Every year on a Wednesday at the end of August people from across Europe and the Globe flock into Buñol to celebrate the ultimate tomato fight a.k.a. La Tomatina. Buñol, a small town with less than 10,000 residents. Back in 2012, when I was still living in Madrid, I decided to join a group of friends in this once-in-a-lifetime experience… and I really mean it when I say, once in a lifetime. That year alone about 50,000 visitors (x5 the number of residents) attended while the locals watched from their balconies and prepared their water hoses for the after-party.
Traditionally, people began their celebrations the night prior to the event and continued strong to get a good spot in those narrow streets and even better, in the main area of the event called Plaza del Pueblo. The actual festival begins at 11:00 AM where people fight to be the first to climb on a palo jabón (a greased pole) to catch the piece of meat that rests on the top . And so it begins, massive trucks carrying about 150,000 tomatoes which are grown specifically for this event (which tend to be more acidic and are non-edible), are dropped onto the streets of the city and tomato fighters begin throwing tomato at each other, coloring themselves and the city red.
I remember arriving with my friends just in time for the gun shot indicating the war has begun. We walked a few kilometers before we reached a street away from Plaza del Pueblo which was completely blocked by the people who were trying to get in and out of the main stage. People were climbing and sitting on walls and fences and just enjoying the ride.
We began pushing and shoving our way through. People were moving in waves some flowing forwards and some backwards. It was a hurdle sticking together, no matter how much we held on to each other, the crowd’s force was stronger. In a matter of minutes, we went from a group of 10, to 5, to 2 and then I was alone for a little while, lost in the crowd and barely had a spot to stand. At one point, i was on the tips of toes and had no room to keep my back straight so a random group of strangers, Indian girls from Dubai, held my back to keep me balanced. I was frightened to be alone but those girls, God bless them, kept me calm until 5-10 minutes later – which felt like an eternity – I found my way back to my friend Hector and we stuck together all the way through it.
We kept pushing and shoving for another 10 minutes before we reached the actual Plaza del Pueblo. At that point a good number of the tomatoes was already dumped on the ground and was already stomped on. There was so much tomato that it reached my knees.
Once I got over the overwhelming smell of tomatoes (which only took a few seconds), the trucks started coming towards us! Everyone had to make way for the king of the road, and for all those additional tomatoes that were being dropped, at some point I literally had to squeeze between people and the truck hoping not to topple over. But heck!! It was all part of the adventure and I was born to live this way.
Soon enough we became one with the crowd moving in endless directions and throwing away the tomato mash cross the battle field. There’s just simply no stopping us!
When the time was up, and no more trucks passed we began to slide down the street that was now simply made of a tomato pool.
The residents brought out their hoses and started washing the evidence of our battle away from their balconies. The tomato was being drained from various locations and in no time, it was all gone, as if it never happened at all. Though it took several pit stops at what I like to call, hose stations and several showers before I could get the tomato out of my hair… YUM!!!
Somehow, by the end of it we found all our friends and marched along to the main entrance where there an after party with a stage, music and dancing everywhere on trucks, on poles, and yes the traditional way too, plain and simple on the ground… and I loved it!
La Tomatina was by far the most thrilling, fun and scary experiences I’ve ever had. The explosion of various emotions simultaneously was unlike anything I’ve ever imagined or felt. In the end, we came, we saw, and we conquered.
Before you head on toward the field keep in mind these rules which I got off of wikipedia:
- 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 truck and lorries.
- After the second shot indicative of ending the tomato hurl, no tomatoes should be thrown.
A few more pointers that are important to keep in mind:
- Be dressed in white! Everyone will be 😉
- Beware of clothes rippers. I’ve seen several people do this to each other!
- Definitely bring a pair of goggles, the acidity of the tomatoes will hurt the eyes if not protected.
- Leave your phone at home, it is very easy to lose or damage your phone at such an event.
- Buy a disposable camera, remember those? It’s worth it!!!
- Stay calm no matter what and enjoy the thrill, don’t let your nerves get the best of you.
Here’s a video I found to show you the climb on the Palo Jabón
Check this video to get a glimpse of the human vs truck situation (0:40 onwards):
If your heading that way then enjoy it & stay safe!