-country teams from high schools and colleges from the U.S. donating perfectly good, used running shoes.”

All this, Stephens says, because he fell in love with Ometepe when he first docked on the volcanic island’s shore.

“When you leave the mainland of Nicaragua and you head to the island, even though it’s just a one hour ferry ride, it’s like a different world there,” Stephens said.

But Stephens says pulling off such an involved event like this in a developing country comes with its own obstacles

“I can’t lie and tell you that it’s not challenging,” Stephens said. “It’s very challenging. But, at the same time, it’s a lot more fun, I think, than if I were doing it in the United States.”

Stephens, who grew up in Latin America, adds that he has had his heart set on giving back to a culture that has given him so much.

“I’ve always wanted to work down in Nicaragua and even in the rest of central America with Fair Trade and with the local people,” Stephens said. “My parents were missionaries and, although I don’t necessarily ascribe to the same beliefs or motives, I have always wanted to go down and work with the people of that culture. It’s a part of me because I grew up with it.”

But if the challenging course and the philanthropic cause behind it isn’t enough to inspire elite athletes to take on the challenge, perhaps the one-of-a-kind trophy will. First and second place finishers in both the men and women categories of the 100k and 50k races will receive a handcrafted trophy from one of the island’s local artisans, Ignacio Martinez.

“The trophies are going to be a traditional Nahuatl running in his loin cloth and he’s going to be holding the island in his hands.”

The Nahuatl were the indigenous inhabitants of the island and the island’s volcanic slopes and shores are steeped in the histories and stories of their existence on the island. Now, it’s rumored that Anton Krupitchkak, winner of this year’s Leadville Trail 100, Kyle Skaggs, winner of this year’s HardRock 100 and Jen Shelton, winner of this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100, will be among the athletes who will attempt to help establish a new kind of history amidst the challenging slopes of the Concepción and Maderas volcanoes.

For more information on the Fuego y Agua 100k and 50k log onto www.fuegoyagua100.com.

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