Thursday, December 08, 2011

Don't back a camel in Tunisia's Sahara Festival


I woke up this morning and thought of Africa. Perhaps this week's trip to the zoo (heavily featuring elephants and giraffes) planted the idea of travels in Africa back in my head, although I hardly need any encouragement - I will definitely some day spend plenty of time exploring what I can only imagine is a magnificent continent.

Locals at Sahara Festival
To date, my experience is limited to northern Africa, quite different territory to the lands of elephants and giraffes, but magnificent nonetheless, and my favourite destination up there is easily Tunisia. One of the funniest experiences I had there was the Sahara Festival in Douz, on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. As usual, I hadn't actually been clever enough to time my visit for the festival (I hadn't even known about it!), I ended up there just by happy coincidence, but it was well worth it.

For a start, the clear absence of foreigners there (I wasn't the only one who hadn't known about it) and the fact that my travelling companion had a slightly expensive DSL camera meant that it was assumed we were foreign press, and were ushered through the crowd into a stand with a great view of the afternoon's activities. I was quite pleased this didn't mean we had to sit way up in the bleachers, where locals had obviously been sitting and waiting for hours already.

One of the most hilarious moments was the two-man camel show. Despite the fact that there were real camels as far as the eye could see, apparently it was necessary to have a men-in-camel-costume show. Yes, the "camel" was led around by a trainer and encouraged to do various tricks, all of which it performed, well, not very well. I hope it was just there for humour value!

Camel costume show at the Sahara Festival
After that, the real business of the day got underway, and it was even funnier! Yes, the culmination of the day was a camel race, and can I just give you a big tip - never place a bet on a camel race. These animals were clearly not born to race. Getting them all lined up together for the start was tricky enough, but trying to get them to move forwards towards the finish line, well that was pretty much impossible. I'm afraid I can't even share any photos of the "race", I didn't take any because I was laughing too hard! The "winner" was a camel that just happened to stumble towards the finish line.

Anyway, the Sahara Festival takes place every year shortly after Christmas, so if you are heading to Tunisia be a bit smarter than me and actually time your visit - it's well worth it.

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