Six years ago traveling through Europe I heard about this event called Tomatina which was described to me as a giant Tomato fight. At some point I saw some travel TV show at the Tomatina and at that point it made the list of things I had to do before I depart this Earth or at least settle down in some white picket fence house with 2.5 children and a golden retriever. In the summer of 2008 I made my pilgrimage and here is the story of how it all came to be…
I left a very cushy apartment in Barcelona (thank you Neil) to complete the triangle I was planning on making inside the lovely country of Spain. The plan was to go to Madrid to visit long lost travel friends for the weekend. Then go to Valencia and figure out how to go to Tomatina, and then back to Barcelona just in time to catch my flight back to England.
While in Madrid, I made my preparations. I bought a bus ticket from Madrid to Valencia. I bought a train ticket online from Valencia to Barcelona so I had my escape. I knew this event was going to destroy whatever I was wearing so I decided to get kitted up with typical Tomatina gear. This included:
- A 2 euro pair of fake croc sandals which were bright orange and the back of my feet hung off the edge. Apparently my feet are larger than most Spaniards and they really are not that big at a size 10 (us).
- A plain white t-shirt for a euro.
- A pair of cargo shorts which went past my knees but had plenty of pockets and strings and shit so I thought they would be perfect for 5 euro.
- A pair of chemist looking goggles for 3 euro.
- A small knife to cut the ham down for 5 euro.
- Water proof camera for 10 euro.
With all this I was set and said my good byes and headed off to Valencia. Now the Tomatina festival itself is not in Valencia which turns out to be a very large city. So I arrive in Valencia and get off at the bus station and basically looked to my left, then to my right, and then back to my left, and didn’t have a clue as to where to go. I jumped on a bus that I thought would take me to the beach and an hour later arrived to see the Mediterranean in all its glory. The beach was huge and filled with people and thongs. I had my little backpack on me with valuables in it so I decided to just walk through the water and not go in.
My plan was to stay up all night until 11am when the Tomatina would begin. I had no idea what to find in Bunol but I assumed like all good Europeans, they would be raging it before a large event like this. I made my way to the train station and put my bag in a locker which gave me some piece of paper with a code on it that I needed to get my bag back out. Now all I had was my crocs, shorts, shirt, goggles, knife, atm and credit card, some 60 euros in notes, a camera, and some change. I get a large beer and wait for the last train to Bunol.
While waiting I offer some beer to a girl next to me. We then decide we need more beer and go get two more large bottles before the train arrives. For the life of me I cannot remember this girls name so we will call her Janet. Janet is from Valencia and is visiting a friend who lives in Bunol and they plan to attend some Manu Chou concert in Bunol. While drinking our beers on the train we compare lives across oceans, political mindsets between people of our age, why I was traveling alone, the funny Europeans behind us, and I am sure a lot more. She invites me to tag along with her to go to the concert which I do even though it was going to cost like 40 euros.
We goto the concert, she negotiates some deal and we each pay 30 euros. Inside there are very large beers but for 10 euros each. The music was OK but the locals seemed to love it. I got into the groove and danced their funny dance.
After the concert we went to her friends place so they could change. My crocs were killing me so I used my knife to remove the rubber around my pinky toes on both sandals. Now the shoes looked even more ridiculous.
We then go to their other friends store of sorts, eat, drink, and be merry until 1am. I couldn’t understand most of what was going on but the free food and booze was enough to keep me smiling and I didn’t mind being the center of some joke. We then headed off down some streets, winding around a hill or two, then all of a sudden the valley was a lie with mini raves dotted up and down the woods we were in. There were rolling beer and food carts all over the place. You would walk down a path and suddenly be surrounded by some techno and then another path would take you to some trance and then another dark path would take you to some spanish country music. Insane. The people I was with were all locals and this Janet girl had a firm grip on my hand and made sure my other hand was filled with very large beers that I never paid for because the locals knew the locals working the beer carts. Basically the night went on like this until the sun came up. I always think it is a very weird thing to be outside dancing your head off, half delirious, as you watch the light engulf the landscape.
We head off to a coffee shop and I eat anything and drink everything I can find including left overs from other tables. The time is approaching for the Tomatina and I am drunk/hungover. I tell Janet take me to the pole cuz I am going to be the one to cut the ham down.
Let me explain how this all works… The Tomatina has unknown origins, could be a spilled truck on the road started it, or in honor of some saint, but the fact remains there is now a tradition. At 11am they raise a huge ham onto a 30 foot pole that has 6 inches of grease all the way up and down it. Not until the ham is cut down that the trucks will come and unleash the tomatoes. The tomatoes will then be unleashed for one hour and then it is all over and everyone goes home or to where I don’t know.
She takes me down some allies, a left, a right, a left, and then all of a sudden I am thrown into a mass of people right next to the pole and they had just started trying to rip this thing down. The strategy is to wipe all the grease off first by making human pyramids. After that make more pyramids to get to the top. Problem is that everyone wants to be the one to cut the ham down and the locals are sabotaging anyone who gets even close since it should only be a local to do this. I hurl myself in to the mix and start pushing and lifting and standing and climbing. It becomes clear that it is me and a core group of 15 or so Aussies who are intent on getting this thing down with other people coming in and out but are mostly fearful that they might get hurt. Within minutes of me being in this chaos, i lose my credit card and atm card and cash. The goggles are lost and were useless anyways. The crocs were instantly gone and now I was barefoot. Fuck it! The fun must continue and I will deal with this later.
We try and try and try for over an hour to get this thing but there is not enough organization despite my best Gestapo efforts. At one point I was probably 20 feet up and felt like I could jump and hang onto the ham which I tried and then we all fell onto a huge human dog pile filled with grease and water that was being squirted on us by the surrounding buildings filled with locals. Who knows how many lost their lives in that hour. I remember being so defeated but there was no where to go and no water to be drank. I was stealing bottles out of peoples hands and just drinking it. Eventually they just brought the trucks out and the tomato fight began without bringing the ham down. Here is a youtube video of the exact spot where I was at, no idea if you can see me in this mess but it gives a good description of what was going on once the tomatoes were dropped.
After about 20 minutes you are just fed up of getting thwopped in the side of the dome by random missiles. You are supposed to crush the tomato first and then throw which nobody does. I watched some pretty malevolent fuckers just wind up and crush some people from about 10 feet away and then duck down laughing. After an hour the streets are almost to your knees in red juice and people are laying on the ground swimming in it.
My condition at the end was such, My left short leg was missing revealing most of my boxer briefs. My camera, goggles, money, cards, knife and crocs were all missing. I had enough coins to get the train back to Valencia. The train ride back was hilarious. The train was shoulder to shoulder and everyone around me seemed to have done a lot better job of cleaning off. I was smelling so bad and was sticky to the touch and my hair was plastered in some weird direction from tomatoes. People were giving me a wide berth the entire trip. I get to the Valencia train station and try to remember my combination to the locker but it is impossible to sort through the hazy memories of no sleep and raves and booze. I then, in my hilarious and smelly state, need to find the officials and convince them in my limited spanish that my bag is in the locker and I don’t know the code and I will prove them it is mine with the passport. Finally it all works and I am so happy I purchased my train ticket back to Barca before hand otherwise I would have been stuck in Spain waiting for some money transfer or something.
Back at Neils apartment we reminisced about the experience which they had gone to as well but with there business school classmates in a huge procession. Turns out that I was arm in arm with one of his roommates as we scooped large quantities of tomatoes and threw them in the air at the end of the event.
Not sure what I would change next time but I obviously was a rookie during this excursion. Thank you to Janet for making that night and day work out just right. Too bad I don’t remember your name and our paths may only cross once in our lifetimes but at least it did not go to waste.