When Traveler contributing writer Donovan Webster and his son James traveled to Niger late last year for the annual Tuareg Festival, they managed to get prime seats for the festival’s main event: the Camel Races. Of course, those seats were in a Land Cruiser driving along a dusty, bouncy stretch of desert…
On the last morning of the Tuareg Festival in northern Niger, a camel race was scheduled, with a large cash-and-goods prize going to the winner. The race would take place across 10 kilometers (6.1 miles) of desert, leading into the festival’s central stage area. It was to be the festival’s last hurrah.
That final morning–after sleeping beneath skies so starry it makes you feel adrift in the universe (which, of course, we all are)–and following a quick breakfast of coffee, fruit, bread, butter, and jam, my friend Tuareg leader Mohamed Ixa suggested that our group drive out to the camel race’s starting line, “just for a look. It’s something to do….”
Soon we were rolling across several dry riverbeds and rocky valleys, toward a low, brown, stony hill in the distance. At the foot of the hill, about a dozen camels stood, waiting.
Roughly half a mile away from the camels, a knot of Toyota Land Cruisers sat in the shade of a few trees. When we arrived at the other cars, lo and behold, my friend Adoua Mohamed was there.
On this sun-shot desert morning, I was shocked–shocked!–to discover side-wagering was happening.
“I like the white one,” or, as Adoua put it, “Je pense, le blanche….”
Others felt the mottled brown one would win. Or the black one.
Soon the bets were rising.
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“Come on,” Adoua said. “Let’s make this fun…”
More bets were made. The pot rose to far better than $200, a fortune in Niger. Then, with little fanfare, the riders mounted their camels, and the race began. The film above was made by my son James as he hung from Mohamed’s Land Cruiser as we attempted to keep up with a pack of racing camels…
Video: James Webster