Another really incredible thing we did while on break was head to the Al Dhafra Camel Festival. This is a huge festival held every year in what is called the Western Region of the Emirate, basically the area in the west that is less built up. The festival lasts for a week and consists of camel and dog races, falcon competitions, a beautiful camel contest, souqs, food, and more. It took us about three hours to drive out, and we decided to go on a Sunday so that it would be less crowded (Sunday is a weekday here). When we arrived we felt a bit lost. It was huge, and spread out over a lot of the desert. Luckily, a nice guy (George) saw us wandering around and took us under his wing. He was from Italy, but worked in Abu Dhabi and was asked to help with the tourist at the festival. He told us he was heading to lunch and so we hopped in his car to tag along. George was staying at one of the camps set up in the desert and took us over the the camp tents for lunch. We were invited into the tent, after taking off our shoes, and sat around a huge spread of food. I felt a little invasive at first because there were all men, but they all made us feel welcome. It was a traditional Emirati spread with rice, goat, fish, and salad. We all ate with our hands, and enjoyed being a part of the culture.
After lunch we were brought to another tent for coffee and tea, as other men sat smoking shisha. We enjoyed some conversation as the men told me to drink camel milk for the baby, and then it was time to go see some camels. The day before had been the big races, but there were beautiful camel competitions everyday. George took us over to the camels that were part of the competition for the day, and we got to walk around their pens. We learned about how they are judged and even got to pet some of them. They were curious about us and would rub their lips on our hands. There were also some baby camels with their mothers, including one that was only 2 days old. They reminded me of an ostrich with their long necks and big heads.
2 days old
After seeing the camels it was time to announce the winner for the day. Once they do this, the camels are paraded by the grandstand while a group of men dance. At first we were standing on the side, but the camels were running by and some were kicking, which made everyone nervous with me being so close. It was nice the way the men wanted to protect me. George brought us up to the VIP section and we watched the parades of camels from there, receiving water from the workers. We learned about the prizes the competitors receive. There are different groups of camels each day, and then an overall winner on the last day. Most of the prizes are a million dirhams... about $272,250. This is donated back to the festival, as the people have already invested so much money in the camels they don't think this is much. The winning camel can be sold for around 5 million dirhams, or $1,361,250. There were also 198 new SUVs to be handed out. We tried to ask if we could get one for visiting.... haha.
After seeing the winners of the beautiful camels, George took us out to the road where they sell camels. Hundreds of people and camels lined the road, and people drove by looking out their windows and getting out to see the stock. There was this one massive male camel who towered over his handler. He was crazy big!!! We also learned that camels are quite an investment. We saw some camels and then were off for another adventure, to see the racing camels.
George took us to a different part of the camps where they train the racing camels, and we learned about the differences between how they are raised and trained. After awhile it was time to leave as we had a three hour car ride home. We said goodbye and thank you to George and headed out. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad we made the drive out there!
Racing camels on their way back to camp