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La Tomatina
The Munich beer festival is a massive draw for people all over the world, we had wanted to go for years. We decided around Christmas time we would book it up to ensure we had a hotel and flights sorted out! But by January we had given up the Hotel prices were really high and that’s if you could find one with rooms left! Downhearted we decided we needed to do something else and instead and we looked up a website called www.whatsonwhere.com which lists all sorts of bizarre festivals that happen around the world. One in particular stood out above all the rest and that was the ‘La Tomatina’ Festival in Bunol, Spain.

There were seven of us and we all recalled hearing something about the world’s biggest tomato festival. We tried looking for information about it on the web and came up with little really. We mainly found a lot of pictures of tomato soaked people, but little help on how to get there except as part of expensive organized tours. To be honest that was the last thing we wanted to do. I’m sure it’s great for some people but I kind of like the adventure of finding my own way.

We looked up Bunol on the map and found the nearest airport would be Valencia and that flights go there from the UK on a fairly regular basis. The fares were pretty good with Ryanair when booked months in advance, but accommodation around Bunol is really hard to find and is booked pretty early. So we decided to stay in Valencia instead as there is good public transport between there and Bunol. Again though, it is wise to book the train well in advance as this festival is getting really popular.

With no idea of what to expect when we arrived or any meaningful plans as to how we were going to get to Bunol we touched down in Valencia airport 2pm on the Monday. La Tomatina is held at the same time every year on the Last Wednesday of August, so we had two days to kill. We found a nice café by the town’s bull ring to have something to eat and a few beers. People are friendly and the city is fairly east to navigate. I would recommend if you’re in Valencia for a short time just to head to the more touristy older part of town. There are some amazing fountains and churches and a few nice bars and restaurants too.

In Spain people don’t start drinking until late (or rather early in the morning). Normally in England we would meet around 8pm and stay out till maybe 2am. In Spain however people meet around 2am and stay out till 8am so the morning of the festival we found ourselves returning from a club as breakfast was being severed in our hotel. When I got back to my room I thought “I can’t sleep” so I dressed in my La Tomatina t-shirt, shorts and sandals (putting a small bag with goggles, money and waterproof camera around my neck).

I drifted off to sleep but woke up 45 minutes later to simultaneous phone calls and banging on the door. Confused, I answered the phone “The Taxi is leaving now, you have no time come NOW!” I ran down stairs as the taxi drove off and my mobile rang again “Marcus, Rich and Chris are still asleep get them up”. I went to the reception, apparently they had un-plugged there phones. I went and banged on there doors and Marcus emerged, we had no time to wake Chris and Rich so we left in the next taxi.

Special trains were laid on at Valencia train station for La Tomatina Marcus and I arrived at 7:30am and didn’t have to wait long at all until the next train came for Bunol. We met up with a couple of English guys we had been drinking with only hours before in the beach club and to my great relief they had managed to obtain a few cans of lager for the journey to Bunol. We boarded the train, people were packed tightly into the carriage and there was no wear to sit. We had lost our drinking buddies and met up with 5 guys from Canada who, as far as I can recall, were all named Scott. My memory faded for the rest of the journey but for some unknown reason when we left the train I had a Rocky style bandana on my head.

Leaving the train we saw a sea of people in front of us all moving in the same direction. We made our way with the crowd down a winding hill which eventually led to some narrow streets. As we entered there were cloak rooms for people to leave coats and valuables and they also luckily sold beer. You’re not aloud to take any breakables into the arena and we finished our drinks before going in. There were so many people everywhere from all over the world and all wearing different costumes. We had used an old English TV program called ‘Bullseye’ based on the sport of Darts and attached a target to the front of our t-shirts with the presenter on the back saying “Congratulations you’ve won a speed boat” (in Spanish). A guy walked past me with a bottle of tomato ketchup taped to his arm and the most memorable was a man with a t-shirt saying “Dip me in honey and throw me to the lesbians”. The atmosphere was electric everyone was ready for the food fight of their lives!

The tomato festival begins when a ham is cut down from a greasy telegraph pole, as ham is traditionally eaten with tomatoes in Spain. This happens right at the top of the street by a square and we were in the ideal position to see the ceremony. As soon as the ham falls, a great air horn is sounded and then… nothing for a while except a lot of pushing and squashing. I must admit to feeling a little worried that there might be someone crushed. I noticed a couple of Australian girls behind me seeming to be having difficulty breathing so I pushed in the opposite direction to give them a little space. People were using hose pipes over the crowd and drinks were being thrown in the air. There was a hint of apprehension as we saw the first of several trucks moving toward us. From the high buildings on either side of us the local people were pelting the crowd with tomatoes - it had begun!

The trucks came ever closer and the number of tomato strikes increased. There was a small stream of red down the gutter of the street and every one was scrambling for the remains of a tomato to throw at friends. As the truck came closer the crowds parted and we seemed to have so much more space. As it went down the street emptying its ripe load of juicy tomatoes you could see the crowd erupt. Sporadic fighting broke out on all fronts! Initially it was just between the people in our group and as we all moved and got separated it was all out war - woman versus man, man versus man and woman versus woman. There were no boundaries! The trucks seemed relentless in coming forth to supply the front with more ammo and the small stream that had begun in the gutter of the road had developed into a raging torrent of tomato juice. Flip flop floated down the incline and t-shirts started to be ripped off. Mine was removed quite fast - perhaps 30 minutes into the mayhem.

I had completely lost track of time and was only concerned not to take a tomato to the face and to seek retribution on the Australian girls who covered me in juice when I fell. We seemed to move toward the end of the street and in the distance I saw Rich who was clean. We began pelting him with tomatoes, tackled him and gave him a tomato bath in the juice which was up to my knees by now. Small pockets of fighting began and the melee slowly developed into uphill versus downhill battle in the street. I stepped back to take a breather and, to my surprise, I noticed my individually designed Bullseye t-shirt float past.

It turned out that Rich had woken up late and jumped into a taxi straight to Bunol, I think it set him back 30 euro. We found him just as he arrived. Things where being wound up now so we decided to gather together and see if we could find firstly some more booze and secondly a cleaning station. The locals had provided hose pipes and were washing down all the fighters. One mustachioed man in particular seemed to be incredibly concerned that the ladies were meticulously cleaned.

My hair was incredibly matted and, for the first time in my life, I had the problem of getting tomatoes out of my ears! My clothes were ruined of course, although to my great surprise I still had both of my flip flops. We had a sandwich and a few beers while waiting our turn to be washed down, the guy with the moustache gave me 20 secs of ice cold water so I found a nice place round the corner to wash my self. Luckily there were a few people selling t-shirts so I bought one for the journey home. The sun soon dried my tomato stained shorts and we all headed back to Valencia after one of the best experiences of our lives.

If you want any help in planning your trip or any more information drop me a line. Enjoy!

By: Chris
Purple Monkey
August 2005

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