Tuesday, 25 September 2012

La Tomatina-Buñol (Valencia) Spain

Hello everyone,

I had to wake up pretty early at around 3.00am to get ready and catch a cab to Baker Street, London at 3.30am. I waited at the EasyBus stop until around 4.10am with Chloe to make our way out to Stansted Airport which is around 1hour and 15minutes out of London.  We were so tired but ate some breakfast together and made our way through customs before being stopped because both of our our bags had been placed on a separate conveyor belt to be searched. I must have looked like a suspect because I also got patted down by the lady as I was going through the metal detector, I wasn´t off to a good start this morning. I don´t know what it is about airports but they always seem to make you feel as though you are a criminal and have done something wrong even though you know you are innocent.
After we arrived in Valencia, Spain we caught a cab to Hotel Valencia which was where we were staying for the next two nights for the annual 2012 'La Tomatina festival'. That day was really hot and humid in Valencia and we were sweating as soon as we stepped out the hotel doors. We attempted to buy cheap clothes from local shops for the festival which proved to be troublesome as everything was pretty expensive. We looked around for ages trying to find an outfit that wasn´t too ugly but something that we didn´t care if it got ruined during the fight. Later that night we went to a pub called 'Finnegans' with a bunch of other Busabout travellers to have meet and greet drinks. It was great catching up with Sandra and Matt, a fun couple that I had met at Running of the Bulls in San Sebastian earlier on my travels. We were all staying in the same hotel and got to meet a funny new girl called Morgan who they had met during Sail Croatia and a couple from Geelong. We all sat and chatted whilst we sipped on cider and wine talking about what we had been up to since we last saw each other which was great. I took it really easy that night drinking wisely as I didn´t want to be sick for the tomato fight like I was for Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, I learnt my lesson well and truly from that night and only had about four wines before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the fight the next day!!! 

The following day Chloe and I woke up at about 5.45am, got dressed and headed down to breakfast to grab some cereal and toast before the big day. Sandra had got pretty drunk the night before and was feeling pretty sick and I felt sorry for her but was so glad it wasn´t me. We got into the bus and headed into Buñol, a small Spanish town around 50 minutes out of Valencia. I slept the whole way on the bus until Steph, our Busabout representative got on the microphone to give us a run down what was going to take place at La Tomatina. I had already seen many photos of other travellers from La Tomatina in previous years and I was so excited that it was my turn to take part in the world´s biggest food with a great group of travelling friends. Below I have a little bit of information about what La Tomatina actually involves as I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into before arriving in Valencia.

La Tomatina: is the ‘World’s Biggest Food Fight’ held annually in the Valencian town of Buñol in which participants throw tomatoes and get involved in this tomato fight purely for fun. It is held on the last Wednesday of August, during the week of festivities of Buñol. Every year approximately 40,000 tomato enthusiasts make their way from all corners of the world to fight with tomatoes during this festival. Apparently it originally began with kids throwing tomatoes at police they didn't like and from here the locals decided to make it an annual event.

At around 10 AM, festivities begin with the first event of the Tomatina. It is the "palo jabón", similar to the greasy pole. The goal is to climb a greased pole with a ham on top. As this happens, the crowd work into a frenzy of singing and dancing while being showered with water from hoses. Once someone is able to drop the ham off the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by firing the water shot in the air and trucks make their entry. The signal for the onset is at about 12am when a loud shot rings out, and the chaos begins. Trucks are driven through the streets and locals throw tomatoes from several trucks holding around 150, 000 tomatoes and dumping into the tiny streets of Buñol.

After exactly one hour, the fight ends with the firing of the second shot, announcing the end. The whole town square is coloured red and rivers of tomato juice flow freely. Fire trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste and seeds from their bodies.

Ok so that's enough about the history of the festival, lets get back to my experience that day. As we got off the bus and walked through the streets of Buñol the vibe was incredible. There were locals selling sangria and San Miguel along with gypsy´s selling goggles and glasses for protection during the fight. We had to walk down a huge hill into a gully in Buñol where there were loads of people heading into a tiny main street where the tomato fight would take place. On my way down the hill Paige Milgate spotted me and we ran over and gave each other the biggest cuddle as we were going to be travelling together after La Tomatina and  were excited to see each other. There were police at the entrance to the street confiscating glass bottles and plastic bottle tops as Matt, Sandra, Chloe, Morgan and I all walked into the main street with around 40,000 other people and tried to claim a spot near the 'greasy ham pole'. We stood in the main street for around 3 hours and 45 minutes (yes a long time!) while we watched travellers and locals attempting to climb the greasy pole which had a leg of ham tied to the top. It was really packed and everyone was getting sweaty as the sun rose and heated up the main street. Some people were so drunk and annoying but we also met some really nice and funny people while we waited for the festival to begin. As it became closer to 11am everyone was getting crazy, in particular the men who were ripping each others clothes and undies off. Some people were throwing sangria soaked t-shirts into the crowd (I got sconned with a few across my face) and others were crowd surfing. Locals standing in a cage in the  main street were soaking people with hoses and the crowd was going mad yelling out chants and clapping.

