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Thrills and tomatoes

SPAIN | Sunday, 14 April 2013 | Views [220]

The alarm goes off at 5am, you grab the small bag you packed the night before and discard bed clothes for white t-shirts, its freezing at this hour but go jacketless anyway, a hoodie is just another thing to lose. This all sounds pretty strange, and even stranger if I try and convince you that it the start to one of the best travel and holiday experiences you will have. That was the start of my day last August when I and two friends made our pilgrimage to Bunol, a small town in Valencia and unknown except as being the home of La Tomatina or tomato festival. Promising more ketchup carnage than a Tarantino film it seemed like one of those things that must be done even once in your life.

The early start was in order to catch the 6am train. A quiet tram ride and it seemed there was only a handful of the slightly insane doing the same as us, we went on anyway. Arriving at the train station, as yet unopened, we were proved wrong in our assumptions that it was going to be a sedate group attending. Hundreds of people of all nationalities were queuing waiting to be let onto the boarding platform. This was the begining of an epic experience. Beer and lots of banter with aesthetically pleasing Aussies, it could not fail to be a good day. Getting to Bunol and the party kicks off for real. Everywhere people are drinking and eating ham sandwiches, if that is not enough to make an Irish person feel at home then there is the massive sense of craic to go with it. Bunol is usually a backward, sleepy town but for one day of the year it is party central. You wait until 11am in crowds for the tomato throwing to start, this may seem like a lot of standing around but they know how to keep the tipsy mobs entertained. Hang a ham on a greased telephone pole and make people climb/battle to grab it, it sounds mad, stupid and crazy but really it is the best fun. The tough beat their way to the front to climb first the crush of a human pyramid for the leg up to the pole get the assent started. Believe me it is not for the faint hearted. I am proud to say that I was the first woman of the day to attempt the climb, making it half way up, standing on numerous peoples heads, losing my shoes and getting absolutely covered in grease. It was worth it and made me a mini celebrity for a few hours!

The festival itself starts with a cannon sounding. Then trucks drive through the streets pelting tomatoes. It is then a carnage of a crush, water cannons, and a street flowing with juice. Absolutely unbelievable and terrifying at the same time. My memories are of trying to stay up right, the urge to take out any feelings of violence with the hurling of tomatoes and the pain when you get blasted yourself. It was a sea of red and limbs, and then red limbs, word of warning, tomato juice burns!

After the epic fight it is a walk to find friends and re group, you get sprayed and cleaned by locals as you make your way back. Adrenalin is pumping like never before and like it never will again. The party continues, the fiesta flows and those staying make for the bars or those going back to Valencia make their way for the train. I would urge anyone to make it a bucket list contender, it is one of the strangest things you will do and the feeling of pride in survival is thrilling. By the end of the day you are tired, wet and if like us will have lost a few belongings and may never use ketchup again but the hostel back in Valencia was waiting and so are good tapas and excellent beer, a perfect way to celebrate one of the ultimate travel experiences.

Tags: festival, spain, thrill seeking, tomato festival, valencia

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