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La Tomatina. Anyone for ketchup?

August 31, 2010 | Advice, Article, Spain, Travel | 18 Comments
La Tomatina crowd

Forty thousand revellers.  One hundred and fifty thousand tomatoes.  Thirty five degrees Celsius.  A lot of beer.  One small town.  A recipe for one hell of a good party.

La Tomatina is billed as the largest food fight in the world.  Given that I’m still picking bits of tomato out of my ears several days later, I tend to agree.  Held on the last Wednesday in August every year and dating back … well, only about sixty years, the festival has grown steadily and is now firmly ensconced on the European summer backpacker circuit.

The small town of Bunol bursts at the seams for a day and water, tomato juice and beer seems to flow through the streets in almost equal measure. It’s a massive, crazy, crowded, messy and stupidly fun day.

After flying from Thailand to Spain and spending a couple of days operating on the perfect combination of minimal sleep and excessive drinking (not that I’m blaming anyone in particular here) while exploring my new favourite city of Valencia, the big festival day dawned hot, sunny and at least four hours too early for my liking.

Several other travel bloggers were in town and most of us had arranged to take an organised day trip out to Bunol as public transport is renowned for not coping with the numbers.  Talking to a few people who did brave the trains and public buses, however, it sounds like they were very crowded but manageable.

Other than transport, a dodgy t-shirt and the opportunity to share a pub crawl later in the day with a few hundred of your closest Australian backpacker mates, the only benefit of taking an organised trip is the chance to leave a change of clothes on the bus.  When you’ve finished the festival and are covered from head to toe in water and tomato pulp, getting changed is quite an appealing option.  If that doesn’t bother you, save yourself sixty euro or more, get up early and join the masses at the train station.

Bunol is only about 40km from Valencia so the trip out there took less than an hour.  The party was already starting by the time we arrived just before 9.00am, with the beers, food and sangria in full flow.  Nothing says good times like a cold beer for breakfast.

Thousands of people were walking down the hill towards the town centre, dressed in everything from sailor suits, to life rafts, to virtually nothing at all.  The sun was already beating down and a huge buzz of excitement was in the air.  You could just tell it was going to be an incredible day.

la-tomatina-rafts

After a few drinks and a bit of a wander around Bunol, we made our way into the main town centre about an hour before the cannon sounded to signal the start of the festivities.  Given the claustrophobic crush that ensued before we even got anywhere near the starting point, apparently we should have got there a little sooner.

Not that it mattered much – there was plenty of singing and dancing, refreshing buckets of water being thrown from the balconies and thousands of smiling backpackers.  As 11.00am approached, excitement rose to fever pitch until suddenly a cannon shot rang out above the mayhem.  With a huge roar from the crowd, La Tomatina was underway.

As we were a bit further back than intended, it took a while for the first of the huge tomato-laden trucks to make their way to where we were standing.  With a huge shove everyone squashed up against the walls of the narrow street to allow the trucks to lumber past while their passengers threw fistfuls of tomatoes at all and sundry.

While we managed to get hold of a few of the pulpy fruits from the first four trucks, it wasn’t until the final one that we really got into the thick of the action.  Within minutes there were tomato seeds in every orifice and huge smiles on every face.  Anything and anyone was fair game, especially if they happened to be holding a camera.

All too soon the second cannon shot fired and the festival was over.  All that remained was to fight our way back through the crowds, get hosed off by cheerful locals and grab one last beer before jumping back on the bus and heading to Valencia exhausted, half-drunk, sunburnt and with a smile that couldn’t be wiped off our faces for days.  Not to mention a strange hankering for a margherita pizza.

La Tomatina, you rocked my world.

Hints for making the most of La Tomatina:

 

– Get there early.  Crowds grow extremely quickly from about 9am onwards once the tour buses start rolling in.

– Grab a large plastic bottle of your favourite beverage (anything else will be taken from you by security) and make your way to the centre of town quickly.  The closer to the starting point you are, the more red squishy things are going to come flying your way.  If you’re too far back, you may barely see a tomato at all – and that would just be no fun.

– Wear enclosed shoes or at least decent sandals.  Flip flops won’t cut it.  With that many people standing on your feet, a pile of tomato pulp up to your ankles underfoot and surging crowds pushing you in all directions, the last thing you want to do is slip and fall.  You can buy canvas shoes for 10-15 euros in Valencia – they’ll probably be unsalvageable after the festival so the cheaper the better.

– Take as little with you as possible.  Electronics are in serious danger with the amount of water and tomato flying around, so if you’re going to take a phone or camera be sure to cover them in a zip-lock bag or similar.  Throw some euro into a plastic bag instead of taking your wallet.  Anything that can be left at the hotel should be.

– Clothes will be pretty much destroyed.  Don’t wear your favourite t-shirt to La Tomatina.

– Arrange a meeting place for when you lose the people you are with.  Yes, that’s when, not if.  There’s virtually no chance of finding each other again in the seething mass of humanity on Bunol’s main street once the party starts.

– Be prepared for huge numbers of people.  You will be squashed, pummelled, stood on and pushed in every direction.  Go with the flow, as there’s not really any other option.  You’re at one of the craziest parties in the world – make the most of it!



The Friday Photo #20 – Out for a paddle, Copenhagen
The Friday Photo #21 – Torres de Serranos, Valencia, Spain

18 Comments

  1. Reply

    AdventureRob

    September 1, 2010

    I will carry on dreaming. One day!

