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La Tomatina: A Massive Food Fight


Every year in August people get together to throw tomatoes at each other. I hate tomatoes, I think they are disgusting, so there is nothing I wanted to do more than throw them at people. They are grown specifically for this event, they aren't good tasting so one might as well have a massive food fight. It happens the last Wednesday of August in Bunol, Spain. This is a town of about 9,000 people, near Valencia, that more than triples just for this event.

In the morning it starts with everyone heading to the main street which is covered in tarps and nets to protect the buildings. The first event of the day is watching people put up a greased pole with a ham hanging on the top. The object of the game: climb up the pole and knock the ham down so the tomato throwing can start. It takes some time as there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of grease on that very tall pole. It is mostly guys trying their hardest to get up there. I think it would be much easier if there was teamwork, helping each other up, but no. As soon as someone gets close everyone else pulls him or her down. I saw people (males mostly) walking past with bloody faces from battling to get up there. Eventually someone gets it, a horn sounds, and the madness starts.

Several trucks haul the tomatoes turtle-like through the street as there are anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 people jammed in. You spend most of the day pressed up against all the people surrounding you so if you haven't hit them in the face with your arm or a tomato you might just make a few friends being that close in proximity for that length of time. People sit in the back of the trucks and scoop the tomatoes out onto the crowd. One rule of the day is to squish the tomatoes before throwing them, as they are hard and it wouldn't be as much fun - they wouldn't make near the mess they do when flattened.

Take nothing with you that is important. Empty your pockets and wear clothes that you will throw out at the end of the day. I wore a swim cap and goggles, put a disposable camera in a plastic zipper bag and had on old worn out clothes. Take a few dollars for food or drinks afterwards but that is it, chances are very good by the end of the hour you won't have half your clothes and with them goes your money. Don't wear flip flops. I wore old shoes that were slimy and ruined by the end of it but no one's flips flops got out alive. One tomato thrower I saw walking back to the buses stepped on a broken pair of glasses and had to pull the arm out of the bottom of his foot. I don't advise glasses either.

In all the madness people will go for your clothing, guy or girl. Wear layers. I wore my bathing suit, a tank top, t-shirt and a pair of shorts. During the revelry I suddenly found myself surrounded by a group of young Spanish guys and my first thought was to run but there were so many people I could only move with the crowd. As I was trying to back away two girls walked through and started to fight with these guys. They were pushing and yelling and I was not where I wanted to be. I had lost my roommate by this time and was slightly worried I would soon be without my shirts. I put up my hands in surrender and slowly tried to blend in with the crowd. No such luck. One of the guys grabbed my upraised hand and slammed it into the face of one of the girls - I was so surprised, my reflexes kicked in and I punched him right back in the mouth. Thought I was done for after that but the crowd moved and I with it, like a river passing over obstacles.

In the crowd you feel tomatoes coming at you from all directions and you just pick up handfuls of nasty red slime and toss it in any direction. You're sure to hit someone as there are so many packed in the area, just as sure as you are to get hit. One does get very caught up in the excitement of it. That high school dream of having a food fight in the school cafeteria that everyone has, it comes true in Spain. Suddenly you hear the horn blast again and you realize it's over and it's a little sad. Some people refuse to stop so as you are trying to figure out what happens next you get bombarded with a tomato or a freezing cold spray of a water hose that cleans some of the mess of you.

It's been an hour of madness and it all stops, you see salsa running down the streets, the world smells of tomatoes, everything is a little redder than before. Going with the flow you end up in a square with more breathing room than the tomato throwing street. People gather, have a few drinks, find water to wash off with. There are a few people of Bunol who put soap out in front of their homes and spray tomato throwers with the garden hose after they have lathered up. The streets get sprayed down and the town goes back to normal for another year.

After all the excitement I found my roommate and we made our way back to the bus to head to the campsite, I was exhausted. I threw my clothes into the pile with everyone else’s and changed into my spares. I boarded the bus and promptly fell asleep. Throwing tomatoes wears one out. About ten days later I was in Brussels and telling this story to a girl I was sharing a room with, she was also there and we were comparing craziness, when I finished she said, 'that was me you hit in the face'. Oops.