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! To get a longer version of events read here.
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. Gradually though as the evening fell the plastic chairs on the streets started to fill and the buzz got louder. At night time 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.
We arrived at our spot at 7.30am as we were warned to be there early if you are to get a good spot. 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 is part of it. About an hour later some hero gets the ham and is triumphantly crowd surfed down the street with his prize in his hands. Through all of this the sun starts to make things sticky indeed and so hoses are periodiacally flashed around to cool the crowds.
At 11:00am a horn goes off and this signifies the start of Tomatina. 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 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 80%. Retaliation percentage 100%
Everybody is covered in head to toe in goo and loving it. 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’!
An hour later the town is destroyed and any piece of wall that wasn’t covered with tarpaulin is now dotted with little 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 as you wonder what just happened.
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