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New Europe

Day Forty-one: Selçuk

Camel wrestling 
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Two heavyweight camels try to get each other's heads on the ground.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThen he smiles, a little apologetically.

'Maybe it's our fault too. We must express our feelings better.'

We're interrupted by a cheer from the crowd as the first camels are led into the arena below us. They're much bigger, taller and hairier than the camels I saw in the Sahara. They come from Iran where they breed two-humped with one-humped camels to produce this big single-humped breed. Not that one can see anything of the hump itself for it's obscured by the hamut, a sumptuously decorated wooden superstructure covered with silks and brocades, lengths of embroidered felt and carpet, a leather saddle and a bell which rings whenever they move. This edifice is both decorative and very heavy and causes the camel to sashay and sway like some great diva. Yusuf tells me that for the last three or four months they will have had to live from the fat stored in their humps as their trainers deliberately stop feeding them in order to increase their aggression. It's also their rutting season, so the combination of hunger and lust will, they hope, make for some good entertainment.

It may also explain why most of them, the camels not the trainers that is, are foaming at the mouth.

All the camels have names, and their pedigree is studied carefully by those who gamble on the outcome. Apparently a few years ago there was a fashion for calling camels Saddam, Bush and Clinton.

The atmosphere is, almost literally, intoxicating. Smoke, rich with the smell of tobacco and grilling meat, drifts across the hillside, along with the whining, thumping squeal of drum and pipe bands, whose relentless rhythm mingles with
a P/A system booming out non-stop commentary from the podium.

Balloon- and candyfloss-sellers work the noisy crowd. The camel owners - men in suits with mobiles at their ears, well-dressed women inscrutable behind dark glasses - take their places in the VIP enclosure. The ring fills as the competing camels, some of whom may have spent eight to ten hours in a truck on the way here, get to stretch their legs, foam a bit and generally get angry. Each one is accompanied by a team of urganci, rope men, who follow their camel like dockers around a ship, ready to restrain their beast should things get out of hand.
Camel wrestling 
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Contestants foam at the mouth. Not surprising as they're angry, hungry and randy.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-one: Selçuk
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Selšuk
  • Book page no: 105

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