the running of the donkeys

Returning to port after our drop in the ocean (and getting into trouble for not anchoring our boat properly), we arrived back into Jelsa to a carnival-type atmosphere. Stalls were set up along the water, and barbecues and umbrellas lined the street. People swarmed everywhere, munching on grilled prawn skewers, fried calamari and fairy floss. Small children clung to Spongebob helium-filled balloons. Other children screamed at the sudden loss of their helium turtles, dolphins and princesses, who now floated high above the town, on their way to a life suspended in space above the earth.

We were thirsty after our traumatic adventure on the seas. We made our way to the nearest bar with a table for four.

Making our way through the throngs of tourists and locals alike, we heard the sound of ringing bells. And suddenly, from out of nowhere, there appeared a herd of donkeys. Six or seven large grey donkeys, with sad, old man eyes, followed by three or four smaller donkeys, and, running up the rear, two tiny donkeys. So small and unsteady on their legs, it looked as though they’d just been born.

Kids surrounded the animals, hitting their rumps with small twigs. The donkeys looked nonchalant. They looked sad and hot and tired. And maybe they knew what was to come.

We certainly didn’t.

A table, big enough for four, was located and beers were ordered. A bowl of chips arrived, with tomato sauce and mayonnaise. We sat back, rehydrated. Relaxed.

Until. The same ringing bell started up again, this time more frenetic than when the donkeys were making their way through the town.

“Clang-a-lang-a-lang!!!” The bell dully shrieked.

I have never seen anything like what I saw in that moment. A grey donkey, being ridden by a 12 year old boy, charging down the street, with twelve other donkeys hot at his heels. The boy started to slip, I gasped, and the boy fell from the donkey onto the road and was then trampled by the animals’ hooves. I covered my mouth. Had it been a horse, it would have been curtains for this kid. But, given the donkey was running full speed at about 11km an hour, and given the donkey itself would have weighed around the same as the chubby kid riding it, both parties remained unscathed.


The other donkeys hurtled by, some ridden by kids under 10, slapping their rumps with their hands; others ridden by GROWN MEN whipping them with olive twigs. The behbeh donkeys ran startled alongside, not knowing what was going on.

Buddy, you're too big for the donkey

After the onslaught of donkeys had passed, I realised I had been holding my breath. The excitement of witnessing a donkey race was almost too much.

Minutes later, the winning donkey walked back past us, proudly displaying his ‘Winner’ blue sash.

The winning donkey

"No pictures til you clear it with his agent, lady!"

And then we heard it again.


And off they ran, again. Same donkeys, different kids. And adults. I waited for the biggest donkey to rear up and whinny and throw its rider off its back and hurtle wildly through the town, upending tables and tearing through balloon stalls and turning over barbecues, but it didn’t happen. The donkeys continued to patiently trot through the town full of onlookers.

After five or six races, an announcement was sounded and the overall winning, best in show donkey paraded past the masses of people, the kid on his back beaming wildly.

We returned to our beers and chips, shaking our heads at the madness just witnessed.


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