Approaching the desert racetrack outside of Dubai, it feels like you're about to enter the Thunderdome. You'll hear cheering, chanting, and the beating of drums before you see anything. Not to mention the cars honking, trainers shouting, and people jockeying for the best seats.
It's camel-racing season in the United Arab Emirates, and we're checking out the races. Everyone is hustling to the track-with up to a million dirhams up for grabs (a little over €210,000), it's a big day.
Mad Max is nowhere in sight, but the robots driving the camels definitely give this sport a post-apocalyptic vibe. Yes, robots. Human-shaped robots, actually, perched on the backs of the camels and controlled remotely by trainers-there's a speaker near the camel's ear, and the trainers signal the camels by making clicking noises. It's like remote-controlled cars for grownups.
Not to be outdone by their robotic teammates, the camels themselves are tricked out in multicolored blankets with intricate floral patterns, beads, and rugs. It turns out it doesn't really matter what they're wearing - when they fly by at speeds of up to 65 km/h, all you can see is the cloud of yellow dust kicked up in their wake.
This sport is all about speed, so naturally the best place to catch the action is in one of the chase cars. Packed with owners, trainers, dealers, and guests, the vehicles run on a parallel track that follows the camels like rabid paparazzi. If you can't get a ride in one of the SUVs, don't worry. You not only saved yourself from motion sickness, but you can also catch a telecast of the races at any of the nearby galleries.
In the UAE, there are over a dozen racetracks. Most hold races weekly, on Thursday and Friday mornings. If you’re going from desert til dawn in Dubai, might we suggest chasing the sunrise with a healthy dose of action out at Al-Lisaili, the Dubai Camel Racetrack? Hey, it beats another hungover brunch.
Photos courtesy of Nils Lewis.