Fuego y Agua – Traveling Home, The Real Adventure
The race is over, a few emotional interviews have been taped by the winners and those who failed in their attempt to conquer Survival Run and the Fuego y Agua 100K, 50K, and 25K it seemed to all that this race was closed and in the books. However, we were so far from wrong. As the last racers were all accounted for in the early hours of Sunday morning, little did we all know our true race was about to begin. The stories over the next couple of days would be so incredible that one would think them to be fiction and not that of truth, however living through it no write-up can truly give the whole situation justice.
As racers started to depart the island of Ometepe on Sunday everyone began saying their goodbyes and well wishes. Ferries began their daily trips over to the mainland from the landlocked island. It has been a particularly dry year for Nicaragua and the lake water levels are below normal. As the late afternoon ferry departed port all seemed normal, however on the other side the wind had kicked up and the waves were white-capped and choppy. This ferry would hit a sandbar as it attempted to port and would begin the string of events. It happened that some of the most important Nicaraguan families were on that boat after enjoying the Fuego y Agua races. As the people were evacuated off the ferry and onto the beach in small fishing boats the Navy would close the port for all other boats that day. (We on the island would find this all out later)
Essentially beginning our own version of Gilligan’s Island. As I sat in my hotel listening to some of the racers who after twenty plus hours had returned to hotel rooms finding that the hotel was out of water (they relied on rainwater for showers and toilets) recount this discovery as they used our hotels water. We chatted about the race, everyone with their own stories, and all seemed well, until racers started coming back to our hotel bags in hand. This is when we found out the Navy had closed the port for the night, causing a small handful of people to frantically rebook flights.
I sat tight and was rest assured when they told us the port was opening back up in the morning. I had booked a flight out of the country for Tuesday and this was Sunday, surely I would still make my flight after completing the two-hour ferry ride and two-hour car ride to the airport. I had days to get there, so I thought. Monday morning came and a special ferry set off at 5:00am to accommodate those stranded on the island from the day before. I was scheduled to take the 5:30pm ferry out of town that day. I heard some shuffle out of the hotel in the early morning and enjoyed a slight sleep in. After a nice breakfast with those headed out on the 9:00am ferry I wished them goodbye and good luck on their travels, went back to my hotel and began to think about packing. Then I saw some come back, the 9:00am ferry had been delayed, everyone told to standby.
Quickly Eric Orton, myself and a few others decided not to risk a repeat of yesterday, packed our bags and joined the group waiting for the next available ferry. I transportation on the other side wasn’t scheduled until 7:00pm but we all thought it wise to get on the first ferry out. Thus began out day at the docks. One thing you learn about developing countries is information is not always easy to come by. As we sat hour after hour at the docks, we started to wonder if any ferry was going to leave Ometepe other than that first one of the day. Each report told us we were just waiting for the Navy to give the heads up, still mostly unaware of what had happened the day before. As the day progressed every ferry, large and small, kept heading into Ometepe but nothing was leaving. The situation was starting to become clear. After 4:00pm after sitting and waiting all day, entertaining ourselves with hacky sack made out of a sock, the dreadlocked traveler playing his guitar, and the fifty year old racer pulling out his harmonica, the answer came no ferries would run today, maybe tomorrow.
As we all now raced back to the hotel, getting on skype phone calls to airlines to try to rebook tickets (it seems all flights out of Managua leave very early in the morning) internet cut in and out. As we were all frantically trying to change plans, more stories arose. One of the wives of a racer had to be emergency evacuated off the island with abdominal pain to the main hospital in Managua with possible apendicitus and the heli-vac was being held up by the airforce, because it was too late to fly. (It turned out ok, we later met at the hotel in Managua and she is currently on a beach enjoying the rest of her vacation) At the same time Johnny Waite, who already had a trip that is too epic/comical to believe recounted his day on a scooter on the island. A local cop stopped him took his license and he had to pay a bribe to get it back (like $3.00) but the story was one to remember. Ian Sharman was told initially by the airline this next available flight would be March 5, he flew out Wednesday not March 5. It seemed like everything was happening at once.
Around this time we found out that those in Managua also were encountering problems themselves and were still in the country. Olof’s rebooked ticket had been booked for the wrong month and he found himself at the Best Western with Shelley Keoneg and Lani Cochran who all had issues that morning from rebooked tickets. Around the same time as we were all on the island frantically rebooking Olof posted a photo on Facebook about his shower. While on the island he had been one of the racers in a hotel with no water, now at the Best Western he had managed to pull off the hot water knob while trying to turn off the water and instead had water streaming out of the hole. It was a comedy of errors and a fellow traveler and racer volunteer Dawn and I just started laughing, truly there was nothing you could do but laugh.
We were stuck on an island, our favorite restaurant had just run out of some of their food. (This weekend had been the islands biggest influx of people ever) We were stuck, and didn’t know if we would even be able to get off the next day. I had hedged my bets on this one and rebooked for Thursday giving myself another two days to get off the island and back to Managua. Tuesday morning came and at 4:30am the dock was already full of people waiting for a ferry not chancing another repeat of the day before. As we boarded the ferry and wished Ometepe goodbye, it was bittersweet. The trip had been great but it was time to leave.
It was not until we got near the port on the other side we understood why the Navy had shut the port. At nearly 7:00am already the waves were kicking up on the mainland. We docked, stepped off the boat, then found our shuttle. After an uneventful ride we got checked into our hotel and I felt the first bout of air conditioning in over a week. There is nothing like sleeping in cool air. Some even got a hot shower in the small amount of hot water the bed and breakfast had. Oh the luxuries. That night after a fantastic dinner filled with stories recounting the adventures of the last couple of days, more race stories, and discussing upcoming schedules there was a slight smell of smoke as we walked back to our hotel.
A hundred feet from our hotel an empty lot was on fire. A true fire and no one seemed to care. As we walked we found the caretakers of the house next to this lot and concerned asked them about the fire and if the fire department was coming. The guy told us in pretty good English, that the caretaker from another house didn’t want the mosquitos to be out and started the fire, then told us the fire department had been called. For the next ten or so minutes we watched the fire grow and die and grow again on the lot. Finally a police officer showed up on a motorcycle, went over to a tree, pulled off a branch, and starting batting the fire prior to the fire departments arrival. A technique I had not really seen before after a few years as a volunteer fire fighter in the states. Finally the fire department showed up and started to put out the fire. The screen was over.
At this point it seemed like we had seen it all! The rest of the night was calm and half the group departed first thing in the morning to the airport and safely got back to their loved ones. Four of us were left at the hotel and not tempting fate I chose the day to work and write about the race. Other than running out of water for a short period of time, and explaining in broken Spanish the situation, the day was calm. We had the day of agua (Monday), fuego (Tuesday) and agua again (Wednesday). Truly it was time to get home and end this adventure of a trip.
As I boarded the plane this morning, said my last goodbyes to Nicaragua and an incredibly great trip with an epic ending, it was nice to feel like I was coming home. As I passed through immigration and was safely back on American soil, I wanted to kiss the ground. Much of the rest of my trip home was boring, a sad conclusion to a long ten days.
As I got though security saw my boyfriend, I knew I was home, where I was suppose to be, my adventure was over. Our hot shower (with the worlds smallest hot water tank) felt like lapping in excessive luxury, and my warm bed that night with boyfriend by my side was something I had missed more than I knew.