Festivals, Spain

La Tomatina

Last week I took part in the world’s largest and messiest food fight, La Tomatina. Seven days on and I still find the occasional sneaky tomato seed in various cavities of my body.

It started at about 8am in Buñol, a small town near Valencia on the East coast of Spain. 20 000 people descended on the small town square with barely any room to move. Every now and then you’d hear outburst of squeals as the locals would step out onto their balconies above and pour buckets of water onto the tourists below, much to their own enjoyment and to the shock of those who got drenched. This escalated as locals ventured out of their homes and into the street armed with buckets and hoses, causing a full-on water fight to ensue. How considerate of them to serve drinks before the meal.

While this was happening, brave punters took a go at climbing the palo jamón (ham pole), a five metre high pole greased with fat, from which a leg of ham dangled. It is considered a great honour to get the ham off the pole first. If you didn’t know this, you’d think everyone was starving, as people were climbing over the top of each other and ripping each other off the pole in a desparate attempt to be the first to get the ham. It was ruthless, but fun to watch.

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Then all of a sudden the sound of a cannon boomed through the plaza at 11am, signalling that the first of four trucks, each loaded with 10 tonnes of over ripened tomatoes, had entered the street. The ammunition had arrived.

As the trucks drove past, festival volunteers who were standing in the bucket of the truck unloaded (i.e. threw) the tomatoes onto the crowd below. Within seconds, we transformed from a relatively civilised group of adults into a bunch of rioters at war with each other. There was no mercy – every man was for himself. Soon the whole street, and every one in it, was covered in chunks of tomatoes and a red river of tomato juice flowed in the gutters.

Now I love my height, but sometimes being tall has its drawbacks – this was one of those occasions. For some reason I received more than my fair share of tomato chunks to the face, and I think it’s because as everyone peeped over the heads of the crowd in search of their next victim, they probably saw my curly hair poke a foot above the sea of heads and think that I’d be an easy target. Well, they were right. But being tall also has its advantages, including being able to see exactly who the tomato came from.

La Tomatina was one of the messiest days of my life and some of the best juvenile fun you can have. I recommend it to everyone who enjoys having a few drinks and throwing stuff at each other (but really, who doesn’t?)

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