Al Wathba Camel Races

Abu Dhabi Travel Blog

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The start line, Al Wathba camel races
Up and dressed by 5.30am before the day gets too hot, we head out to Al Wathba, about an hour from Abu Dhabi city. April wanted me to see camels training for the camel races.  As we arrive, we see flags, hundreds of white SUVs, and people everywhere. Something is going on. We drive up to one of the traffic police, 'yes you can go in and you can take photos'. We have lucked into the final day of the Arab nations camel races.

Over by the start line, a man greets us in english and describes what is happening. He is the race starter and in his careful english, he lets us know where to stand so we wont get hurt and what to expect. How lucky are we! We are the only women here and are careful to be inconspicuous, both as women and tourists.
EArly morning coffee
We both wear pashminas over our shoulders and keep our elbows covered as is the custom.

A man in a white dishdash offers us hot coffee with cardamon and pours this into tiny porcelin cups edged with silver. Delicious. Vibrant colours abound in this extraordinary scene as the camels line up with tiny electronic jockeys perched at the rear of the saddle. Nationals everywhere are in their white dishdashes, and every man is wearing the head gear distinctive to his country. Oddly, the grand stand is some 100m from the finish line, with an expanse of green grass between.

The start line has cloth at the camels' eye level to be lifted as the race starts. Each camel has a trainer standing in front. These fearless men scatter to the side line when the race starts.
The sea of racing SUV's; the camels are on the track far left.
Outside the track, a sea of white SUVs line up with owners racing the 10km circuit parallel to the camels and their remote jockey controls. At first it looks like bedlam. By the third race we drive up to the back of the waiting SUV's, and set off too. Camels move off from the 10km start line for the final 8km race. We follow in our SUV. We follow the SUV's and the camels, hooves flying as they thunder around the track. April takes care to stay behind the final trucks, watching both the trucks and the camels.  The scene is exciting and chaotic and the road an incidental  artefact as the SUV drivers spped in the sand and stay tuned to their camels.

We are invited into the breakfast tent by one of the officials and served more coffee, and sandwiches. The tent is beautifully set up with large elegant chairs upholstered in dark red and silver.
The startline and grandstand, al Wathba race track.
Suddenly the tent fills up with men from all arab nations. I feel the real privilege in being here, and am glad the atmoshphere remains welcoming rather than rejecting. The man next to me asks where I am from. He is from Somalia and has a camel in the next race.

We watch the beginning of one more race then our generous self-appointed guide lets us know where we can see baby camels close by. We head off following his directions and come across a sea of camel holding pens, bedouin tents and thousands upon thousands of camels. Camels of all shapes, colours and sizes. This is the main trading area associated with the races. We marvel at these creatures and take photos when we can bear to take our eyes off these animals and this extraordinary scene. April shows me how to look at the camels eyes and mouth to see its distinctive character.
Camels moving to the starting line
Their colours range from creamy white, to caramels, to rust red and dark chocolate brown, and they blend completely with the colours of the sand.

One man beckons April and opens up a pen with twin chocolate brown young camels. Of course I take a photo. We see another milking a nursing camel. He comes over to us and offers us the bowl of fresh, foamy warm camel milk. Oh my god, what will this taste like? I fear the worst, some strong foul taste. I watch April courageously take a sip from the bowl. She lives! My turn. I sip. The taste of the warm foamy milk is delicate, similar to light fragile coconut milk. Delicious How extraordinary.

We stop the car and look again at where we have been, knowing this scene will disappear in a day leaving an expanse of empty desert.
dianajnz says:
Hi Hayyay, this was in April 2009 and included camels and trainers from all over the middle east, Somalia etc. It wasn't advertised, we lucked into it, although you can see camels training at Al Wathba 5am when it's cooler. If you know a local or expat in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, they could give you more info, best wishes
Posted on: Feb 25, 2011
hayyay says:
Hi Diana - what time of year did you go? I took my Mum in Jan and my dad will be here late March and he would just LOVE it. Most sites say they finish in Feb.
Posted on: Feb 15, 2011
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The start line, Al Wathba camel ra…
The start line, Al Wathba camel r…
EArly morning coffee
EArly morning coffee
The sea of racing SUVs; the camel…
The sea of racing SUV's; the came…
The startline and grandstand, al W…
The startline and grandstand, al …
Camels moving to the starting line
Camels moving to the starting line
Preparing at the startline
Preparing at the startline
The camels and minders
The camels and minders
The line up
The line up
The magnificent sight of a camel c…
The magnificent sight of a camel …
In the hospitality tent
In the hospitality tent
April alongside the twin baby came…
April alongside the twin baby cam…
Curious camel
Curious camel
Desert creatures
Desert creatures
April sipping camels milk for the …
April sipping camels milk for the…
Hmmmmm, interesting
Hmmmmm, interesting
About to sip Camels milk...a chan…
About to sip Camel's milk...a cha…
Abu Dhabi
photo by: JP-NED