Running of the Donkeys — Bulls Ain’t Got Nothing on This 34

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Donkey races in Sali Croatia poster, donkey race croatia poster

"sexy go-go girls" ??!!

A few months ago, I had the chance to do the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. It is the most famous festival of its kind in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people show up to watch or participate. Hemingway wrote ‘Sun Also Rises’ which revolved around it.

The Running of the Bulls long ago reached iconic status. All you need to say are the words, “Running of the Bulls” and people know what you are talking about.

The Donkey Race at the Sali Summer Festival

Then, there is… The Running of the Donkeys. The poor, red-headed stepchild of the Running of the Bulls, but I believe destined in its own way to become world famous.

It is an event that can only happen in a small town. And one that I am exceedingly grateful that I stumbled upon, during my month in Croatia.

At the beginning of August, the sleepy little town of Sali (population 1,688), on the island of Dugi Otok holds its three day summer festival. Sali is easily accessible from the mainland by means of a hour-long ferry ride from Zadar.

Sali harbor in croatia

part of the picturesque, and rather tiny, harbor in Sali


The festival consists of three days of food, drink, music, and assorted sporting competitions, such as sack races, scooter races and a tug-of-war competition, but the whole thing culminates with the soon-to-be-famous Donkey Races late Sunday afternoon.

The Real Competition: Donkey’s Distain verses Rider’s Intensity 

The donkey races run a big U from one of side of the harbor to the other. I didn’t realize until I got this photos up on the computer what I enjoyed the most, which is the contrast of expressions and emotions you can feel from the donkeys and the riders.

crowd for donkey race in croatia

the crowd gathers on the race track, carefully marked off in white paint


Unlike the Running of the Bulls, the crowd in this particular endeavor can get much more up close and personal with the beasts. Just stand behind the white lines and get ready for all the high-speed racing excitement.

pre donkey race walk in sali

the pre-race walk of the donkeys by the crowd... reminded me of the Kentucky Derby


Before the race, the donkeys, their riders, the Donkey Band, and local dignitaries assemble on one side of the harbor for some speeches and merriment. They they march around to the starting line — donkeys, riders, and dozens of locals of all ages in costume.



Sali Summer Festival Donkey Race in Croatia

and they are off!!


Donkey Race Sali Summer Festival  in Croatia

The intensity. The concentration. The Will to Win.


Donkey Racing in Croatia at Sali Summer Festival

Push. Pull. Doesn't matter. Just get to the finish line.


Sali Summer Festival Donkey Race in Croatia

Come on... tell me that you aren't already booking a ticket to see this next year.


Donkey Racing in Croatia on the islands

donkeys are famous for their obedience and training


Donkey Band playing in the harbor water at Sali Croatia

the "Donkey Band" finishes the festival by playing... in the harbor waters


The run a couple donkey races. The winners get a big prosciutto ham. Then, the Donkey Band takes a few tours around the harbor and everyone then gets back to the eating and drinking.

It was only a day trip, actually that turned into an unexpected overnight trip without my bag when I couldn’t get a ticket back on the return ferry, but it was one that I was happy to have stumbled across.


Nobody ever lives their life all the way up, except bull-fighters.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I’m sorry Ernest, my old pal, but you never meet the fearless donkey riders.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

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