Saturday, November 8, 2008

Birqash Camel Market Part 1

This past Friday morning we woke up early and caught a cab to the camel market in Birqash, about 25 miles outside Cairo.

Every Friday morning between around 7 and 11 AM, thousands of camels are brought all the way up Egypt to this market to be sold. Some are used as beasts of burden, some as transport, and according to one book, some end up as food on the plates of some of the poorer families of Cairo.

Also, Lonely Planet makes a point of noting that PETA members should probably not make the trip, since the camels are "beaten relentlessly."

But with so many, in such a small place, there really is no other way to keep them in line. It's funny, at the entrance on the right side are the well-behaved camels, many of them on the ground or standing quietly. On the LEFT side are the crazy ones who are in a constant race against the camel herders.

All of the camels (as you'll see in the pictures) have one of their front legs bent at the knee and tied back so that they aren't very mobile. So the herders spend a lot of the time chasing after these camels that are sort of running/sort of hopping off. In an attempt to tame or tire out the rebellious camels, the herders would chase them out of the gate and then back in. However, due to the camel:camel herder ratio this meant that many times a camel would break free of the pack.

About 47 times, I stopped to take a picture and was momentarily oblivious to my surroundings. I would take the picture and then realize that a camel was charging right at me from the side or behind me and I had to pull out my best Adrian Peterson juke and get out of the way. Seriously, this happened more than it should have.




You can see the front leg tied up in this picture.

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Anonymous said...

How much does a good camel cost? Is the camel cheaper if it is a calmer one?

Alexander said...

Dude you should submit your camel portraits to National Geographic, they have monthly contests. I think your work is excellent.

Jeff said...

@Anonymous (I'm guessing Kev, because of the multiple questions in a row) - good camels cost somewhere between 2000 and 5000 Egyptian pounds, which is the equivalent of around 400 - 1000 dollars

@Alex - thanks dude, I hadn't thought about that, but I didn't think the camel shots were my best work. I'll look into it though

I just got back from the Siwa Oasis in the Sahara in western Egypt. I'm transferring my pictures to my computer now, so hopefully I'll put them up soon

Barbadot said...

Haha! I love the headshot!

Jon said...

Jeff - Anya and Maya are sitting on my lap, looking at your blog - especially the camel pictures. We have some questions. Anya wants to know what the blue mark means on the side of the camel's neck. Maya wants to know why the camel's nose is so big? Thanks Jeff. (PS - Michael told us over waffles and kidney stew that he looks at your blog frequently - so hopefully he'll see your reply! Dad

Jeff said...

I will email this to Mike as well, but tell Anya that the blue mark probably shows who owns the camel, and maybe also helps to tell each camel apart. As for why their noses are so big, it's because they have to help their camel herders sniff out tourists from miles away! Kidding of course, it is so they can find sources of water when they are wandering around in the desert. They can also open and close their nostrils to keep out the blowing sand in the desert.

Lola said...

Thank you for this blog, it helped me with a project I am doing!

- - - said...


Thanks a lot for this post. I'm planning to head to Cairo in December and would love to check out this camel market.

I asked my hotel to arrange an english speaking guide but the price he quote me seemed expensive (USD 30). What you recommend?

Jeff said...

It's a difficult place to find - you don't really need a guide in my opinion, just a driver. Once you get there you just pay the entrance fee (LE20 =~ 4 USD) and wander around. The problem is that not many people know how to get there so you need a reliable driver. We took a metered cab but were pretty sure the guy was trying to swindle us the whole time to jack the price up (getting "lost", having to change a tire while the meter was still running...etc.), but such is life in Egypt. Maybe just ask for a reliable driver that knows how to get there? Insist on that point. Good luck!