Fuego y Agua to Ultramaratón Caballo Blanco…The Adventure in Between
[Editor's note: Sean Meissner's south-of-the-border(s) adventures continue. Two weekends ago, he ran and finished fourth at the Fuego y Agua 100k in Nicaragua (his pre-race preview and race report). He's been traveling (mostly) overland from there to Mexico's Copper Canyon since then. And, tomorrow, Sunday, March 3, he'll race the Ultramaratón Caballo Blanco 50-miler.]
Upon departing Isla de Ometepe a couple days after Fuego y Agua, a group of four of us journeyed from Managua, Nicaragua to Urique, Copper Canyon, Mexico, to participate in the Ultramaratón Caballo Blanco. We – Dawn Burke, Tyler Tomasillo, Patrick Sweeney, and I – barely knew each other, but here we were about to become each other’s BFF’s for the next week.
After getting a ferry off of Ometepe, we were fortunate to catch a two-hour shuttle with other Fuego runners to the airport, where we jumped off the shuttle and into a cab for a quick zip through Managua to the bus station. This was Tuesday morning and we had given ourselves three days to bus through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, up to Tapachula, Mexico. The bus trip should take two days, but we gave ourselves a time buffer, just in case.
Catching the bus in Managua almost didn’t happen for me, as I went to find a bathroom 25 minutes prior to departure. Twenty minutes before the scheduled departure, I heard Patrick yelling my name with some urgency, so I ran around the corner to see my friends boarding the bus headed north. Not only was our bus on-time, it was early! A full 15 minutes before the bus was to depart, we were on our way.
As we settled into our fairly comfy seats on our home for the next two days, we were immediately greeted by big boxes of food, about half of which was meat. A (sometimes) bonus to traveling with vegans is the bonus meat they gave me.
We idled the time away by looking out at the Central American landscape, getting to know each other, watching some quality movies on the bus, snoozing, and reading. The bus would stop at border crossings, where we quickly got into the pattern of getting off, having our passports and bags checked, walking across the border, and having the same done on the other side. At all border towns, we were mobbed by locals wanting to exchange our money, sell us food, drinks, and trinkets, and many who just wanted money. It was clear that not only was this how these people made their money, but this was also how they spent their days – waiting at the bus stop to sell goods to tourists. At the Nicaragua/Honduras border, I spent the last of my Nicaraguan currency on a banana – 2 Cordobas, about 8 cents.
For dinner that night, we were served a special treat – BK Stackers from Burger King! “Are you kidding me?” was what we collectively thought/said. Obviously the vegans weren’t eating their burgers and I hadn’t eaten a fast-food burger in well over a decade. Well, my streak came to an abrupt end as they all gave me their patties and I “treated” myself to a Quad BK Stacker. I even mentioned to them that I’d likely be projectile vomiting the next night. Oh, the foreshadowing…
After 11 hours on the bus, our first day ended at the bus station in San Salvador, El Salvador. The bus station conveniently has a seedy motel attached to it, so we got a room for four, complete with a ¾-length bathroom door. That was fun. The morning bus was scheduled to depart at 6 a.m., so we set alarms for 5 a.m. However, at 4:50, we got a knock on the door and through some (mis)interpretation thought our bus was leaving in 10 minutes. OMG – instant elevated heart rate and scramble as fast as we can… until we confirmed that the five o’clock bus was not ours.
After an even longer day on the bus, about 14 hours this time, we finally arrived in Tapachula, Mexico on Wednesday evening, with still our layover left to play the next day. However, that afternoon on the bus, I could tell that something just wasn’t right with me. I felt more and more lethargic and less and less like eating. By the time we got off the bus and found a hotel within walking distance, I was not in a good place. Despite packing light so I could carry a small pack, the one-kilometer walk to the hotel just about killed me.
