Last Wednesday I was amongst the 20,000 people who went to the Tomatina festival in Buñol. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this festival, it is where hundreds of tons of tomatoes are emptied from trucks into the main street of a tiny village for people to throw at each other for an hour. It is crazy, messy, wet and extremely red.
I’d wanted to go for most of the summer and after buying the tickets, me and my friend Anna started to get apprehensive about the world’s largest food fight. After asking people who had been in previous years, we were constantly told that it is something you go to once in your life and never again, that we would be spending at least three days washing tomato out of our hair and at least two months avoiding tomatoes.
We arrived to Buñol about 8am and went to find our wristbands to get into the main part where the festival was being held. On our way through the streets people were selling waterproof cameras, swimming goggles and of course sangria, or as one stall translated the Spanish drink “bleeding” which was available in small and big. We met a local from Buñol who was still drunk from the night before, he told us how he comes to the festival every year as he’s from the village and that this year he was going for the ham. That’s not a euphemism by the way. The Tomatina starts with a leg of smoked ham hanging from the top of a soapy pole in the main plaza; the idea is that the tomato trucks enter the area when somebody climbs the pole and takes off the ham, but as it is slippery and the human pyramids fall down, nobody ever gets the ham and the fight starts at 11am.
We went into the area of the tomatoes with some Japanese friends we’d met the previous night on a pub crawl. There were so many tourists from Japan and Australia who had come to Valencia for the Tomatina, imagine what a long journey they must have had! We made our way (in the rain) as close to the ham pole as we could and were stood next to a cage of people with strong hoses, who would soak everybody with water whenever they felt like it.
I’d never seen rain like the rain that fell during Tomatina, I was shivering with cold, soaked through, wondering what on earth I was doing here and the tomatoes hadn’t even arrived yet! Surprisingly, many people had their iPhones out and were taking pictures despite the rain, water and the tomatoes that were on their way. Here is a video of the Tomatina, where me, Anna and the Japanese appear before the tomatoes have arrived, I wasn’t this happy when they came!
When the first truck passed by and people started to throw tomatoes I was left thinking “is this it? Where are the rest of the tomatoes? Surely there must be more?” after having seen pictures of people from previous years swimming in tomato mush. Meanwhile the Japanese guy we were with was giggling away when he saw people get a tomato thrown in their face.
The trucks then kept coming and the crowd of people were pushing each other. Tomatoes starting flying and I put my 2€ goggles on to protect my eyes a bit. As I looked around I saw people’s heads and shoulders full of bits of tomato skin and seeds so I assumed I must have looked the same as them, despite not feeling any tomatoes hit me. A few fell into my hands and I threw them the best I could or I wiped them in my friends faces…but I wouldn’t say I had fun. Maybe I’m a serious English person who doesn’t know how to have fun, maybe it was the rain and the cold or maybe throwing tomatoes and being trampled on by a crowd of strangers isn’t fun. However it was certainly an experience I would recommend to adrenalin seekers and tomato haters (so that after they have a genuine reason to dislike them). We thought the fight had finished/ had had enough of it all so followed the crowd in starting to exit the red streets of Buñol. However as we walked away from the hoses, more tomatoes and slush hit us from all directions. There were no more hoses to blast the tomatoes off us and I was left feeling vile. I was trudging through tomato slush that was up to my ankles, cold and covered in tomatoes and other people’s hairs.
Oh and the smell! It was like sweet tomatoes, sangria and human vomit mashed into one. It also looked as if somebody had vomited over every street, building and head after a tomato overdose. By the time we were leaving, the rain had stopped so we were covered head to toe in red bits. I was cold, smelly, red and amazed at how many people come each year to this festival.
It’s one of those things that now I think, well I’ve done that and can cross it off my list. The best part? Sitting with Anna on a bench before the fight and being approached by a group of Russian tourists who took turns to take photos with us. The photographer told us how to sit, took at least 15 shots and then gave us his business card (which unfortuneatly got lost amongst the tomatoes). The worst part? The bus ride home with a grumpy driver who put the extractor fan on to take away the smell of tomatoes instead of putting on the hot air con for 50 cold, shivering passengers and unnecessarily made us wait 30 minutes in the coach when we could have been on our way to a hot shower.
The day after I had general aches and pains, a bruise on my hip and today I’ve woken up with a cold which I blame on La Tomatina. I’m not quite ready to smell or eat tomatoes just yet, but give it a few weeks and I will have gotten over it.