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eMag | Directory | TNT Travel Show 2017 | Events Search | TNT Jobs

By


Frankie Mullin

La Tomatina: Getting saucy at the world's biggest food fight

In what is probably the festival world’s most (tomato) concentrated hour of mayhem, this August’s La Tomatina will yet again turn the streets of Buñol, near Valencia, into an ocean of blood-red pulp. Since its beginning, circa 1945, La Tomatina has grown to epic proportions and the last few years have seen upwards of 45,000 people packing themselves into a seething, tomato-throwing mass in this otherwise sleepy Spanish town.

The premise of La Tomatina is simple: throw, mash, squidge or otherwise propel over-ripe tomatoes at as many of your fellow Tomatinans as possible. You have one hour and all warfare must cease when the second of two rockets is fired off. It sounds simple enough, but there are pitfalls to be avoided.

With so many people getting so messy in so much sludge, there are a few precautions it’s helpful for you to know about so you can make sure you have maximum fun. Also, this year big changes are afoot and, for the first time ever, La Tomatina will be ticketed, with limited numbers (likely to be set at 20,000). While this will guarantee better tomato action for everyone involved, you’ll need to book earlier than ever. And if you’re going with a tour operator, make sure you check with them that your tickets are included in the package.

TNT caught up with some regular festivalgoers, who just can’t get enough of the mess-fest. From people tearing each other’s clothes off, guzzling sangria, clambering up greasy poles and, of course, getting knee-deep in purée, it sounds like a wild time is had by one and all. 

 

Nic Cooper: “People shove tomatoes down your pants”

Nic Cooper, 28, from London, has been on four Busabout tours to La Tomatina. “Luckily for me, the first time I went to Tomatina our guide knew all the little back streets to get us right to the front of the action. Otherwise, I’ve heard stories about people getting stuck behind the crowds and missing the whole fight. Our group had got to know each other the night before as we’d been out in Valencia – for dinner then flamenco dancing – soeveryone was buzzing on the way to Buñol in the morning.

“Once you arrive, there are stalls everywhere selling sangria so we got drinks as we headed in to wait a few hours for the tomato trucks. Things get pretty mental and you should steer clear of big groups of blokes if you don’t want your clothes ripped off. I’ve seen massive, muscly blokes getting their shirts pulled off by groups of guys and, for girls, sports bras and a few layers are a must. People are laughing though and the atmosphere is great.

“The time a guy reached the ham at the top of the greasy pole [a La Tomatina tradition – more over the page] there was the biggest eruption of noise and celebration I’ve ever seen. People were literally crying and shouting because it hardly ever happens.

“The first year I went we were right by the spot where trucks dump all of the tomatoes. Once the fight started, it was mayhem. People were throwing everything from T-shirts to flip-flops and we were knee-deep in tomatoes. I got hit by a carrot at one point and, apparently, local kids put tomatoes in the freezer the night before so it’s like being hit by a rock.People are picking up handfuls of tomatoes and shoving them in your face and down your pants – you feel quite violated by the end! It’s one of the most mental hours you’llever experience.”

 

Ally Reynolds: “It’s a crazy tomato mosh pit”

Ally Reynolds, 28, from Melbourne, Australia, has been to La Tomatina twice and works for tour operator Topdeck. “Most people who go to Tomatina stay in Valencia and make the trip in by train or with an organised tour coach. The night before the big fight is electric. People are pouring out onto the streets in search of paella – there is a big cooking contest to see whose is the best in town! – and drinking litres of sangria. Dance the night away but take it easy, you have to be up early in the morning. 

“Even though the tomato throwing doesn’t officially start until 11am, you should aim to get to Buñol around 7.30am to secure a spot near the ‘palo jamon’ [which loosely translates to greasy pole], a huge pole covered with lard and with a ham on top. The tradition is for men, and occasionally women, to climb over each other in an attempt to reach the ham and become the hero of the festival.

“At 11am a loud bang rings out and the start of the tomato throwing begins. Just when you think you are so tightly packed you couldn’t fit another soul into the tiny streets, down come seven massive lorries filled with tomatoes. Between 150,000 and 200,000 tomatoes are tipped onto the street and it gets messy!

“After one hour, the fight ends with the firing of a second shot and fire trucks move in to hose down the streets. Locals throw buckets of water off their balconies and bring outtheir own hoses. You’ll need a good scrubbing down as you will be completely covered in sweat, tomato juice, hair, water and sangria.

“Before and after the fight there are massive speakers blaring out club tracks and everyone is dancing, drinking and enjoying life. The best way to describe Tomatina is a crazy mosh pit filled with a shedload of tomatoes. It’s certainly a day you will never forget!”

Carly Amos: “I don’t even like tomatoes!”

Carly Amos, 28, from London is a tour guide with Topdeck. This year will be her second La Tomatina. “Last year, I took my first group to La Tomatina. We were up at the crack of dawn and, when we got to Buñol, we made our way down the hill with masses of people dressed in ridiculous costumes and tour group T-shirts. At first, a few random tomatoes were thrown our way but then the tomato trucks came through and things got hilarious. I got completely involved in the fight and I don’t even like tomatoes.

“After the fight, everyone is hot, covered in tomato juice and starting to stink, so the locals [point] hoses out of their windows and you can run in front of them to get soaked.Some people take their clothes off and dump them – I couldn’t believe how many people just left their shoes. I must have seen about 250 pairs when I walked back up the hill.”

Ashley Pyziakos: “It’s an intensely happy experience”

Ashley Pyziakos, 30, from Brisbane, Australia and Pepe Pardo Esteve, 30, from Valencia, Spain, co-founded The Tomatina After Party in 2011. Pepe has grown up going to La Tomatina and decided two years ago that a large-scale but organised after party was required to finished off the day in style.

Their first party was on the terrace of IVAM (the modern arts museum of Valencia) with 1500 people. Last year, 3500 people took advantage of their classed-up swimming pool filled venue.

“What shocked me both years was what an intensely happy experience it is,” says Ashley, who now lives in Valencia. “I’ve never been around so many people and not seen anyone getting aggro.”

Ashley believes the new ticketing of La Tomatina is ultimately a good thing. “I think it’s massively positive butI do worry that a lot of people are going to show up at the festival and not get tickets,” he says. “We need to get the word out there.”

Top tip for surviving Tomatina

• Only bring what you need. Leave behind passports, laptops and mobile phones where you’re staying.
• Carry money and valuables in a zip-lock bag in your underwear or a very safe pocket.
• Wear closed-toe shoes that you won’t mind throwing away at the end. Flip-flops won’t work.
• Wear clothes you don’t mind binning afterwards.
• Expect your clothes to be torn off. Girls – wear sports bras.
• If you want to take pictures, a water-proof camera is the only viable option.
• Take clean clothes and leave them somewhere so you can get changed before you get back on the bus or train.

After party tickets are sold at thetomatinaafterparty.com and start at just €10 (about £8.50).

WHEN TO GO: La Tomatina always takes place in Buñol each year on the last Wednesday in August. This year it’s August 28.

The weather will be reaching highs of 25-30°C, so you can guess how those tomatoes will smell.

CURRENCY: £1 = €1.17

ACCOMMODATION: The Home Youth Hostel, in the city centre, is colourfully decorated and lively. It’s a step up from a basic backpackers, which means there aren’t any bunkbeds, even in the three-to-four person dorms. From £14.50pppn.

SEE: homehostelsvalencia.com