The other-wise quite town in northern Kenya comes to life every last week of August as local and international visitors flock to Maralal to participate and witness the annual Maralal International Camel Derby. The 348 km distance between Nairobi and Maralal is relatively smooth until Archer’s post, a two-hour centre past Isiolo.
The scorching sun and bad roads signal the entry into Kenya’s wild arid North. But the vast, undisturbed landscape rolling beyond the shrubs and scattered trees ushers in a feeling of tranquility unfamiliar to city residents.
But when it rains, it pours. Bridges get washed away and roads become impassible for days, which to the optimists and adrenaline junkies, is part of the adventure. You get a package – rhino charge, amazing race, and camel derby all rolled up in one. Maralal during the rainy season is truly a beautiful scene to behold, if you escape getting stuck in the mud. There is an additional ‘scene’ for the ladies as several clean pools along the road provide the Samburu morans with grooming grounds.
The Camel derby, now in its 22nd edition, takes place over two days. A camel race is like a horse race, only in slow motion. The amateur race happens on the first day at the Yare Camel club on the outskirts of Maralal town. The camel handlers guide the mainly international riders along the 10km course. Argentinean, Ilaina Rabbat, won the amateur derby followed closely by Zoe Muller of the UK and Felecia Barne, a US national. 17 other nationalities participated in the amateur race.
Winners and their handlers are awarded in the evening – a culmination of a day full of cultural festivities including a traditional Samburu wedding. Too bad this year’s culture night flopped due to poor organization by the community. We were looking forward to seeing beautiful Samburu ladies strut on the make shift runway.
Kelly Lewarani won the 21km pro derby in a race characterized by stubborn camels and riders determined to steer the beasts on the course. Ltangi Wambile and Saidimu Longupae came a distant 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Plans to add more diverse cultural festivals by the Kenya Tourist Board in the region will enrich the Northern Kenya tourist circuit as a viable alternative to the traditional Mara/Coast circuits with a spill-over effect on the local economy.