When the others went out for dinner, I couldn’t even get off my bed – I was staying in for the evening. The next several hours were definitely the low point of my Central American adventure. Any and all residual bloating in my feet, ankles, and legs from Fuego y Agua, which was accentuated by two long days on a bus, was gone in pretty short order. And then more was gone. And a bit more. Not fun. At all. After one episode, I couldn’t make the 12 feet from the bathroom back to my bed, so I just laid on the floor, my legs in the bathroom and torso in the bedroom, knowing my buddies would get back soon to my sorry sight. They did and I wasn’t able to even drag myself over to unlock the door, so Patrick just climbed through the window to let them in. Nice.
I consulted with a couple friends, one of whom is a doctor, and decided it was likely food poisoning, so I just needed to rest and drink as much fluid as possible. Rest – check. Bottled water and plenty of Nuun – check. Sleep didn’t come easy that night, but it appeared all the bad stuff had exited my body, and I was exhausted in the morning. Patrick, Dawn, and Tyler took the morning to explore some Aztec ruins while I snoozed and hydrated.
After being on my death bed for about 15 hours, I finally felt better so I decided to join my friends for an afternoon and evening at the beach. This turned out to be one of the most fun afternoons – ever! Our taxi driver told us the actual ocean was too dangerous to swim in, so he took us to an inlet with a nice beach and warm water. We swam and threw the Frisbee around in the water, and even got a couple local boys to play Frisbee with us. Soon, their dads, older brothers, uncles, etc. walked out on the pier, climbed up some towers, and were jumping into the water. Whoa, that looks cool!
Patrick wasn’t so sure about it because of water depth, but I was, so I swam to the pier and a couple of the guys hoisted me up. They led me over to the tower, but the ladder started over my head. No problem, as one of them immediately bent at his waist so I could use his back as my first step. These guys definitely wanted to watch the little gringo jump! Once on top, the whole height-and-exposure thing got to me, but there was no way I was going to disappoint my new amigos; my only way down was to jump. So jump, I did, and it was really fun! Soon, Patrick and Tyler followed suit; as Patrick noted, “It’s always easier if your friend has done it first.”
After more tower jumping and swimming, our new friends invited us to join them on the beach for cervezas. We sat, drank, and enjoyed communicating for the next couple of hours. Patrick won a speed-beer-drinking contest, and we even had a little pose-off (Clearly I won that.). Eventually we said goodbye to our new Mexican friends, as we wanted to catch the sunset on the ocean. We found a sweet spot and after an hour of watching the sun get closer and closer to the water, were treated to pretty much the perfect sunset. At about halfway down, it looked like a bright orange orb floating on the Pacific. Amazing and a great way to end our layover day in Tapachula.
The next day, Friday, we caught an early flight to Mazatlan, where we would meet up with about a half-dozen others. This group, along with Patrick, Tyler, and Dawn, are collectively known as the Lunatics, as they are all Luna Sandals wearers (and some work for Luna). Mazatlan was a great place to spend the next four days! We had a nice hotel across from the beach with big windows and a balcony overlooking it all. I enjoyed falling asleep at night to the sound of crashing waves. While all of those amenities were nice, the best part about our room was the shower’s hot water! None of us had taken a hot shower since before we got to Nicaragua and we didn’t let this opportunity go to waste!
The long weekend in Mazatlan was spent making daily trips to the market, great runs on the beach and up to a lighthouse, drinking coconut water from freshly cut coconuts, enjoying lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (Cantaloupe, pineapple, and avocados were big hits!), checking out the amazing architecture in the big church, watching more amazing sunsets, body surfing, eating the freshest and rawest fish ever, treating myself to daily ice cream, sleeping and napping in decent beds, and really just recharging the batteries after a long journey. Sometimes we would do these things in groups and sometimes it was nice to go solo. One of the more interesting parts of being in Mazatlan was meeting Luna Sandal founder, Ted McDonald, more commonly known as Barefoot Ted. Ted is definitely quite the character and I enjoyed the chance to meet him.
On Monday evening, we were off to the bus station to begin the next part of the adventure – traveling to Urique, Copper Canyon, to participate in the Ultramaratón Caballo Blanco.