2 weekends ago, I hopped on a plane with a few friends and flew a mere 45 minutes to Izmir, Turkey. From there it was only a shuttle ride away from the town of Selçuk. Selçuk was the first town that I visited in Turkey, way back in 2008 when I was traveling with a group of college students, all of us learning to draw on location while experiencing a foreign culture. This time however, I was here for a very different reason…deve güreşleri..or camel wresting.
Its something I have always hear about…Turkey has 2 kinds of famous wresting..camel wrestling and oil wrestling, and after a 6 year affair with this country, I’ve finally seen one of them.
I am usually not one to pass up cultural experiences, or weekend trips to a nostalgic town. So very spontaneously, I found myself on the sunny Aegean Coast, just miles from the ancient city of Ephesus, but instead of strolling through ruins I was in the midst of hundreds of picnicking locals and elaborately dressed camels. The air was thick with smoke from BBQs as onlookers grilled vegetables and meat, passed around mezes, poured rakı and danced to gypsy bands weaving their way among the crowd.
As the day continued, the action in the ring fell into the background as we wandered the area. We sat for a time and watched a group of men performing a traditional Turkish folk dance, talked with locals who visit the event every year and bought our own camel wrestling scarves…a checkered and fringed type of shawl which usually features an embroidered camel in the center. We visited the adorned camels, and learned they had names like “Black Uncle,” “Half World” and “Lightening.”
After some time, we found a comfortable place on the grass, and sat down to sketch one of the waiting camels. I usually don’t draw animals, because I never seem to have the chance. But these stoic creatures were standing so still that it was the perfect chance to try it out. We eventually gathered a crowd of curious festival fans and photographers and pretty soon were tourist attractions ourselves.
At the end of the day, we loaded onto our shuttle smelling like camp fire smoke and grass. Each one of us exhausted and sunburned, our ears ringing from the constant thump of drums and the blaring clarinet…tired and happy.