Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Getting the Hump in Al Ain

For Sale!!
Congratulations to the lovely city of Al Ain, which this week was awarded UNESCO status.  Al Ain is a beautiful place about an hour outside of Dubai, known for its greenery and for being the original home of many of the Sheikhs, before they moved to the bigger metropolises.  It's long been a favourite haunt of mine for a relaxing weekend away, with the visibly slower and calmer pace of life providing a welcome respite from a week in the washing machine that is working in Dubai.
Rather than drinking, brunching and dancing, the activities on offer involve exploring the six beautiful green oases, perhaps a drive up the huge Jebel Hafeet mountain, or (my absolute favourite) a trip to.....the camel market!!!

Yes, even after three years, my fascination, nay ADORATION of these amazing beasts has not abated one jot, and last weekend we went for our second nosy around the infamous market. It's hard to imagine the sight if you haven't witnessed it first-hand: basically there are rows and rows of large pens, full to the brim with all sorts of camels.  Goats and cows too but who cares about them when there's camels to look at!

In cooler weather you can get out of the car and stroll amongst the pens - the camel farmers are extremely welcoming and almost drag you in to fee them and learn interesting facts about the hairy creatures.  As it is, after all, a functioning market, you will also see the very serious and protracted discussions regarding camel sales....

Here's the process, as I understand it:
  • Nissan truck ambles into market, with camel in the back, secured by ropes.
  • Driver (owner?) gets out and crowd of potential buyers gather around the camel.
  • Camel inspection: the hump is always the first thing to be examined, with a firm squeeze.
  • General poking of camel.
  • Camel protests, loudly, at being poke.  Hard to explain the sound but a bit like a donkey's bray crossed with a foghorn.
  • Loud discussions about camel (in Arabic - oh to be able to understand the negotiations!) with lots of gesticulating and intermittent camel poking.
The outcome is different depending on deal or no deal of the camel.  By this point I am usually weak with excitement.  You'll also see teeny tiny baby camels being moved from pen to pen - comedy moments when a few make a break for "freeeeedom"!!!!.  Overlay the fact that throughout this process the camel farmers are v giddy to see a white blonde western woman in their midst and you have one magically hilarious morning.

The fun doesn't stop there, there's also shops nearby selling everything you need if you're a falcon, horse or camel owner.  Whilst I'm not interested in camel shampoo or feed, the shops are truly fascinating places, treasure troves full to the brim of super-interesting things.  And my favourite top tip: they sell the most beautiful and original camel blankets.  These are usually put over the top of the camel for decorative or warmth purposes, but they look equally lovely on the foot of the bed, or as a throw on the sofa or chaise.  They're usually brightly coloured and patterned and sometimes embellished with ribbons.  A camel has to look good!

They cost between 5 and ten English pounds, so are compete bargains.  Needless to say I left with armfuls and they are now festooned around the apartment.  One small snag, as camels (obviously) have a large hump, the rugs usually have a hole in the centre to accommodate this. You can't see it when the throw is folded, but it does make me smile every time I see it.  Off to Al Ain (again) next weekend.  If you haven' been, you really should.....

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