Adventures in Zalaga (The Legendary Bedouin Camel Race)
Every year, on the 10th January, hundreds of local Bedouins from the Muzeina and Tarrabin tribes hit Wadi Zalaga with their camels, Hiluxs, and best young camel riders (some under 10 years old) for an epic 30K camel race.
Zalaga is cold in January. So cold, it snowed on our way up to the campsite. No matter, Mahmoud ‘Barracuda’ and his brothers set up our tents nestled close to the canyon walls to minimise the wind; fires were lit and the odd nip of whiskey certainly helped!
Loading up in Dahab
Getting to Zalaga was half the fun, so let me go back to the beginning. We loaded up at about 1pm, and aimed to make a swift exit from Dahab, some of us forgot our passports, which made Barracuda a tad frustrated ‘oh come on guys’. The other half forgot to bring anything particularly warm, Darren, who hails from the north of the UK, hopped in wearing board shorts and a tee, declaring that it wasn’t cold at all. Claire and I had a excellent plan of attack, we had brought just about every blanket we owned and could borrow to properly combat the chill. For added warmth, we also took along Biscuit the dog to spoon us at night. The drive to the Wadi, where the camel race takes place, took roughly 3 hours. We drove to the Wadi in a minivan, we then had to stop, unload and then reload ourselves and gear into a four-wheel drive to be able to get through the soft sand and over the rocks. Our driver likes, no make that, loves to drive through this terrain as fast as possible so it certainly made for an interesting trip!
The evening before the camel race
Upon arrival, we found the camp-site ready made, fires lit and tents erected, having cleverly (lazily?) sent our friends up earlier to make camp. All we had to do was settle ourselves into the main tent, away from the snow and wind, and enjoy a bit of fire time and await an amazing dinner – Chicken, rice and vegetables made by Barracuda and his brothers over a camp fire. They managed this mostly in the dark – though probably with a few Nokia phone flash lights and iPhone screens to help. After dinner Claire and I slunk away to surreptitiously set up our bed, the desert equivalent of a king sized water bed. We didn’t need anybody else checking out the state of what we were sleeping on and comparing it to their own bed. One by one, fed and sated each camper set off to their bed, with the fires to give us light inside our VIP tent, the crew of the now dubbed ‘Reprobus’, stayed up awhile playing a Bedouin game in the sand, not unlike noughts and crosses, and sampling way too much Bedouin tea.
The morning light that bouncing off the canyon walls, woke us late, later than everyone else. We woke to find the coffee ready, it seems there’s a trick to camping…. after throwing a few cups of excellent coffee made by Mohamed, along with some Bedouin bread and fresh Baba Ganoush, down our throats we had time for a quick al fresco bathroom break before loading into the 4×4’s. It was time! Now, the form of the day is that everyone leaves their camp-sites and heads down the Wadi looking for the start line of the camel race. This is prone to change so there’s a bit of time to chat to all your fellow campers, as racers and camels get ready. We drove down, then back a bit, then jostled for a good spot. Zalaga is not just a camel race. It’s a Hilux race as well. Camels and riders start in a cluster in the middle of the Wadi and the cars follow along, not always at the back either. The start of the race saw us bouncing along in our car through the Wadi, swerving to avoid other cars with people hanging off the sides or a car stuck in the sand. At times we could see the racing camels, at other times we couldn’t, no matter, it’s not hard to enjoy the car race if you’re okay with extreme driving conditions! Its impossible to describe the scope of this so please check out the pictures to get a sense of what it was like.
The finish line came and having raced ahead thunderously to get there we had a great vantage point of the middle of the pack crossing the line.
And the winners of the camel race in 2015 are …
Muzeina won the first 4 spots with Terrabin taking position 5. This was a victory for Dahab as the majority of our Bedouin friends are Muzeina, and as a further victory the winning camel was also from Dahab. Mabrouk Salem, well actually congrats to your brother, but you wore the medal well!
A short ceremony followed and a few guns were fired into the air and everybody wandered round saying hello to old friends. That could have been the adventure over, but of course, we had to drive back to the camp site, which we did at a cracking 60k and hour, that’s no small feat in the desert. Pleased to say that only one member of our ‘Reprobus’ had any motion sickness. Thankfully it wasn’t Biscuit, who exhausted by this point snuggled up on our laps and slept the whole way home.
So, that’s Zalaga in a nutshell, driving and weather conditions are extreme, and the camping is not plush. However, I can guarantee that if you’re the kind of person who likes an adventure off the beaten track on the road less travelled where you won’t find many tourists, then this trip to the legendary camel race could be for you!
We’re going again next year, if you fancy coming along just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Till next blog,