I have seen many sights during my time in Turkey but none of them has ever matched the experience I had last Sunday. Seven of us hired a driver and set off to the village of Kizilcayiki to watch the traditional show of camel wrestling. From the moment, we got out of the van I realized that we were the only foreigners in a crowd of possibly 1000 Turkish village people.
My first instinct was to stand in the parade along with the camels as it appeared we were just as much on show as them. Quiet whispers, long stares and raised eyebrows were followed by questions of where we were from. Foreign tourists in this small unknown village are obviously a rare sight. My first instinct was to sit in a corner while trying to blend in however this was never going to be successful, as my foreign facial features and pale skin were a definite clue that I was not Turkish.
About Camel Wrestling in Turkey
Instead we decided to embrace the situation and open conservation. Most of us could speak Turkish to a certain degree and this went a long way into breaking the ice. It transpired that being foreign was not the only shock factor but we were also women. I looked around and indeed noticed that the men outnumbered the women in vast numbers.
It was soon my turn to be shocked though. Anyone would imagine that visiting a traditional village in a Muslim country would find an alcohol free neighborhood. I could not have been more wrong. In this male dominated environment, alcohol was for sale everywhere and the order of the day seemed to be Raki for breakfast. (Raki is the Turkish national drink and is the equivalent of Ouzo). We arrived at the event at 9am in the morning, by 10.30 am I was very tipsy. When we left in the afternoon, I know I was definitely not walking in a straight line.
That day I laughed and joked with many of the village people. Don’t ask me how but I ended up playing in the village band and also had the delight of meeting some of the camel owners. So in case you do find yourself off the beaten track and at Camel wrestling in Turkey, I have written this small guide which should help you to enjoy a thoroughly unique experience
In the wild, two randy male camels will wrestle for the affection of a female. Take this experience and place it in an arena surrounded by people and you have a mating ritual on full show. Before the experience, spectators have placed a bet on which camel they think will win.
The winning camel is the one that wrestles the other camel to the ground with their long neck. Alternatively, if a camel runs off then he is the loser. Around ten to twenty men are on standby around the two camels in case it gets too vicious. It is a tournament held in different villages on the Aegean Coast and only happens for three months of the year when the camels are on heat.
Before the tournament begins there will be a singer and during the day various village bands will walk around and play for anyone that wants to chill out while listening to music and watching two randy camels. Alternatively if you are the only foreigner there, you may find yourself dragged to play in the village band and you become the entertainment.
As mentioned before, alcohol is widely on sale. However they do not keep it in fridges so either take a cool bag or expect to drink warm beer. Food is plentiful as well as cheap. It comes in the form of kofte or sujuk sandwiches, sac kavurma or gozleme. A lot of the Turks had bought their own barbecues or plates of olives, cheese and tomatoes to nibble on while they drank their Raki.
They are very proud of their camels and eagerly beg you to take a picture of them standing together. Don’t believe any camel owner that tells you to rub camel spit all over your face because it is good for your complexion. Instead tell him that you will only do it, if he does it first and then get the camera ready for the classic photo opportunity of when a joke backfires.
It was a great day out and one that I am glad to have experienced. I don’t think I will be going back though. The memories that I have from that day are so perfect and I think trying to repeat the experience will just be a disappointment. I meet wonderful people, had an excellent time and got so far off the beaten track in that I experienced a true Turkish tradition.