Sunday, March 6, 2011

Robo-Whip - Camel Racing in the Desert

A little bit out of order, here's one more story from our visit to Wadi Rum.

Seeing a camel race was an unexpected bonus on our desert safari.  We pulled up to a large fenced-in race track filled with camels.  Surprisingly, the track was not circular, oval, or any other enclosed shape.  The track was in a spiral shape, with the starting line on the inside of the spiral and the finish line at the end of the spiral.  Especially confounding was that neither the starting area, nor the finish line, was enclosed, so the camels were basically free to roam about as they liked.  As the camels milled around the starting line we noticed that they had no riders, and instead had what appeared to be a boxy, miniature robot on their second hump.  And each little robot was holding a whip!  Our guide explained to us that the camels ran without riders, and that the owner would control and “encourage” the camel by robotically whipping the camel via remote control!   

When the camel-owner (or I suppose whoever was holding the clicker) would click his remote the arm would rotate causing the whip to snap against the camel's back.  You can see the blue robo-whipper's whip most clearly. 
Once the race started the owners needed to stay close enough to their camels so their remote control signal could reach the robot-whippers, and they did so by driving along the outside of the track in a secondary, and actually somewhat more exciting, off-road race.  With dust flying everywhere both the camels, and their owners, were racing around the track.   

The best part, however, came after the finish line.  The end of the spiral track was unenclosed so as the camels pasted the finish line, continuously whipped by their little robot-riders, ahead of them was the wide-open desert.  Their freedom.  Their promised land.  And with the unfettered desert stretching out ahead of them, the camels began running even faster than they had in the actual race!    

Although there was no fence, the camels did first have to get by the Jordanian men who were waiting to try and catch them.  As each camel barreled towards its owner, the man (sometimes wearing traditional Bedouin gear, and in all cases wearing leather dress shoes) would starting running alongside the camel, and then leap up, attempt to hook his arms around the camel’s neck and try tackle the giant animal.  This dangerous, and mostly unsuccessful, move was great fun to watch.   

Gearing up for a tackle attempt. 
Note the leather shoes he choose to wear for the event.
This photo also reveals how the robot-whippers resemble R2-D2.
Those camels that broke through this first line of defense would then continue on towards the desert, robot-whipper on their back and all.  The Jordanian who had just failed to make a proper camel-tackle would then jump into the bed of a nearby pick-up truck and give chase to the fleeing camel.  The last thing we saw of the camel race were tens of camels racing out to the desert followed by a small army of men in their pick-up trucks.  It was a hilarious ending to a strange race - but not, as we would later learn, the last camel race we were to have the pleasure of attending during the GT.

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