La tomatina is a festival held in a small town in Valenica called Buñol, which consists of throwing tomatoes at strangers. It seems like a very unusual tradition to have, thousands of people standing in the town square throwing tomatoes. It’s messy, it stinks and it’s a lot of food waste, or is it?
The festival emerged in the 1950’s were youth gathered on the street on the last Wednesday of August to have a bit of fun throwing tomatoes at each other. The first time it occurred there were only a few youth having fun and after a few years it emerged into something larger. At first the local police started arresting the youth, but the Spanish people protested. The festival was then organised with rules, and to accompany the festivities of the town with singers, bands and of course a giant tomato fight. The festival now attracts tourist from around the world. This year a ticket limit of 20,000 for foreigners and 3000 for local people were introduced.
The fun begins with people crowding the town plaza and the surrounding streets 2-3hrs before the event. In the middle of the town plaza a pole is greased and a leg of ham placed on top. At 10am Men who are closest to the pole all have an attempt at climbing up the pole to reach the ham. Meanwhile giant fire hoses are used to shower them down making the task near impossible. Just to make things harder, as we stood observing this spectacle in amongst the thousands of crowded people, the skies opened up and it started raining. Never the less within 15min the ham was taken, a starter gun was fired and in rolled the tomato trucks.
The crazy thing was, we were already standing shoulder to shoulder squeezed amongst people in a skinny little street and now a giant tip truck had to also fit and move past us occasionally dumping tomatoes.
At this stage I was pretty scared, thinking a mired of things to happen. One quite obvious thing is some one getting run over by the truck or crushed by the crowd. Thank my lucky stars none of my fears were satisfied. Phew!
At first we only got a few splashes of tomato residue, as the truck moved to stop right in front of us, the fight was on. Ten or so Spanish volunteers armed with tomatoes in the truck had the job of starting the fight, squashing the tomatoes in hand before throwing. It was quite disgusting at first, then residing to the fact that tomatoes are going to get in your mouth, ears, eyes and in your clothes, I decided to pick up some tomato pieces and give it whirl. The tomato fight was on, clothes were being thrown too, buckets of water poured from the balconies and roof tops above us. The crowd was chanting, people were dancing. It was controlled madness! Hahaha
Four trucks in total go past, on the forth truck my group of friends and I decided to hold on to the back of the truck for a nice and easy passage way out of the crowds five minutes before the end. Little did we know it was going to stop and tip and entire load of tomatoes directly on us.
At this stage, with no other strategy in mind we stood holding on to the back on the truck standing knee deep in crushed tomatoes. Behind us people had already started belly flopping and swimming in the river of tomato remains. It was crazy, people had lost their flip flops, shoes, sun glasses- basically everything. All floating on top of the tomato pulp. We finally managed to get out and found a street drinking fountain to wash off the chunks of tomato.
We had 40minutes to navigate from the festival back to coach we arrived on. Winding the streets you could see who cooped the worst of the worst. Festival goers shoe less, hungry and stinky hahaha
I later found out from a Taxi driver on the way to the airport that the tomatoes are specially grown for the festival. They are of poor quality, taste horrible and thin skin so they don’t hurt when thrown and crumble on impact. Over 150,000 tomatoes are thrown and the crop are picked the day before, so they are not old tomatoes.
The only way to do this properly is with a tour group so you get the most out of the experience. Just like last year I decided on a company called Stoke Travel, which is run by an Australian team. Even though organisation is not exactly there strongest point, they do create a fun environment. Staff are friendly and fellow campers are young back packers ready to make the most out of any situation.
The Stoke camp site had about 200 people in the tomato festival, all of which came in on bus. As we tried to get back on to the bus, the bus driver was not happy. They had failed to mention to bring a towel or a set of clothes to get changed into so we wouldn’t dirty the bus. As you can imagine the bus driver was not keen to get his bus filthy and ordered everyone to take another shower and strip down to their under wear to sit on the bus.
At this stage to 50 Aussie travellers trying to get on my bus the idea was amusing so in spirit we all discarded our clothing and shoes. We all sat on the bus in our under ware ready to hit the campsite for a hot shower and clean clothes. What the bus driver had not anticipated after it raining all day (as it was now sunny and hot) was the bus getting bogged in the mud. Our bus was stuck in the mud and so was the other four buses belonging to our campsite.
Thinking about this tactfully some of the boys ordered every one off the bus. Then in our underwear in true Aussie spirit every one jumped to the back of the bus and with all our man power we all started to push the bus by hand out of the mud. Once all four buses were pushed out we stood cheering and laughing in our under ware. It must have been a sight to see. An hour later we made it back to base camp, having a hot shower and wearing clean clothes had never felt so good!
We stayed at a campsite 60min from Valencia city at Puzol, although the campsite served its purpose it wasn’t exactly picturesque. Unfortunately when I arrived I bought the rain with me, we had showers on and off for a few days which flooded some tents and left the ground muddy. In saying that though I wouldn’t have changed a thing. In this instance it wasn’t about a having a white sandy beach or beautiful view, it’s the fellow campers that made it fun.
I now have awesome friends from all over Australia who I met half way around the world. All of which added to the fun and excitement of the festival, which I will never forget. Looking back at the whole experience I remember it as being fun. Experiencing it at the time I had mixed emotions of fear, excitement, happiness and liberation. It’s the strangest combination of things I have ever done, but I am glad I did and highly recommend if you get a chance to go to Spain give it a try. You never know how liberated you will feel after standing in your underwear covered in tomatoes, or catapulting a squashed tomato on to an unsuspecting strangers head.