The camel trek we did in the beginning of 2019 was such a profound experience, that it was difficult to come up with a new task. It was quite a challenge itself to find something meaningful and exciting again. I have tried a lot throughout the year – nothing came even close. Then our camel mentor Mr Abdulla Hamdan bin Dalmook – CEO of the Sheikh Hamdan Heritage foundation – came up with a brilliant new opportunity to improve and prove ourselves. It all happened one evening in the desert when the 2019 team of the Camel Trek visited the latest trekkers on their return to Dubai. So this was when the idea was born. A camel race for expats!
With the thought of the 1997 race in mind,held in front of H.E. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, we should repeat this during the world’s largest camel race.
Once we had the confirmation that it would take place during the Dubai Crown Prince Camel Racing Festival in February in Al Marmoom, the training started again. Now let me tell you: camel riding and camel racing are two completely different pairs of shoes. Even though we already completed a 700 km Trek through the UAE desert over two weeks, it did not mean that we could get on the back of the camel and race off. On the contrary, it needed some quite intensive training. Moreover, there was not a lot of time for it. Also considering the wellbeing of the animals and not overexerting them. Therefore, we trained almost every day. Sometimes it was just a nice relaxing ride in the desert to warm them up and towards the race day, we went on the racetrack itself with time for the camels as well to recover. Normally camel races can be up to 16 km long. Nowadays you will barely find people racing on the camels – especially in the UAE. Since quite some time the jockeys were replaced with robots. Nevertheless, there is a yearly camel marathon, taking place among the Emirati community, which is open to Emirati men only.
In contrast to the 16km marathon, ours seemed rather like a sprint of 1 km. However, for us it felt pretty long in the beginning. There was a time when I panicked and I could not participate in the training. It just somehow did not feel right once of a sudden. And I could not explain why. Even though it was not the first time, I did this speed. Camels can run up to 65km per hour. I think we did not manage to get up to that speed, we probably did around 40-45km/hr. Thankfully, after a little break I was able to get back on the camel racing. Even though it was into the wrong direction. Camels are quite patient animals but they still have their own mind. So I let my camel, which rightly deserves the name ‘Bulldozer’, enjoy his 2 minutes of fame! When he realized that he was almost on his own running in the opposite direction and with the help of some of our people we turned around and joined the rest of the group again.
We were not quite sure of the exact date until couple of days before which put the excitement to a high level. That is what we thought until we got to know the date! Once of a sudden all those question came to mind: are we fit enough? Will we be able to manage? Will our camels be able to manage this? In the end, we were supposed to ride in front of the crown prince himself!
When the day came, it was almost unbearable. We let the last couple of weeks pass by in our thoughts. We all met at the ‘Isbah’ (the farm) to get our outfits for this event, have a small lunch to calm us down. One came to another, a few last group pictures before the race and we found ourselves in the cars to the track where our camels were already patently waiting for us. Some last checks if the ‘Shadad” (the saddle) was comfortable, some pets for our friends and some last dates for their motivation. Once of a sudden we saw a black car coming towards us and we all knew this is the Crown Prince. We introduced ourselves had a small chat and a few more pictures taken. Then everything happened in the blink of an eye! We got on the camels and as soon everybody was up and ready the race started! It did not take long until we reached the goal. Accompanied by many cars our camels brought out the best in them and surprised us once again! We all made it to the finish line and it was such a great moment of achievement. We were eleven participants, out of which nine women and all from different nations.
It was a race for fun and our team spirit but more so to show the leaders of the country as well as the whole nation that we enjoy the heritage and culture of the place we call our home! And this we do from all our heart! We are all thankful for the opportunity we were given! To be the first to set off this expat race during the Crown Prince Camel Racing Festival which will now take place on a yearly basis. We are grateful to have our leaders and trainers during this time believe in us, give us the strength, motivation, and support throughout the whole journey! We are proud to be able to be part of such an exciting event and we all hope to motivate other expats to also tryto experience such possibilities unique to this country! Wether it is the yearly camel trek or the camel race. Both organized by the Sheikh Hamdan Heritage centre.
For more information on how to apply, you can find on www.hhcgov.ae or if you want to hear more about the experience, you can contact me on Instagram, Facebook (Denise Ostermann) or snapchat afra.alalmaniya
Written by: Denise Ostermann
Photos: Sheikh Hamdan Heritage foundation
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