    It seems to be one of those things everyone should do in their life.

  2. Reply

    Dave

    September 1, 2010

    It really is! :)

  3. Reply

    Debi Ball

    September 1, 2010

    Was there for the 3rd year running.....dressed as a large tomato and with 90 friends all in the green t-shirts!! Great write up, sums up the day perfectly!!

    • Reply

      Dave

      September 2, 2010

      I can't believe I didn't see you - you'd think that a giant tomato would be pretty hard to miss! Never mind 90 green shirted friends. It was such a fun day - loved every minute of it!

  4. Reply

    Joel

    September 2, 2010

    Nice post. I'm glad you went first - now I have notes to crib from.

    As far as depriving you of sleep and plying you with cervezas, it wouldn't have been the same otherwise, would it? Plus, I blame the real instigator, who shall remain nameless.

  5. Reply

    Dave

    September 3, 2010

    It would have been so much less fun without countless cervezas and our new friend George, there's no doubt about it. And yeah, I'm with you on the nameless instigator...

  6. Reply

    Heather

    September 3, 2010

    Fabulous!! It's on my list of things to do and it WILL happen one day. Thanks for the extra tips :-)

  7. Reply

    Ian [EagerExistence]

    September 3, 2010

    I cant wait to try it out for myself!!

    PS. I came to the article via your RSS feed. Lucky I clicked, I wasnt aware there was more to read beyond the excerpt. You might want to look into a "read more" link at the end of your excerpt.

  8. Reply

    Dave

    September 3, 2010

    Hope you get there, Heather - it's a memorable day, that's for sure!

    Thanks for that Ian - I'm actually going to change to full feed very soon (ie, when I get more than five minutes in front of the laptop!).

  9. Reply

    ayngelina

    September 6, 2010

    Nice tips, would love to do that some day.

  10. Reply

    Sunee

    September 6, 2010

    Sounds like you had a brilliant time :)

    Btw, thought I should mention that this post's header on you main page links to your littlest hobo post...

  11. Reply

    Abbey Hesser

    September 9, 2010

    WAIT A SECOND HERE... I SEE WHAT'S GOING ON. This is just like that time that Joel posted some comment on his facebook and had like a 15 human conversation about my well-being without my knowing about it............ Nameless instigator - HA! I'll show you nameless. Don't think the two of you are getting away on MY post unnamed.

    PS - good post. I guess.
    PPS - I second that Joel, except I'm waiting for you, Dave, Craig, Linda, Suzy and Christine to ALL post before me so I can basically copy and paste together a post for myself.
    PPPS - Am I supposed to be adding more P's or more S's to the PS... should it be PSSS or PPPS? I can never remember.
    PPPPS (or PSSSS) - I love that bi-curious George got a shout out by name but I did not. I am up to HERE with you people. Although I am glad that I am linked as "anyone" and not "particular" like Joel. Though particular is a good word to describe Joel. Does that mean a good word to describe me is "anyone?" Am I that ordinary?

    I think I maybe just wrote a whole blog post there.

  12. Reply

    Dave

    September 10, 2010

    Thanks Sunee - all fixed!

    Abbey - what can I say? You crack me up every time. Looking foward to your stolen blog post. Actually I'm not, as I suspect I'm going to be named and shamed. Oh well. At least I didn't have drunken guys coming out to me for the first time in a random Valencia bar, I guess...

    I think it's PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPS. At a minimum.

    And of course you're not just anyone. You're a hyperlinked anyone. That means a lot, I'm sure.

    Keep riding those Spanish stallions.

  13. Reply

    Emma

    October 7, 2010

    Hey, this sounds awesome! Where do you get all those tomatoes from? Is it really packed? How does everything get cleaned up afterwords? Is it mostly young people?... or people of all ages? Do you recommend it for a trip to Spain?

  14. Reply

    Dave

    October 7, 2010

    Hey Emma,

    Five trucks *full* of tomatoes lumber their way up Bunol's main street for an hour, with half a dozen guys standing in the back scooping out tomatoes and throwing them into the crowd at full force! It's completely packed and is total mayhem for a few hours - if you can't deal with large crowds and lots of pushing, it's not gonna be much fun but otherwise it's amazing.

    As far as I know, high pressure hoses deal with the clean-up afterwards but I'm sure the smell of rotting fruit must hang around the town for a few days! It's mostly young people, but we were standing beside a couple of Australian women who would have been 60 if they were a day so it's not totally restricted to the stereotypical backpacker. If this sounds like your thing, I'd totally recommend trying to tie it into a trip to Spain!

  15. Reply

    Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_

    January 21, 2011

    I was telling someone about this the other day and they didn't believe me! Seriously... I was like "No, it's true, it IS a real event!"
    I don't know if I could handle those crowds well though... maybe if I had some tequila before hand I would be dandy

    • Reply

      Dave

      January 21, 2011

      Yeah it's real alright - it took a week to get all of the tomato seeds out!

      The crowds are a bit of a pain in the ass to be honest, and I don't see it getting any better over the coming years - there's just not enough space on Bunol's main street for everyone that wants to be there. Being half drunk beforehand definitely helped...

  16. Reply

    Luke Hoppel

    August 5, 2012

    Good stuff man! Just found your blog and have traveled quite a bit in the past but planning full time traveling for the next year at least!
    Heading to the tomato festival this year so your tips were def helpful!
    Look forward to reading more of your blog!


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