It usually takes me a while to process things that I put in my personal “adventure” category, and one of my recent outings is no exception. In brief, I went to see camel wrestling. As for writing about it now… it was either camels or a much more serious topic, and I am in no mood for serious right now. I have spent most of today (over)indulging in an activity that seems to be quite popular on a national scale- much more so than watching a bunch of camels push each other around. I am talking about brunch. There is one at every hotel and restaurant. Furthermore, friends invite friends over to their houses to, well… spend most of the day eating, drinking, and talking. I could get used to that, but then I would have to give up other adventures.
Like camel wrestling.
Before the actual event, there was a parade of sorts. Some, but by no means all, of the competitors were led around town then up the hill to city land-fill/camel wrestling grounds.
Notice all those snazzy orange scarves? They are quite the thing at such an event, and each town has these made in their official colors. Çan chose orange. On with the show!
When we got to the top, we found that we were nowhere near as early as we had previously thought. In fact, we were the end of the first wave! People had already staked out the prime hillside spots and were busy setting up their tables and grills. It was some time after 1:00 p.m.
We set out to explore the setting and see the camels who are tethered anywhere their owners see fit to tie them. Who’s going to tell them to move their camel?!
We were soon spotted by the mayor and some other important folks who insisted that we sit in the VIP tent. Who were we to argue? We took our seats just in time to see the final pre-game parade.
After watching the parade, we watched the first match. Two novice wrestlers came out and pushed each other a few times, then the whistle blew. Game over. I was considering asking,”Is that it?” when my friend explained that those two camels were basically clueless and that Turkish people use the phrase “young camel” to refer to such people also. Since the stars wouldn’t compete until later in the afternoon, we decided to walk around. We were also freezing and needed to move around!
Some words about what actually goes on in the ring: Camel wrestling may not be my favorite sporting event, but I am truly glad that I went and will go again if the opportunity presents itself. I must confess that I was a bit concerned about the prospect of watching camels shove each other around. Honestly, it seemed so strange, and maybe even unkind… not like chasing a poor, terrified calf, throwing a rope around its neck, and wrestling it to the ground! (Where is that sarcasm font when I need it?) Anyway, I decided that camel wrestling could have been a lot worse. Most folks were not really waiting as attentively as we were because they were too busy cooking, visiting, betting on the camels, or drinking rakı (and singing), the anise-flavored national drink that is 40-45% alcohol.
The two camels- always males- are led into the ring from opposite sides, preferably at a jog. The don’t really collide; rather, they just seem end up shoulder to shoulder. Like this:
This testing and tentative pushing can last for quite a while, but if you look away, you will probably miss something! The match in the photos here lasted for about five minutes, and at one point it seemed like it was over because one camel was “down.” We were all waiting for the whistle.
Then the camel on the left did something totally unexpected- to me anyway. Look at his neck. He put his neck and head down and shoved the other camel off-balance!
There was some scuffling, and they ended up back in the original shoving posture.
After a few minutes, the whistle blew and the camel with the tricky moves was declared the winner! But wait… the camels didn’t stop pushing! I was told that this is quite common, so men with ropes entered the arena and began to pull. Separating the camels took another five or so minutes.
By the time the match was over we were all cold as well as hungry. We had not planned a picnic, but no matter. There were plenty of options available for hungry fans who preferred to travel light. Most of the options in the meat category involved camel. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only meat there was of the camel variety.
The sausage is served on delicious, warm, crusty bread with some greens and some spicy sauce. The meat itself is mildly spicy and pretty tasty! See those stacks of green and white plastic tubs that look like yogurt? Well, it’s ayran- almost yogurt. It’s a drink made of yogurt, water and a bit of salt. Just the thing with many meat dishes over here and quite easy to make yourself.
But wait! The hospitality didn’t end there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there is no end at all to Turkish hospitality, and that, my dear readers, will require at least another whole article!