You may remember from an earlier post called Camelspotting that I’ve been trying to see a camel race pretty much since moving to Dubai. We ventured out over the weekend to do just that, and although we didn’t see an actual race, we did finally find the racetrack. Incidentally, it was very close to where we went last time but couldn’t find it. When we arrived, although there was no race taking place, there were still many trainers and camels exercising, trotting along, or leaving in large caravans.
I know precious little about camel racing, training camels, or camels in general, so everything we saw was really interesting. My husband and I were really surprised by how enormous the track is! I’ve read that you should take binoculars to the races, and now that I have seen the size of it, this would be an absolute must.
We drove around part of the perimeter, as did some of the trainers (owners?) who were following their camels. One of the camels we followed ran as fast as 40 kilometers per hour! (25 mph). I had no idea camels could run so fast. Here is a picture of that camel (#4) and his trainer before taking off.
I use the term “trainer” or “rider” and not “jockey” because from what I have read, jockeys used to be children, the smaller (and of course, lighter) the better. The UAE outlawed the practice because children were being illegally trafficked from other countries and were mistreated. Now, oddly enough, they use remote-controlled robots as jockeys during the races. (If you happened to see Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations on Dubai, he mentions this as well.) Anyhow – if they are using remote-controlled jockeys, I’m not sure what it makes these guys in the pictures – so I’m sticking with trainers.
The majority of these trainers smiled and waved as they passed. They were very hospitable and friendly.
Others… well, not so much.
I think it may have had a little something to do with my three-year-old who has an unnaturally loud voice for someone his size. Encouraged by some of the smiling and waving riders, he was repeatedly shouting, “HI!!!! HI!!!” out of his car door window. We eventually got a “please shoo off” hand gesture from one of the riders in this group and of course we quickly obliged.
There was an area for corralling the camels, maybe for the young camels that are still being tamed. Some of them were very stubborn and refused to sit down or walk to the gate. It took some pretty ugly tactics by up to 5 men to get the camel to comply.
Later we came across a little market area that sold all things camel race related.
It was really interesting to explore this bit of local culture. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the morning.