radio free kuwait

Monday, March 27, 2006

Go, Camel Racer, Go

So last Thursday, Marie, Frankie and our guest Larry Durocher finally made it to the camel races. Marie and I had wanted to go for months but the races are pretty deep in the desert and we're both carless. Luckily, Larry's visit and Marie's impending departure convinced Frankie to drive us out in search of exciting camel action.

The trip started inauspiciously when we missed the first turn and spent 40 minutes trying to double back. By this point we had been driving for about an hour and I was regretting not bringing a bottle of water with us. After finally getting back on track, we drove for another twenty minutes until we saw another sign. We drove some more. Started to see tents, herds of sheep and goats, even a few camels (in what I guess you would call camel stables) but no race track. We kept driving and saw a sign about every 15 minutes. We were deep in the heart of nowhere and I started to wonder if Frankie had any water in his trunk. I wasn't so much worried about thirst as I was about the car overheating. We were in a souped up Subaru not a hearty four wheel drive and I had visions of a long walk to the nearest Bedouin tent.

Finally, we arrived at a fence and Frankie looked at it bemusedly. "I'm not sure, this may be the border". Aaargh! i wanted to go to the camel races not Iraq and was starting to get really perturbed. Luckily, Larry is an experienced horse guy and he told Frankie to follow the fence. Ten minutes later we were off to the races.

We arrived and went in to a very comfortable viewing area. They had special sections for "Press", "VIP" and "Ambassadors" and a large group of Westerners sitting in one section. We started speaking with an English speaking Kuwaiti who explained that he was the Westeners guide (he belonged to a center promoting Western-Arab relations) and we were welcome to tag along with them. I considered this our first piece of luck for the day.

Our first race looked like something out of MAD MAX. In addition to the camels, there were numerous SUVs racing down the track. Madness. It turns out that the jockey have been replaced by "robots" and the camel owners now drive along beside the robots controlling the "jockeys" by remote control. Notoriously, the jockeys used to be small children but, as our guide explained, "due to human rights issues" the machines have taken over.

By the way, ask any Arab about this and they will explain it in the same tone as an Englishman explaining you used to be able to walk right up to Stonehenge i.e. it's not like the good old days.

Larry wanted to get a picture of one of the robots to scare his jockeys back home (i.e. "You can be replaced, you know!') so our guide took us down to the paddock after the second race and we got a quick face to face with the camels and their robot pals.

We all had to get back to the city after that. Our extremely gracious guide offered to let us ride a couple of the camels but we had all done that before so we thanked him and headed back to the car.

A fun afternoon and one to cross off the list of things to do in Kuwait. Now I want to go out and try the other popular Kuwaiti desert sport (no, not illicit drinking) ... falconry.

PS: If you want to see more pictures, go check out Marie's blog. She took all the photos anyway (since I was so tired that morning I forgot my camera). Yeah Marie!

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