A camel, by any other name...

... would be just as frothy. This weekend, I went to the much anticipated annual camel wrestling festival in Selçuk. It was my second time at this event and, although I thought that it would be pretty hard to top last year's spirited celebrations, this year's festivities did not disappoint.

The festival was on Sunday, but we caught an early flight on Saturday morning to make the most of our weekend there. After a wander through Selçuk and a gape at the pre-wrestling camel beauty contest, where these humped beauties strutted around in their most impressive outfits, a group of us opted to go to visit Şirince- a small, picturesque village known for its sweet fruit wine. Bizarrely,  it was also one of the few places on Earth designated to survive the end of the world in 2012 predicted in the Mayan calendar. And. if one had to choose a place to avoid the apocalypse, Şirince would be quite a lovely one. It's name actually means "pleasant" in Turkish, which suits it, although I learned of a story that it used to  be called "çirkince", or "ugly" by freed Greek slaves who founded it to deter visitors from coming through.
Camel beauty camel contestant

Fresh olive oil, jams, and honey

St. John Kilisesi, Sirince
We passed by vendors whose shops displayed colorful honeys and jams of many sorts, including pomegranate, mulberry, and mastic. We moved to get away from the touristy center and walked up through cobblestone streets to St. John Kilisesi, an old Greek church. It unfortunately, is a little worse for wear, covered with graffiti, completely barren, and crumbling on the inside. We continued up above the town to take in the view and looped around. Finding our way back to the town involved some off-roading through yards and a small ravine, and an encounter with a friendly local cat who insisted on escorting us part of the way. Finally, we reached a square with a wine house and we stopped in to sample the local wares. With a blazing fire that flushed our faces and Ataturk looking on from above, we clinked glasses to a fabulous day in good company.

Most houses had one of these motorcycles plus sidecar wagon action... would be fun to zip through the cobblestone streets of Sirince, sitting in the sidecar. 


Şirince from above

Walk through the backstreets of Şirince

Sarapevi, trying out the local wines

Ne Mutlu Turkum Diyene- "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk"
Before we knew it, it was time to catch the last dolmus back to town to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner. We had reserved a table at Ejder, where we'd eaten last year. Its friendly and gracious owners, along with the ample amounts of tasty food made it worth a second visit. The highlight of the evening, though, was the musicians weaving through the maze of tables, ready to place a drum on anyone's head or play a clarinet in one's ear to encourage them to roll up a bill and plant it in their instrument. It is hard to describe the music that night. It was part cicada drone and high pitched whine that went right to your head, an embodiment of delirium. Then there was the drum, confident and powerful, dictating the shaking of hips with an irresistible beat. Our friend Onur and Ozgul started off the dance party with a traditional Turkish male dance. After that, everyone got up and joined... and I did not sit down again for the entire evening. Raki was flowing, shoulders were shaking, and wide smiles perched themselves on every face. It was one of the most incredible atmospheres I have ever experienced.

Gabby loved having the drum on her head
So did Ozlem...

The next day was the day of the festival we dragged our groggy selves out of bed to get breakfast and a spot at the arena. When we got there, the grounds were bustling with vendors selling checkered camel wrestling scarves, sweets, and produce. The squeal of the clarinet and stomp of the drums was omnipresent. Camels lumbered down the path, led by their proud owners, and the air was filled with smoke from cooking camel sucuk and other barbecues. Spectators had set tables up all along the tiers that made up the stands and brought picnics along. Raki filled glasses with its milky opalness- breakfast of champions! People filled the entire surface of the hill behind the ring, leading up to a large banner with a portrait of Ataturk, flapping in the wind- a silent and revered presence, blessing the festival.

Dodging lines of froth!!
Camel owners paraded their camels before the start of the matches and anyone was allowed in the ring to take pictures and get a good eyeful of these beautiful beasts. Bells attached to the camels added their brassy sound to the din of the clarinet and drums, and intoxicating cacophony of the arena.


These guys separate the camels once a victory has been declared


Watching the camel procession

Finally, it was time for the wrestling. The mayor gave a speech and led everyone in the İstiklâl Marşı. And then, the games began. Camels with names like Yarim Dunyasi ("Half World"), Arab Şimşek ("Arab Lightning"), and Ege Yildizi ("Agean Star") were brought to the ring and locked necks in attempts to pin each other down. They were pulled apart once a victory was declared and a new pair took their place.

After a while, the matches became secondary to the rest of the eye candy at the festival. To the side of the ring was a group of traditional Turkish dancers in impeccable outfits with shiny pleated boots, button down shirts, vests topped with fringed, checkered scarves, and sharp, grey hats. They were carrying on something that is embedded in Turkish culture- men dance here, and they are proud and elegant dances. We stopped to chat with one of the dancers who heads a folkloric dance school.  

We stopped to chat with some of the dancers when they were taking a break. 

Before taking a lunch break, we sat down by the camel holding area to sketch a bit. We sat in a central point where we were encircled by camels, but all zeroed in on one handsome looking camel named Demiroz. He was the perfect model and stood mostly still the entire time. People came to look and chat. One man complimented our drawings, to which his friend replied, "I could draw a camel with my eyes closed!" And, he did sit and draw one... His eyes were open, but the result was great. We asked for the drawing and he gave it to us. 

Ozlem, sketching
Our model, Demiroz, standing very, very still

Gabby and Melody, sketching

We topped the day off with some camel sucuk sandwiches and beer, and rejoined the group to dance in the stands. Finally, it was time to go. We left with the smell of grilling and camel sausage permeating our hair, the whine of the zurna in our ears, and the thump of the davul in our hips and shoulders... and went home dreaming of the next adventure. 

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