Ships of the desert

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.


They finally got this one over to the rail to be tied up. No one looks too happy.

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.

they are faster than you think!


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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7 Responses to Ships of the desert

  1. Molly says:

    Oh, no! Did they really give that poor camel a bloody nose? 😦

    The camels are surprisingly beautiful! And of course you take beautiful photographs too.

    Miss you guys!

  2. Thanks Molly. 🙂 I don’t know why his nose was bleeding! (and a few of the other camels, too.) Although they were pulling on their tails and yanking them down by ropes, I didn’t see anything that seemed like it would cause their nose to bleed. I did read somewhere that sometimes they attach the reins to a peg in the nostrils, but I didn’t see any camels that looked like they were harnessed that way. Who knows???

  3. diana says:

    Lyn…these pics are fabulous!!!!!!

  4. Carole says:

    Was this the Al Marmoon race track area? I had read an article on TimeOutDubai recently about camel racing at Al Marmoon with directions. We are trying to find where to see Camel races but everyone I ask doesn’t know where to go.

    • Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. To be honest – I’m not sure what its name is. There’s also one in Sharjah, but the one we went to is right off 66 in the direction of Al Ain. You will pass the Dubai Outlet mall on your right. The racetrack will be on your right also – near Lisaili. You’ll also see signs for Bab al Shams – it’s pretty close to that, too, but right off 66. If by any chance you have an iphone, it does actually show up on the phone’s map/GPS which is how I found it after one failed attempt. (it’s really easy once you know where it is though.) Did I read somewhere that they stop in April because the weather is warming up? Anyway – good luck – I hope you find it! It’s a great experience. Let me know.

  5. munchow says:

    This was a very interesting read, and I think the pictures are great. My favourites are the second and third last. Beautiful colours and well captured.

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