27 August 2014
The day has come! La Tomatina is basically a tomato-throwing food-fight festival held in the tiny city of Buñol every August. The main event lasts an hour, signaled by the firing of shots to start and end the chaos. Overripe tomatoes are squashed and thrown from trucks and at everyone in sight on the streets!
I had gone to bed pretty late and set my alarm for 7am. I woke up around 6 because of the train and traffic noise and the heat prickling my skin. I picked my AirBnB place – a little more expensive than the rest of my accommodations for this trip – specifically based on its location near the bus station so that making the 8:30am departure time would be pretty convenient for me.
I managed to get there pretty early and the place was busy with tour guides and festival participants. I booked through SpainTastic and got Package C, which included a festival entrance ticket and a private air-conditioned bus to and from Valencia. Since I booked my Europe trip a little late, all of the single tickets that I could find from the official site and agencies were already sold out. Booking less expensive packages also meant an earlier departure (5:30am, 6:30am) in order to get to Buñol and line up to exchange tickets for the entrance wristband. Gah, I decided to pass on that.
I met the tour leader of my group and a handful of fellow very early group mates; two from Brazil, two from Korea, and one from Croatia. Our leader asked us why we wanted to come to the festival, and we were a mix of confused and/or excited because it’s a tomato-throwing festival, so why not?! Then she told us a story of how she had met participants in her group last year from Australia who came to Spain and stayed only for La Tomatina. She went on to say how ridiculous it was and that Spain has way more to offer than just this festival! I completely agree, but it was such a weird thing to try and set the tone for going to the festival.
The bus ride was pretty comfortable and I dozed off for a bit. Our tour guide collected money (it was expensive, I want to say €15 but failed to note exactly how much) from people who wanted paella, stating it would be difficult to find food otherwise in Buñol because like Valencia, a lot of places would be closed. I was a little doubtful since this was definitely the largest festival and tourist draw the town would experience, and decided to take my chances on finding food elsewhere or else surviving the day on the snacks I had with me.
The bus ride was just about an hour long. We were dropped off and told to meet at the bus station later; we would be leaving for Valencia at 3pm. We walked over to town.
The town was ready for us. €1 for funky plastic sunglasses, €3 for slippers, €10 for a waterproof camera. I had found a waterproof camera in Valencia for €6 the other day, so yay! They also sold goggles of different sizes but I didn’t catch the prices and had brought my own. The large goggles would have allowed me to wear my eye glasses underneath, but I got through the day okay without bringing/needing them.
There was an absolutely insane line up for lockers! I’m really glad I had decided not to bring a bag with me. All of my valuables were wrapped in ziploc bags and stuffed deep in my pockets or a money belt I wore underneath. I got a T-shirt from Spaintastic Tours and managed to stuff that behind my money belt, lol. The shirt I was already wearing was loose enough that hopefully I didn’t look too obvious and ridiculous with it.
Near the tour area, I found a small place and had a slice of pizza with barbecue sauce and meat, and sat roadside with other Tomatina tourists. There was music blaring in the background all over the place and I watched an older Spanish lady dance with two Korean guys in the middle of the road.
I missed the ‘Palo Jabón’ (or at least didn’t get to the right area where it was happening) which starts at 10am and involves people trying to climb a greased pole with a ham at the top. I’d later learn from another traveler I would meet in Barcelona that one of the guys fell and cut his face near his eye. D: There was also apparently a lot of chanting and getting hosed at this time.
There were two gated entrances into the main event area; one for security and another for the entry wristbands. I really have to say that the whole process was impressively well organized and efficient.
I waited in the middle of the street for the first shot to be fired. It got crowded and rowdy really quickly. Someone snuck in a bottle of ketchup and others still had their plastic cups of beer so our area had a little pre-shower of ketchup and booze.
If the lead up was already intense, you can imagine how crazy things got when the shot actually fired to signal the start of the fight. CHAOS, MADNESS, SPARTA, TOMATINA. I didn’t even see a tomato truck anywhere near us and was mostly squashed in between people and jerked around. At one point, I was literally off my feet and still in an upright position. I really wasn’t enjoying my time, and I know I wasn’t alone in these feelings of deep regret and anxiety because overheard were the following:
I’m actually going to die here! D:
There’s no escape! THERE’S NO ESCAAAAPE! D:
A: Is it almost over?!
B: …It’s only been fifteen minutes! D:
Luckily, my distress didn’t continue too much when I managed to pull away from the middle of the road onto the sidewalk, where things were much less utterly chaotic and I could actually breathe properly. The first truck had come and gone at this point and people were still hurling tomatoes from off the ground at each other. Salsa on the streets! It was still a pretty tame-looking version of what I imagined the scene to be though. I saw the next truck coming and decided to head back into the fray.
Okay, now let’s make salsa!
I lost count of how many trucks came by. A line of security people would start blowing their whistles until we cleared enough space to let each truck through. The trucks were all full of tomatoes with people on them, hyping the crowds and stomping on the tomatoes before they threw them at us and let the rest out onto the streets. At one point, a group of a few guys started chanting “USA! USA!” to troll the guys on the trucks to start throwing tomatoes at them. Haha. I just threw tomatoes around happily and haphazardly, lol.
I squeezed my way back to the sidewalk periodically for breaks and to re-adjust my goggles. Luckily my eyes didn’t sting as much as they did for others! I could taste tomato and knew I had somehow gotten some stuck between my teeth somehow too – so gross, especially thinking that they had probably been on the ground and somewhere on (multiple) someone’s body(ies). At least nothing got stuck in my ears. A random guy started picking me up, which startled me and I flailed around and he let me down and apologized. Then we threw tomatoes at each other. Haha.
I ended up really having the time of my life here! It’s awesome to brain a stranger with a squishy tomato and laugh about it. I had an amazing experience going by myself, but really think this would have been even more fun if I had come with a group of friends.
The aftermath of the Tomatocalypse saw red everywhere. The tomato juice and pieces squished underneath my feet and in between my toes. For the most part, people actually stayed true to stopping once the second shot was fired. As I made my way back to the tour area, I noticed several line-ups happening in front of locals with their garden hoses. Haha. I jumped in line and tried to get as much of the tomato gunk off me.
I then went back to the tour area where people were partying and the dance floor looked prettttty pumpin’! I didn’t stay though because I knew the line up for the showers would only get longer. I wanted to make sure I could shower, dry, and maybe get food before we had to head back to Valencia!
The line up for the showers was SO long. I waited for 40 mins to find out the “showers” were actually these large trucks with tanks of water that the staff hosed us with. LOL. It was just another party!
I cleaned off as best I could and tried to sundry myself and my clothes along the sidewalk nearby. I changed into the Tomatina shirt I had stashed behind my money belt like a stomach guard, haha, and then tossed my old one in the garbage. So many soiled shirts just left on the streets! :/
I’m going to take a quick minute for you to behold my footwear! Man, these shoes. They were perfect for this festival. They’ve also gotten me across several continents, two Korean mud festivals, and a Spanish tomato-throwing festival in a span of three years. And they were only $5! :*D
I got some food and went back to the main tour area. Actually at this point, a lot of people were ready to start leaving Buñol; there really isn’t much around this town and it’s all beer, a small bathing park, and a small dancing square. I talked a bit to a few Americans who had come to Spain for a wedding and had decided to come to La Tomatina just a few days beforehand with their time. Despite having had purchased the same package deal as I had that included a round-trip bus ticket, hey ended up going to the train station to see if they could get earlier tickets out of town.
I didn’t see my tour guide or other members anywhere and just decided to start making my way out to the bus station. I and a few other passerby tourists got hosed by a bored local chilling on his lawn chair, lol.
I had been walking for a while and did NOT recognize my surroundings at all. A guy wearing the Spaintastic Tours shirt passed by me and I asked him if he was going back to Valencia. He said yes and I asked if it was okay if I could follow him because I was lost, haha. I found out he was from China and in Spain now studying Spanish. I also ended up finding out he was headed to the train, not the bus! Luckily, both were in the same direction. When we reached the train station first, he asked a local in Spanish for me to make sure I was still going in the right direction. I’m really glad I’ve met such great people on this trip.
However, this was definitely not the place where we had been dropped off and I started getting nervous. The signages were still on the bus front windows though and I found mine! Yay!
There were only four other people at 2:45 and our guide was not one of them. By 3pm (time is SLOW when you’re in the dust and heat), we were still the only people there. The driver finally let us on and we stopped at another location to pick up our guide and remaining passengers in Buñol. It was actually at least a 15 minute ride and for a second I thought we were actually heading back to Valencia without everyone else, lol.
I napped for the hour long bus ride back to Valencia. Tomato throwing is tiring work! I stopped by a supermarket for snacks and water before heading back to Javier’s. I was planning to just stand outside the door of the building and ask for a nearby person to call Javier for me since I didn’t have the key to the building or apartment at that point. There were only kids on the street though, but luckily a repair guy came in within a couple of minutes and let me in.
I showered and washed my tomato – clothes. I hung them in various places in the room to catch the wind from the fan or the window to dry. I took a nap and groggily forced myself awake to get dinner. I ended up just getting an empanadilla Valenciana and empeñada on the go from some café. Unfortunately, neither were too impressive. I got back and packed for tomorrow morning, wrote a thank you postcard from Toronto for my hosts, and worked on my MRP before going to sleep. It would be off to Barcelona the next day! :D