It’s 10:30am on the last Wednesday in August and just as happens at this exact time every year, a group of overenthusiastic men are all barging each other out of the way attempting to climb a greasy pole with a leg of ham tied to the top. The purpose for climbing this pole is to knock the ham off , signalling the beginning of the world’s largest food fight. By 11am as is usual for this event, those desperate and slippery men have failed in their numerous attempts and the ham is still attached. So much to their dismay, and the impatience of the eagerly awaiting crowd, a cannon is fired into the air to signal that they should give up on the ham and begin the tomato fight anyway. This is La Tomatina!
The fight is held every year in the small town of Buñol, which is located 30km inland from Valencia. 40,000 people from all over the world take part in this annual tradition and we were lucky enough to be a part of it this year.
Starting at 8:00am, the buses begin arriving in Buñol and the crowds start to make their way down to the main street. As you walk from the bus into town, you pass locals selling home-made paella, chorizo and sangria from their homes so by the time you make your way down the hill into town you are sufficiently full and feeling good.
As 10:00am dawns, everyone crams into Buñol’s main street (which is approximately 4m wide). As the excitement builds, the locals start throwing buckets of water from their balconies into the crowd as people who have been standing in the packed, sunny street for hours chant… “Agua! Agua! Agua!” (Which means water in Spanish).
When the cannon sounds signalling the start of the fight, cheers erupt from the crowd and locals on rooftops throw tomatoes down into the street. Before we could see anything, the most powerful smell hit us like a punch in the face and all of a sudden, in the distance, we could see a truck making its way through the street packed with people. It then stopped to dump its load of tomatoes into the crowd, at their feet in the street.
Our first thought was, how on earth is this truck going to fit down here? The street already resembled a mosh-pit leaving barely any room for anyone to move around. However when the truck got closer, somehow everyone managed to squeeze to the side to allow it to pass through. As it went past, people riding in the tray of the truck would throw tomatoes into the crowd. Four more trucks followed this one in exactly the same manner.
By this stage there were tomatoes flying through the air, goggles were on many faces to protect eyes (a thought we laughed at firstly but once Hannah coped a tomato straight to the eye, and with the acid in the tomatoes packing a mild stinging sensation, we decided to wear ours to). Everyone was looking ridiculous with chunks of tomatoes all over them, seeds stuck in their hair and fogged-up goggles on their faces!
Exactly one hour after the first cannon sounds another cannon is fired, signally the end of the fight. The streets run red with tomato juice and the 40,000 people cram and shove their way back up the hill to the street party, where the party continues. Locals continue to sell food and drink in the streets and DJs began playing music at bars that have been set up on the footpath. The atmosphere was truly indescribable! Other locals play their part in the festival as well, by offering to hose down participants who have tomato all over them.
Once we had been hosed down, thrown our shoes away and changed into clean clothes we began to feel slightly normal again. However it’s wasnt until we got back to the hotel and had the best shower of our lives, did we rid ourselves of the smell if tomatoes! For those of you who are wondering if the whole experience has turned us off tomatoes for life? The answer is no… In fact, we had tomato sauce with our dinner that night! This was undoubtedly a once in a lifetime experience and an one that we would definitely recommend!