Intelligent Travel friend Megan Sneddon, who last wrote about Fiesta week in Santa Barbara, sends us this fond recollection of La Tomatina, the annual tomato brawl in Buñol, Spain, which takes place Wednesday, August 27. You just have time to book a flight!
Voices carried, the echoes resounding through narrow, white-plaster alleys, which were soon to be splattered red. As they reached a crescendo, my friends and I stretched our arms into the brilliant Spanish sky in celebration. Above us, families tossed buckets of water off their balconies; the liquid separated through gray nets that guarded their houses, creating huge droplets which came cascading down. We screamed savagely, proud to have ditched our Education Abroad Program’s discipline lecture to attend the world’s largest food fight (we figured we wouldn’t get reprimanded if we weren’t present to learn the rules).
“Ole, ole ole!” We cheered with the crowd as we jumped up and down, and the hot August winds threw dust in our eyes in cadence with the melody of our chants. I chanced a smile at the Spanish strangers who affably rested their arms on my shoulders... just before they ripped my friend James’ shirt off. All is fair in love and war I suppose.
We skipped class to attend La Tomatina, an hour-long, tomato-flinging extravaganza that joins both tourists and locals in innocuous warfare – one fought with edible artillery.
A culturally diverse crowd of 20,000 flocks to Buñol, Spain — a tiny town just outside Valencia — the last Wednesday of August each year to heave 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other for one hour (this year’s Tomatina will take place August 27). Before the festival begins, tradition mandates that the town's most valiant must ascend a grease-covered wood pole erected in the square, Plaza del Pueblo, and retrieve the dangling ham leg on top.
As soon as the clock strikes 11 a.m., a water cannon fires, dump trucks of tomatoes roll through a labyrinth of narrow streets, eager hands receive the red fruit, and the fight begins. In little time, you will be knee deep in tomato pulp. Fair warning: You must be prepared to fight to keep your shirt when you pass by groups cheering, “Camiseta, camiseta.” Your only chance of showering is the occasional garden hose spared by friendly Spanish families at the end of the pulp-filled battle.
No one really knows how the festival began, but according to one legend, La Tomatina began in 1945 when a riot broke out in the town during a parade of “gigantes y cabezudos.” The youth began throwing tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stand, and after some years, the event became a tradition, though it was briefly outlawed throughout the mid 1950s. Now, the festival takes place during a week-long celebration of Buñol’s patron saint Luis Bertrán. Since 1980, the City Hall has supplied the town with tomatoes, which are typically imported from Extremadura.
Here are five tips that will help you come out of this war as close to unscathed as possible:
1. Wear goggles and close-toed shoes (the tomato acid burns your eyes, and you will lose your sandals).
2. Be prepared to have your shirt ripped off no matter if you are male or female; there is a rule against this act, but you hardly see law enforcement throughout the event.
3. Practice caution when food fighting in the center of town — the more central you wander, the more concentrated the crowd becomes, and the harder it is to move.
4. Bring some cash for water.
5. Prepare accommodations outside of Buñol and travel there by bus, train, or prearranged tour group the day of La Tomatina.
Photo: via the Tomatina website