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"If humans were pasta; this is what Spaghetti Bolognese would smell like.”

SPAIN | Tuesday, 6 September 2011 | Views [1238] | Comments [1]

Nothing you read, see on the web or are told over the years leading up to your first La Tomatina experience can prepare you for the absolute pandemonium and mayhem that is the world’s biggest food fight.

About 4 or 5 months ago we had already agreed that it would be way too difficult for us to attend La Tomatina. That is, our planned route through Europe and certain dates that we needed to be other places were going to make it near impossible to work Valencia into the itinerary at the end of August. However, after receiving an email from Hostelworld informing us that we have won a five day La Tomatina group tour experience courtesy of Busabout, we knew there was no way we could pass up the opportunity. (I should quickly point out that Ingrid is quite crazy when it comes to entering online travel competitions. Working in travel, she gets everything forwarded to her if she has not already found it through her own job research. She could quite easily have entered so many online competitions that by the basic laws of probability she was bound to win at least one of them! It just so happened to be this one.) A couple of budget one-way flights later and we were booked in for the madness.

Our second Spanish venture in the month started in the same place it previously ended, Barcelona. We had flown from Dubrovnik with Simon and Sarah, who had recently decided to also attend La Tomatina, and so felt it was our turn to show someone else the crazy nightlife that is Barcelona. We took them out for Tapas, awesome Mojito’s and also to the Shots Bar ‘Chupittos’ (all as mentioned in our previous blog), and in true Barcelona fashion; stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning. As Simon and Sarah were not part of the group tour with us, this was the last time we spent with them until briefly sharing La Tomatina war stories over an Iced Chocolate five days later.

Our tour began at 7.30 the next morning, as we hopped on board our first Busabout Bus and headed off for Valencia.
*Just a quick note that Busabout, for those who are unfamiliar with them, are a company that provide guided transportation throughout Europe but also offer tour packages for certain festivals and such – similar to Contiki and Fanatics however more focussed on the experience of the place/event and culture rather than just simply getting smashed off your t*ts.)
As it turned out there were 150 people on the 5 day La Tomatina tour with us, with another 550 Busabouters in other 3 day, 1 day and hotel tours scattered throughout Valencia. At our hostel we had around 60 Busabouters – about 55 or which were Aussies (a staggering percentage that I will come back to later on). A fantastic mix of people from all over Oz ensured the company was as great as the experience.

Over the next 4 days we had basically everything planned for us, which was a nice change from independent travel for a while. A guided tour of Valencia’s beautiful old city gave us great tips on where to visit, eat and drink in our spare time, and also where to purchase some cheap clothes and shoes for La Tomatina (because as we found out first hand – you won’t even want to consider keeping what your wear for the fight!) Over the course of the tour we also got taken to a Paella party with Sangria (both originating in the area), a guided bike ride to the Valencia beach, a day trip out to a sensational, innocently named coastal town of Peniscola (pronounced Pen-ish-colla), a Tapas dinner and also a wicked Flamenco music and dance show.
The highlights for us would definitely have to have been the Flamenco show and when we had Paella for two on the beach (served traditional style in the huge pan it was cooked in).

Fight day snuck up on us a little I have to say. With all the extra activities that were part of the package, we kind of forgot the real reason we were there in a way. None the less, we were prepared. At the start of the tour we were handed our La Tomatina ‘survival kit’ which included; a tour T-shirt, and pair of ear plugs (which I am sorry I did not wear – tomato seeds are hard to get out) and a swimming cap (the girls especially were heavily warned that if they did use this item they would be finding tomato bits in their hair for up to a week). We had bought our disposable 5 Euro shoes and had chosen clothes that we could easy discard.
In retrospect, the only item we wish we had invested in would be ski goggles, because quite frankly, our sunglasses lasted all of 30 seconds on our faces before they were smashed off by projectile tomatoes.

