"The Running of the Camels," by George Potter

Forty years ago this Summer I attended the "Running of the Bulls" at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. I didn't try to outrun the bulls; rather, I met the beasts as they entered the bull fighting ring. Fortunately young legs and quick side-stepping kept me from being gored. It was a crazy event, and I never thought I would experience anything like it again.

That was, until this winter when I was invited by Bedu friends to attend their camel races in Saudi Arabia. Two things reminded me why the camel races called to my mind Pamplona's running of the bulls. First, young men keep the camels at the starting line until a cover drops at the line and the men release the ropes that keep the camels tendered. Once the ropes are released, the men run as fast as they can to get out of the path of the camels. Half the time, at least one of the Bedus would trip and fall beneath the feet of the charging camels. Remarkably, as one Bedu pointed out to me, the camels somehow avoid stepping on the fallen man. Indeed, none of the people who fell that day were injured.


Second, dozens of trucks and 4X4 SUVs packed full of fanatical owners, well-wishers, and racing enthusiasts line both sides of the race track. The vehicles race along side of the camels to cheer them to victory. Some fans rode on the roof, and others hung out of windows. The drivers veer in and out of traffic trying to keep up with their favorite camel. The camels were prodded by their mechanical-jockey controls from the trucks. The fleet of accompanying trucks followed the camels and stirred up a thick cloud of dust. How the Bedu drivers avoided crashing into each other in the dust and chaos was as remarkable as how the runners in the narrow streets of Pamplona avoid being trampled by the bulls.


Although the Bedu do not bet on camel races, the owners of the winning camels are awarded new cars. Further, if a yearling camel can run 1.5 km (roughly 1 mile) in less than two minutes, the camel can be sold for up to US$3,000,000 dollars.


After the races, the Bedu invited my friends and me to lunch. For us, it was just another wonderful experience we were invited to share with our Arab brothers and sisters.