La Tomatina, THE WORLD'S LARGEST FOOD FIGHT.
Every year, on the last Wednesday of August, roughly 30,000 people descend on the tiny town of Buñol, Spain, (approximately 40 minutes drive from Valencia) for one epic hour of pure every person for themselves, tomato fight madness.
Houses are covered in plastic tarpaulins, locals fill the balconies above and the town below becomes alive whilst the crowd awaits the 40 tonnes of tomatoes to make their way down Calle Cid and into Plaza Del Pueblo.
This resulted in a couple of small crowd surges, people overheating, some excessive drunken behavior and broken glass on the ground. I was in a prime position for the tomato fight, however, I moved into the nearby square because a) being blasted at close range by the water cannons was beginning to cane my body, b) I was close to a guy that was a little too 'angry' drunk for my liking, and c) there was a smashed bottle on the ground. I was worried my hands or feet could have been severely injured during the tomato fight because of someones negligence.
As a result, it ended up being a much better day overall. The only downside being that the weather was chilly and it rained a smidge. After being soaked by buckets of cold water and hoses, this became almost unbearable, The second the trucks began to drive down the street and the carnage began, the cold instantly disappeared as the adrenaline took over and I began running around like mad, repeatedly taking aim and firing.
The day begins early with a 7 am meeting time outside the hotel in Valencia. After boarding the coach we then travelled to the festival.
In Bunol, the coach drop off and pick up area for all tour companies is roughly a 30-minute walk from the location of the festival. Disembarking the bus in Bunol around 8 am, you join thousands of people walking towards Old Town.
Once in the center of Bunol, everyone packs into the narrow street of Calle cid and at 10 am the extra adventurous begin to take turns at attempting to climb the Palo Jabón (a slippery, long wooden pole slathered in lard with a ham placed at the top) whilst the crowd cheers, sings, chants, dances and gets showered in water from hoses and buckets.
Once the ham is knocked down, the first signal for the battle rings. Water cannons are fired and the smell of tomatoes fills the air as the trucks approach and begin to head down the crowded street. This generally happens just before 11 am.
If the crowd fails and the ham remains, the signal and water cannons will fire at 11 am and the tomato battle begins regardless.
Throwing faster than you can think, everybody becomes a target. Generally the tomatoes are crushed (or given a courtesy crush by the thrower) and will not cause injury, however on the odd throw, especially when you travel with my friend Barry, you are bound to be hit in the head at close range with a solid tomato.
At the end of the hour, not only does your body hurt from the repeated action of throwing, but your face also hurts from laughing and smiling so much.
A street party begins in Bunol straight after the event including music, alcohol and street food.
La Tomatina was the first item on my bucket list and I am so lucky to have been able to experience the celebration of this festival on more than one occasion. I highly recommend heading to Spain for this event.
- As you walk into town try and position yourself near the Palo Jabón (ham pole) for the best position. The further away you are from this pole, the further away you will be from the centre of the action.
- If you position yourself before the flagpole in Plaza Del Pueblo there is a little square off to the right, this is a good little spot to escape to if need be. There will still be masses of people there as it is quite close to the Palo Jabón, but the food fight won't be as intense. I stood here at one point and my fiercest competitor was a 4-year-old, (however, he had quite a mean throw).
- I recommend wearing goggles. It can get a bit messy trying to clear them once the food fight starts and they will fog up, however, it's better than having tomato juice in your eyes. If they end up getting annoying you can always wear them around your neck or wrist.
- Take a zip-lock plastic bag for your phone/ camera/ money. Absolutely nothing will stay dry. Even if you choose to shy away from the food fight you are bound to be covered in water or sangria.
- Seek some form of shower after the event. You will not be allowed back onto any of the coaches or onto the train if you’re still covered in tomatoes. They are very strict about this. Make sure you take advantage of the many locals standing outside their properties with hoses or head down to the river (which you should notice on your right hand side when walking to the festival).
- Don't stress out if you forget anything. There is plenty of street vendors as you walk into the town selling anything you could possibly need. Street food, alcohol, waterproof cameras, sunglasses, flip-flops, clothing... you name it.
- Don't expect to be able to keep anything you wear that day (even if its tiny) especially if you're continuing on with your travels. In 2012 I stashed away the headband I chose to wear and as a result every single time I opened my suitcase for the next month I could smell tomatoes, even after I’d thrown the headband out.
- If you don't want to become a popular target after the event has finished, don't wear neon coloured shorts. I made this mistake. After the siren rings to signal the end of the event and everyone begins to head away from the main street, all of a sudden I became a target for many.
RULES OF THE FESTIVAL
The city council follows a short list of instructions for the safety of the participants and the festival:
- The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
- No other projectiles except tomatoes are allowed.
- Participants have to give way to the trucks/ lorries.
- The festival doesn't allow ripping off T-shirts.
- After the second shot indicative of ending the tomato hurl, no tomatoes should be thrown.
If you decide to head in by car or train, you can find travel and ticket information at latomatina.info
Me and my fiancé are headed to La Tomatina this year for our honeymoon. You are the only blog review I found who travelled with PP Travels, so I am grateful for your posts regarding the tour and the festival. I just had a couple questions for you. What did you use to take photos at the festival? I don't want to ruin my camera or phone. Were you able to keep them dry and safe from damage in plastic baggies? Also, where did you keep your money during the tomato fight? Last question is what type of footwear did you wear during the fight? I was thinking of getting some cheap flip flops, but not sure if they would be safe due to people stepping on feet or them breaking.
Thanks so much!!
Hi Steph, Thanks for taking taking time out to read my post, much appreciated, I'm happy to answer any of your questions :)
To take photos I had a waterproof camera, although I wish I had taken a go pro, I've seen some amazing La Tom go pro footage. If you don't own a waterproof camera or don't want to risk ruining your own, you'll be able to buy disposable cameras on the way into the festivals from one of the street vendors. (The lens will fog up from time to time so make sure to wipe it clear)
RE Damage & Money:
The plastic baggies I used were enough to keep my money dry but only because I had a pocket that properly closed. So i recommend shorts or pants with a zip pocket or sew a couple of strong press studs inside your pockets to aid in keeping them closed. A festival belt would work great too. I left my phone on the bus, I did not risk taking that with me. The bus is locked from the time you get to the festival and you will not be allowed back on it until leaving time so you have to take everything you'll need with you.
As someone who wore ballet flats, I recommend to wear lace up sneakers; anything you wear you will have to throw out, so cheap ones would suffice. The ballet flats kept flicking off my feet (not a smart choice I will admit), once the fight was over i threw my shoes out and bought flip flops from the street vendors. You could wear flip flops during the event, however, the ground does get super slippery and as you mentioned, people step on your feet accidentally from time to time so it could get quite painful.
I hope that helps :) Enjoy La Tom.