Valencia Day Trip: Bunol & La Tomatina (fun, in a mildly traumatizing way)
La Tomatina. Widely known as the annual international
festival tomato fight that overtakes the normally sleepy town of Buñol, Spain. During the annual festival, which occurs on the last Wednesday of every August, the town of 9,000 inhabitants swells to welcome around 30,000 to 40,000 visitors for La Tomatina. While the lure of a free, end of summer, open-air tomato fight through the cobble stone streets of the Valencian town continues to draw thousands annually, the festival is not for the faint of heart, or those subject to panic attacks, or claustrophobia, or particularly susceptible to the heat.
The festival begins at 9am, when a ham is mounted atop a greased pole in the town square. Festival goers are invited to try their luck in climbing the pole and capturing the ham. As this goes on (and it goes on for hours), the thousands of tourists who have arrived for the tomato fight begin to fill the narrow streets leading to the town square. Following the herds of people, you’ll pass makeshift vendors selling beer and sangria in liter size plastic containers. Eventually the flow stops as the streets jam, with people in various stages of undress packed body to body. Where you are stopped is where you will spend the next several hours bonding closely with your fellow revelers and watching the deterioration of humanity around you. As late August temperatures climb to upwards of 40 degrees Celsius, you stand in the crowd of sweat and thick, heavy air as rowdy and anxious festival goers begin throwing those liter sized drinks and any other trash items within easy reach at others in the crowd. Temporary relief will come from the town’s residents who hurl buckets of water down from their balconies and rooftops, but beware as those same people in privileged positions high above the ever panicking crowd also spit on you from above.
By 11am, when the tomato fight is set to start, the excitement for the main event and the refreshing scent of tomatoes is more than overdue among the exhausted and filthy crowd. By now, you’ve witnessed aggressive confrontations, panic attacks and seen (or felt) numerous people throwing up from the combination of heat and excessive drinks or peeing in the crowd due to the lack of any alternative options. But brace yourself, because it will get worse before the main event actually starts. First, the crowd is assaulted from above by residents hurling tomatoes from their rooftops while the mass of people has yet to break up and one is lucky to have enough space to raise your arms to fend off the incoming attack. Before the masses are properly armed, 5 dump trucks must pass through the narrow streets, the same streets that have been jammed for the last several hours. For this to happen, the crowd must divide to clear a center path. People will try to scale the walls but most will be crushed against them. As the trucks pass, thousands of tomatoes ares dumped into the crowd. Initially, as they flow over you, the juice burns your eyes if you didn’t think enough to wear goggles or broke down and hurled them at someone else in the crowd during the wait. Once the trucks have cleared, those still standing finally have some separation and can enjoy the fight. For one hour the tomatoes are thrown freely before the closing bell. Be weary of falling into the sea of tomato juice that inevitably will rise above your ankles as it is not all tomatoes. There is a lot in that mix from the hours of debauchery in waiting for the main event!
Once the fight finishes, the fight to escape and find a friendly resident with a hose begins. Once back out into the open streets and hosed down, be sure that you saved around 20 euros to grab new flip-flops and a novelty t-shirt so you can discard your tomato soaked clothes.
Buñol can be reached easily from Valencia for La Tomatina via the Cercanias Renfe, line C-3 train (approx. 45 minutes, but catch the first one around 6am or risk missing out) or even more easily by grabbing a 15 euro RT ticket on one of the numerous coach bus services that pop up for the festival.