‘The sexual life of the camel,
Is stranger than anyone thinks.
One night in a moment of passion,
He tried to deflower the Sphinx!
Now, the Sphinx’s posterior anatomy
Is covered with sand from the Nile.
Which accounts for the ‘ump on the camel,
And the Sphinx’s inscrutable smile!’
J and I have had much to ‘get the ‘ump’ about of late. Those who follow these rambling wanderings through time, space and reality will know of the quarry that has been opened next door to our home. Anyway, to escape the noise, dust and mud that kicks off our days at 6.30 every single morning, we decided to have a few days away at a spa and take in some Camel Wrestling as well.
For those of you worried about blood sport or cruelty, let me reassure you that I’ve attended many a bout in my years in Turkey and I’ve never seen a camel hurt or in any way disturbed by the presence of the noisy audience. The animals are focussed on just one thing – being top-dog in the hierarchical world of bull camels at a time of year when the ladies are feeling receptive.
To set the scene, you need to know that camel wrestling is not a touristy thing; it takes place over the winter months when the females are in season. With the steady expansion of winter tourism and with many more foreign residents around these days, venues near these centres now see a lot more ‘yabancı’ (foreigners) than used to be the case. For this reason, J and I prefer to frequent those places that are less ‘polished’ and less concerned about the image they are projecting. Rejecting the concrete safety fences of Selçuk for the chicken wire of Yatağan or Nazilli or Buldan suits us fine. Some of these venues are just a cleared area of forestry land, or an open space in the middle of a derelict works area, or, as was the case at Buldan where this post is set, a space in the middle of a quarry that was accessed through the town rubbish tip!
As we drove through the mounds of rubbish and dust we did wonder if the sign pointing us this way might not have been turned around as a prank. Our doubts soon evaporated as we joined the back of a queue to get our tickets from the Zabita (municipal police) – it was mayhem as drivers behind tried to pass on both sides on a track wide enough for one. We handed over 15 lira and got our ticket to admit one car and as many people as could jam themselves inside; pretty good value for a family day out. We drove forward just a couple of metres where we were again stopped by the Zabita who demanded our ticket, tore it into bits, chucked it with the rest of the rubbish and waved us through! Burası Türkiye! This isTurkey!
Being obvious foreigners, we drew a lot of polite interest and we were soon adopted by the members of an Ottoman Marching Band; photos were taken, cards exchanged and we now find that we are to be their honoured guests whenever we are in Denizli.
For those who have never experienced an event like this, it can best be described as a total assault on the senses. There are the sounds and sights and smells that emanate from thousands of people talking, drinking and cooking; there are tea vendors, candy-floss and balloon sellers; sausage makers, video sellers and those cooking meatballs and sausages on huge ‘barbies’; there are wandering bands of traditional folk musicians and the over-loud public address system. In the case of Buldan, there were the colourful uniforms of the Denizli Fatih Mehteri (Ottoman Marching Band), and then, of course, there are the stars of the show, the bull camels, decked out in all their finery; foaming and slobbering at the mouth and pumping out bucket loads of testosterone induced pheromones! The overall effect on the sensibilities of the new visitor is incredible – J and I have been attending these things for a while now and we still get a huge buzz. If you love spectacle and you love people-watching, you won’t find a better combination anywhere.
It is worth remembering that the bulls are behaving as they would ‘in the wild’ where the instinct to gather as many females together as they can by seeing-off any likely competitor is so powerful that everything else pales into insignificance. To avoid any possible injury to these valuable beasts as they compete, they have a cord tied around their jaws to prevent biting.
The contests between bulls amounts to a great deal of pushing and shoving with attempts to topple the opponent by wrapping a head and neck around his front legs. Some bouts are over quickly, others are called out of time by the judges – sometimes one of the beasts will take off for the hills and, chicken wire fences being no impediment, they end up scattering chairs, picnics and people! For me, some of the funniest moments come when two bulls, locked together and oblivious to anything around, end up by the fences – off come the spectators’ hats, up come the plastic chairs and there follows a totally ineffectual pantomime performance as the crowd tries to shoo the animals away. The wise would simply leave their place by the fence, but then they’d be giving up a prime spot and you know what Turks are like in a queue!
In the end there will usually be a winner with one animal being ‘pinned down’; a judge blows a whistle and two teams of ten to a dozen men move in, get a rope around each bull and then proceed to pull them apart – no easy task. In the end the beasts are separated and immediately begin to act like perfectly behaved gentlemen, showing no interest in any more brawling.
Buldan proved to be one of the very best venues we’ve been to – once through the rubbish tip, the atmosphere was brilliant – from here on the photos can do the talking. Back at our spa hotel we were able to have a nice long soak in the hot mineral waters and replace the smell of meatballs and rutting camels with the whiff of sulphur from the bowels of the earth – Sheer Bliss!
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü