If you like crazy festivals then Tomatina has to be on your list. Red missiles soar across the Iberian morning and the sleepy town of Bunol turns into a soupy warzone for one of the world’s most famous food fights. It’s hard to describe how the organisers convinced tomato growers to give away their tomatoes for free but also to convince the town’s people to put up with it and then convince people to volunteer to get smacked by them!
The day before
We arrived in Bunol at lunchtime the day before and it was like a ghost town. As we walked through the small narrow cobblestone streets the only sign that something was going on was the few people around were suspiciously putting up tarpaulin and plastic around the place. We sat down for a beer and asked the owner where the main square was. We were informed we were actually at it! There was no ‘square’, the square was there the church was on the main street! As the evening grew more people arrived and the little streets were now full of chairs and tables that would be where dinners would be served. The night before is a big night out for the locals with young and old out in force but tourists and backpackers were gradually taking over the town and by night time the bars or more like shops (clothes, antiques) that sold beer were all over the place. Out of nowhere a brass band started up celebrating the tomato and they were brilliant. The papier-mâché tomato was eventually discarded and any sort of a tune you can think of was played (my favourite was the A-Team). They were a big fan of playing the music slow and tense and then burst out and the crowd would go bananas (not tomatoes! Sorry) and throw their drink in the air much to the mucho annoyance of the trumpet player who kept getting wet. One of the best nights I have had and I finished up around 3pm due to the early start the next day but there were plenty hard at it at that point.
We were warned from the locals to be there early the next day if you want to get a good spot. If you come late then it will be too packed and you won’t be in the thick of the action. The place to be is the ‘square’ because that is where most of the trucks of Tomatoes empty their loads. We arrived at our spot at 7.30am and took our spot beside some of the Japanese that had almost managed to stay up all night and were now sleeping on the street. By 8.30am you could barely sit down there were so many people and at 10am the festivities start with ‘palo jamon’ which is basically get the ham on top of a very greasy telegraph pole. If people worked together this would not be a difficult task but the few around it want the glory and so climbing on top of everybody else and then slipping embarrassingly down is part of it. The cheering and booing of the crowd goes on for at least an hour (sometimes the ham is not reached) until some hero gets it and is triumphantly crowd surfed down the street with his prize ham in his hands.
At 11:00am (or a bit later) a horn goes off and this signifies the start of Tomatina. At this stage the temperature has been climbing and hoses are sporadically being sprayed on the participants but it is of scant conciliation. The streets are jammed but yet a 25tonne truck has to negotiate its way through and finally, finally it empties its load of tomatoes. Initially there are only a few red missiles zocked around but once the second and third truck arrive within the next 20min the place is carnage and the floor has an inch of tomatoes on it. You can take several different approaches:
- Throw indiscriminately at the crowd so you will surely hit someone but you won’t have the satisfaction of seeing a direct hit. Hitting percentage 100%, Retaliation percentage 0%
- Throw at some eejit that stands out a bit or that is standing on something so is taller than everybody else. Hitting percentage 20%. Retaliation percentage 0%
- Throw or squish a tomato in somebody’s face that is in close proximity to you. Hitting percentage 60%. Retaliation percentage 100%
The people must look like ants in tomato soup from above where a lot of locals and TV crews are viewing and everybody is covered in head to toe in goo. At the beginning the tomatoes can be fairly hard and a direct hit can be sore but after several throws and 30min into it, all tomatoes are now almost liquidised! As somebody said about something, ‘it’s as much fun as you can have with your clothes on’!
Once the second horn blows around an hour later and the 30,000people start to filter out you realise what the tarpaulin is for. The town is destroyed and any piece of wall that wasn’t covered is now dotted with red circles. As there are no washing facilities, most locals put out a hose out of their gate and queues form to wash tomato juice and tomato skin off you.
Need to Know, About Tomatina
Accommodation in Bunol for the food fight is very scarce and unless you book months in advance is very hard to find. Most backpackers and Spaniards arrive on the train from the city of Valencia at 7.45am on the day of Tomatina. This train can be very packed both coming and leaving.
From 2013 onwards tickets are required for entry, €10 and are non refundable. See website below.
- Currency – €1 = $1.30 US Dollars
- Date – Last Wednesday in August
- Location – Buñol. 40km west of Valencia on the east coast of Spain
- Bring – Anything you don’t mind throwing out. Flip flops are not a good idea. Many bring some sort of a snorkelling mask/goggles but is definitely not essential. If you do then you will spend half your time wiping it clean.
- Language – Spanish. Poor English is spoken by the general public and spoken better by anybody involved with the tourist industry. ie. hotels, tour operators, restaurants etc.
- Train – The train goes from Valencia Sant Isidre by the rail company Renfe (www.renfe.com). The train to Bunol leaves Valencia at 7am (be there early) and will have you in a good spot for all the action in Bunol for around 8am. Bring change if you plan on using the ticket machine although the ticket office will be open but may have queues. To get on the train back make sure you have washed off. Security will not allow you on the train unless you are reasonably clean. They also will not allow alcohol on the train.
- Madrid: You can get the train from Madrid to Valencia (1.55hrs)from Atocha Station with an AVE train. To save time you can take this train to the Requena-Utiel Station and then get a taxi to Bunol (40km) which will be more expensive.
- Website: http://www.spaintastic.es/frm/Tomatina.aspx?Idioma=I.
- Accommodation – Very limited in Bunol. Most tourists/backpackers stay in Valencia.
- Beer – 1 bottle of beer costs about €4
- Population of Bunol: 9,000