As the first blast went off to signal the beginning of La Tomatina 2012 the locals hoses went into full blast, soaked the crowd and the whole street erupted into a huge water fight. It was sooo fun and I felt like a little kid as we all laughed and jumped around while we were getting soaked with water. I was getting anxious as there were so many people in the tiny street and I knew that trucks loaded full of tomatoes still had to fit through the crowd of thousands. At one stage the crowd started to get really crazy and we couldn´t move, I didn´t even have to support my body as I was being held up by other travellers. I was quite scared and almost started crying as there was no escape. At one stage thought I was going to be crushed or stomped on as the crowd started moving backwards and forwards like a mosh pit on steroids! I couldn´t stand on my tippy toes to see if the trucks were coming so I was asking taller guys to alert me when they were getting closer. There were drunks and weirdos all around us, one of the weirdos being a South African guy who was tapping me on the shoulder and kissing my neck and my cheeks without my permission!lol 

The crowd started to separate as the trucks rolled through the streets unloading thousands of over ripe tomatoes into the crowd. When they got to the middle of the street they then dumped the remainder of the tomatoes into the street for the crowd to start throwing. At one stage Sandra, Morgan and I had lost Chloe and Matt due to the crazy crowds and found ourselves pinned up against the walls with a bunch of Asians and other travellers as we watched the trucks pass through the streets. People in front of us seemed to have enough room to move and throw tomatoes but the girls and I literally couldn´t move and constantly made jokes about our piss poor efforts of throwing tomatoes. When a tomato landed on our shoulder we would say ´tomato fight´ even though it had only landed like 10cm in front of us or we had only hit each other lol I thought I was going to lose my top of one stage or my boobs were going to fall out as I couldn´t move my arms to pull my shirt up. I literally almost had to breathe in as the crowd moved because it was so jam packed full of people. It was so intense that I saw a girl crying as she was getting slammed in between people that she didn´t know and I felt like crying as people stomped all over our feet. We continued to get sprayed and soaked with water for the following hour until the second blast signalled the tomato fight was over. I was so relieved because I knew it had ended but it still took quite awhile for the swarms of people to leave the streets and it was just as intense walking out of the streets as it was during the fight.

I lost Sandra and Morgan in the crowds of people on the way out and ended up walking barefoot through the sea of tomato filled streets. It felt like a warm bath of tomato soup as I trudged through the streets and started walking back up to the top of the hill where Busabout had were originally dropped us off that morning. On the 40 minute walk back to the top of the hill there were locals hosing people down and selling BBQ style buns which smelt delicious. I ended up buying some chicken paella from a street stall which was just what I needed after working up an appetite during the tomato fight. I got to the bus stained and covered in rotten tomatoes before getting changed into a clean set of clothes and hopping back onto the bus. Chloe's eyes were weeping gunk from the tomato juices and she also had a fairly deep gash on her head from being elbowed during the fight which was pretty crazy. It felt like we had run a marathon during the fight and we were so exhausted that we slept all the way back into Valencia. As soon as I got back to the hotel I showered and watched the tomatoes fall out of places I didn´t even know they could be found. The water had turned orange after I shampooed my hair and the bath tub was covered in seeds which was pretty funny. I had a two hour sleep after showering as I was extremely tired and felt like I just wanted to stay there all night.

That night we went to a Thai restaurant called ´Lemongrass´ for dinner with Sandra, Matt, Morgan and Chloe where I ate a yummy meal of Chicken, cashews, noodles and oyster sauce. We sat, chatted and laughed for about an hour or so which was really nice. Sandra and Matt are so lovely and I could listen to Sandra's stories all night!

That night we met up with the Busabout crowd for a pub crawl where we went to three pubs-clubs in the centre of Valencia. They were all pretty fun and played lots of R and B music which I loved. We all danced and laughed as we talked about the tomato fight and laughed at people´s dance moves ha ha I took it steady as I hardly had any money and ended up going home at around 1am to make sure I had enough money to pay for my accommodation at another hostel in Valencia for the following four days.

La Tomatina was probably one of the craziest and most intense things I have ever done in my life but I am so glad I can say it is something I was apart of and I will remember the experience for many years to come.
Action shot

Walking down the huge hill into the main street with our Sangria's in hand

Me, Sarah, Chloe and Sandra waiting for the food fight to begin

Getting sprayed with water and tomatoes

The sea of tomato juice on the ground as we were walking out of the main street

We all looked like this at the end of the day

Waiting for 3 hours and 45 minutes like this!

La Tomatina in full swing

Busabout T-shirts

Tomato seeds on the lens!

Yes I did put a tomato that hit me into my mouth!lol

The greasy pole with the ham on top

I can not believe this father had his child in this crazy fight!

Starting to get hit with the tomatoes

Locals throwing tomatoes from the trucks during the fight

a girl crowd surfing during the water fight

Crazy man and his watermelon helmet

Locals spraying us with hoses

Love The Tomato Covered Backpacker

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