Some years ago I remember seeing a TV show about truly ridiculous events and festivals around the world. One festival, a massive tomato fight, look completely absurd, so I told myself, I must make it to that some day.
Fast forward some years...the day I arrived in Barcelona last month I discovered that La Tomatina was to take place that week, my only week in Spain! Although near Valencia and about 5 hours away, I held no reservations and made and immediate reservation on a bus from Barcelona to the festival.
I met a guy from Sacramento and two Canadians on the bus who would be my La Tomatina partners for the day. I was told to expect everything to get ruined by tomatoes, so I purchased the cheapest t-shirt and shorts I could find. I debated over the no shoes or sandals option, but someone told me you would just lose the sandals, so I went with my tennis shoes and hoped they would be wearable again some day.
After arriving in the tiny town of Bunol, we walked a few kilometers down a big hill amongst the thousands of other potential tomato throwers to the central area of Bunol, filled with tiny streets lined with 3 story apartment buildings.
The fight was to start at 11. As we entered the center area into even narrower streets, the residents of the town, from their roofs, poured buckets of water and hosed down everyone entering. Final chance to get clean before getting completely tomatoed.
We waited nervously but excited in the crowd on this long, narrow street, not really knowing what to expect, except that trucks would come through with all the tomatoes. A horn sounded, and it marked the start time. We looked in the distance 2 or 3 blocks, over the sea of people, and saw the first truck beginning to enter the street. Everyone's first reaction at seeing the truck was simply "How the HELL is THAT truck going to fit in THIS street!". When there's a will, there's a way.
Going at a steady 1 or 2 miles per hour, the first truck pushed its way down the street through the people. Rather, the people got smashed against each other and into the buildings, enough to be uncomfortable but not hurt. As in, my face in smeones oarmpit, butt on a butt, arms to arms, unable to move anything except possibly your head up and down.
The first dump truck passes and as it went, helpers inside tossed tomatoes into the street. Within 5 seconds of the first truck passing me, I jumped into the clearing created behind the truck for more space, and I was instantly nailed in the face by a semi-crushed tomato from somewhere. My most nervous thought already came to realization, because my glasses fell off! I was hoping for at least 5 or 10 minutes of clear vision! Nope, I got merely 10 seconds!
I picked them up quickly and clinged to them for the next hour. Four more trucks passed slowly, people chucking tomatoes every which way. When I could occupy enough space, I would grab a handful of juicy, seedy, tomatoes, and pick a direction and hurl it. Forget about specific targets in the crowd of thousands of people. Tomatoes were had in the head, plus plenty of tomato juice in the hair, ears, eyes, eyebrows, and any region or crevice of the body imagineable. By the end, the tomatoes were all crushed and the height of the juice in the street was above the ankle. My clothes were 100% red and wet, like I had jumped into a bathtub, and my feet and fingers had become prune-like. After the last truck passed and the sound to stop came, some people just decided to simply swim in the leftover tomato river!
And although the tomato juice stung in my eyes and I couldn't see crap without my glasses, there was not a second of that hour where I was not laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole thing. One of those situations which is something so strange and unusual that you talk to and make/break quick bonds with random strangers around you, cause you are all in the same boat experiencing the same strange thing.
I didn't dare take my camera into that tomato sea, so here are a few shots from someone I met on the bus:
Random people with my Sacramento bus acquaintance...You can see how covered in tomatoes everyone gets: