Agua y Fuego Fires Up Eco-Tourism on Ometepe

(photo by vicky stephens)

(photo by vicky stephens)

Nicaraguan ultra-marathon not for the faint of heart… literally.

One word sums it up: extreme. A new ultra-marathon in Nicaragua is drawing the most audacious of athletes to its volcanic island of Ometepe. Fuego y Agua 100k and 50k is Isla de Ometepe’s first-ever racing event, challenging true adventure seekers to summit not one, but two looming volcanoes … by foot.

“The course is extremely difficult. One runner said it was harder than Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, one of the premier 100k races in Europe,” Josue Stephens warned. He adds the concept is quite radical for locals.

“This island is the world to these islanders. Going around it in one day by foot is absolutely mind blowing.”

Stephens is the founder and organizer of the race, which is expected to lure up to 100 professional runners. On December 12, well before the sun comes up, runners will attempt to conquer the challenging slopes of both the Concepción and Maderas volcanoes.

“If it’s raining, it’s very possible the runners will be in mud and water up to their knees. And when they reach the crater, the lagoon, they will 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, Stephens said.

With the inaugural race taking place last year, this year’s event will be the second time radical runners have had the chance to tackle the unique course. The ultra-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 island’s two volcanic national parks and help raise awareness about illegal poaching within the parks.

“Plus, we’re helping raise awareness about how to maintain the trails, keep people from cutting too many trails, and prevent erosion,” Stephens said.

This year, Stephens is also organizing a trash pickup day to demonstrate the importance of proper waste management to the island’s various municipalities. Stephens says he envisions the Fuego y Agua developing into a legacy. In conjunction with the 100k and the 50k races, 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 schools to organize their own cross-country teams. Traverse Trail Running, an organization Stephens helped co-create, is leading a fundraiser to help equip cross-country teams on Ometepe with running shoes.

“We gave over 100 pairs of good used running shoes to the runners of the 5k event last year and we hope to be able to do that again.”

For those running enthusiasts who aren’t quite ready for a whopping 100k or even a 50k, this year organizers are also offering a 25-kilometer option.

“We also have a 100k, four-stage relay for 2/3 runners. This will be a fun option for teams. … We hope this year will be big enough to bring several great race reports back from runners touting the beauty of Isla de Ometepe and Nicaragua.”

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