La Tomatina is staged in the small town of Buol (pronounced Bunyole). Its humble population of 9,000 swells to a staggering 40,000 for the festival, and about 35,000 people are crammed into one narrow street in the town centre for one hour of fruit-hurling chaos.

Our tour group took up a vantage point about 70 meters from the centre square (a wise move as it turns out). Pre-fight entertainment consisted of locals on balconies spraying the crowd below with hoses and dumping buckets of water on the most rowdy people. Along with the tomato fight, another La Tomatina tradition is the Ham on the Pole. A tall pole is greased up and a leg of Ham hung at the top in the centre square. It is tradition for the festival comers to try and climb the pole any way they can to reach the ham. This seemed an impossible feat with the ham being an easy 8 metres off the ground. However, after 1 and half hours of hundreds of people trying (sometimes 10 or 20 at a time trying to construct human pyramids), one little man with the right technique managed to scale the pole unaided and reach the coveted Ham. Needless to say the 35000 strong crowd went ballistic! (Apparently the ham had not been reached in 4 years).

At 11am we were met with a loud boom signalling the start of the fight. Eight huge dump trucks full of specially grown Tomatoes started their drive down the narrow street. The slightly breathable atmosphere was quickly changed into a crushing, Sardines-in-a-can-like status as the trucks slowly crept past. There were festival volunteers inside the dump trucks offloading the fruits onto the crowd. Some were simply scooped out onto our heads while some were hurled as projectiles further up the street at people in the trucks way.
(At this time I should mention the ‘festival rules’ – all of which are more of guidelines really as we found out.
1. Tomatoes must be squished in the hand before throwing.
2. No ripping clothes off others.
3. The fight finishes at 12pm SHARP.
All of which were broken by a good many people.)

The first fifteen or so minutes are one of shock really. Your eyes are stinging already from acidic juices, your head neck and face are being absolutely pelted with what feels like cricket balls rather than tomatoes and the familiar faces you have grown to know over the last few days quickly vanish in a blur of red. However, after this initial shock period, your mind starts to adjust to the situation and you summon the inner Chuck Norris in you and start going Bezerk! By this time the street is a foot deep in semi-obliterated Tomatoes and your only thoughts are ‘I must hurl as many of these bad boys at as many people as I possibly can or I might as well not be here!’ From here on in it is kind of a blur, you don’t really know what is happening either as a result of your adrenaline pumping or the loss of brain cells caused by the thumping of rock hard tomatoes into your head prior, but come midday the second cannon is fired and the fruit-shrapnel starts to die down. After a few minutes your eyes start to clear up and you take your first good look around for the last hour. What a sight! The street is now a flowing river of tomato juice and hose water from the balconies, the once quite diverse looking 35000 strong crowd is now a collective red pigmentation all cheering, signing and pleading with locals to hose them down and half of the clothes once worn by the people are now hanging from street-fairy lights, balconies and lamp posts.

The walk back to the buses involved two things – get hosed off at any cost, and if possible replenish the tank with food and water. The latter of which is quite easy with countless people selling very overpriced BBQ food and drinks all throughout the town, however, the battle for a hose is a desperate and in most cases futile effort. But with a bit of cunning and selective back-street bashing we managed all of the above, and headed back to Valencia for some well-earned rest before a final night out involving a 5 venue pub crawl, our guide getting us lost and standing at the bar waiting for service for a good 35mins for one fricken drink (to be honest I don’t remember much else haha).

The final day involved everyone saying their goodbyes, finding out where everyone was headed next in the chance of meeting up again (as it turns out, basically everyone was heading to Oktoberfest in one months time) and heading our separate ways. We got to the airport, ate some very much appreciated hangover cure food and boarded our plane – destination: Bucharest, Romania.

Comments

1

Living my dream!! Hope you guys are missing us here! If it helps with the homesickness we didn't have rain today!! It was a rare sight to behold....

  David D Sep 13, 2011 9:56 PM

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