The camel marathon giving expatriates a deeper appreciation of UAE culture

Amid the beauty of the Dubai desert, 22 riders from 15 countries go on a journey of discovery

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Camel racing has deep roots in UAE heritage, and every year in Dubai, jockeys set out — either on race tracks or in the desert — to stage one of the most important cultural festivals in the country.

The first weekend of this month was the beginning of the latest Camel Trek Marathon, which has a series of races that culminate on January 6.

The National's Chris Whiteoak went to Al Marmoom Race Track to take shots of the preliminary race for expatriates, organised by the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre.

Camels are prepared for the preliminary race. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The race this year attracted a diverse mix of 22 participants from 15 countries, including Germany, Italy, China, Saudi Arabia, France, Jordan and Luxembourg — all of whom were trained for months by the heritage centre.

Some have joined previous camel treks, while others were taking part for the first time this year.

"It's been a very interesting experience so far," Enoch Castleberry, a first-time camel racer, tells The National. "I signed up after I saw a big billboard on the side of the highway with a beautiful picture of the desert with some camels."

Enoch Castleberry prepares for the race. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The Dubai resident started his training shortly after signing up, dedicating up to four days a week to learn how to ride a camel.

“It’s been really fun to spend time with these animals that you often see in the desert but you never think, 'oh I would go ride one'."

He said these camel races, which are held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, are important "because it really does open our eyes as foreigners and expats to the local culture".

The expatriate camel jockeys who participated this year were from 15 countries. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The preliminary race will be followed by another round on December 2, aptly coinciding with UAE National Day.

Camel racing is a staple during National Day celebrations, paying homage to the animals who have been essential companions of the Bedouin for centuries.

The next camel race will be on December 2. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The main and final race will be on January 6, just days after the end of the weeks-long camel trek, which is a separate event organised by the heritage centre.

Some participants in the races are also taking part in the trek, which begins on December 18 and ends on December 31.

During the preliminary race, German student Emilia Piesker, 14, emerged as the winner, covering the 1,500-metre track in one minute and 55.78 seconds.

Jordanian expat Rawan was a close second, finishing the race in one minute and 55.81 seconds.

Chinese citizen Xiaozhe Huo was third with a time of one minute and 58.75 seconds.

Camel jockeys battle it out at the Al Marmoon Race Track in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The mother of the winner, Pauline Piesker, who also participated in the race, expressed pride in her daughter's performance, saying "our participation last year in the camel ride earned us a lot of experience and skills".

The race was over a distance of 1,500 metres. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I work as a teacher, and I must say that participating in annual heritage sport shows you an aspect that gives you a complete picture of Dubai," Peskier said.

Updated: November 19, 2022, 4:03 AM