So Scott’s brother Jeff is here to hang out with us for our final full week in Spain. We were so glad to see him that we promptly put our guest on a train down the coast, so we could throw tomatoes at him. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons he came.
La Tomatina is the world’s largest food fight, in which nearly 140 tons of tomatoes are dumped into the tiny streets of Buñol, so 40,000 people can throw them at each other… the only rule is to squish before you throw. Buñol has almost no accommodations, and this event is their only attraction, so most people stay in Valencia (about 45 minutes away), and take the train in for the big day.
We figured it would be best to get ahead of the crowds by taking the first train of the day into Buñol. We arrived at the Metro station at 6:15am to discover that the train schedule had changed. That’s when we met Wendy & Thomo, two Aussies who pulled us onto the correct train in the nick of time, and ended up becoming our new best friends for the next 21 hours.
We arrived in Buñol at 7:45am, even though the tomato fight doesn’t begin until 11:00am, so the five of us had plenty of time to get acquainted. The streets were already pretty full when we arrived, and there was still over 3 hours and many more train-fulls of people yet to come.
We situated ourselves in a good spot, close enough to the center of the action, but near a side street which we determined would be our escape route if things got too crazy. We happily staked our ground until about 30 minutes before the food fight was about to begin. That’s when it got so crowded that at one point I think my feet were lifted off the ground as I was suspended in the air by the shoulders. We decided to use our escape route before the food fight even began, so we moved down the side street a bit… which quickly became just as crowded as the main road.
Traditionally, the fight is supposed to begin when someone climbs up a greased pole and cuts off the ham attached to the top. However, it’s rare that anyone ever makes it, so the impatient food throwers just start chucking tomatoes when the rocket is fired at 11:00am.
At first we were wondering if we would even see many tomatoes down our side street, but before too long, smashed bits & pieces of tomato started making its way our direction. Scott was the first to get a tomato in hand, which he immediately smashed on top of my head. Oooh… now it’s on.
After a while, Scott decided that he could no longer take being so far from the center of action, and he was going to brave the crowds to get to the thick of it. Jeff, Wendy, Thomo & I decided to stick together, which worked out great because Scott never would have left me alone to go into battle if we didn’t have our other friends around.
Scott navigated through the crowds with reasonable ease, so a few minutes later the rest of us decided to follow suit. However, we made the unfortunate mistake of timing our invasion with the crossing of one of the tomato supply trucks. Ever wonder what happens when a street is already completely packed and then a huge truck tries to drive down the center? People get pushed out of the way. As we were attempting to make our way from the side street back onto the main street, hundreds of other people were attempting the opposite. The side street was at a slight incline, and being pushed around on a slippery incline is not good. With Scott long gone, the four of us hung onto each other tightly and eventually called off the invasion and turned around to go back down the side street. It was actually difficult to move in any direction, and there were a couple of moments when I was sure we were about to become human dominos.
Thankfully we got out ok and moved down the hill for safety. The next thing we know, a rush of tomatoes came out of nowhere, and we suddenly felt like we might as well have been on the main road after all. About the time we finished getting sufficiently dirty, Scott shows up again with a huge smile on his face, completely covered in tomatoes & holding his t-shirt, which had been shredded. Apparently any sort of protection (shirt, hat, etc.) makes you a prime target, so when Scott started getting mixed up in the middle, he heard someone shout “Una camiseta!” (a shirt!), and that was the end of that. We knew this could happen, so he was mentally prepared to deal with it. (While I was pleasantly surprised that we did not see any such assaults on women, it is advised for women to wear a one-piece bathing suit or a secure sports bra underneath your shirt, just in case!)
Anyhow, the five of us are now reunited, so we take a quick break from chucking tomatoes to take a few pictures with our underwater disposable cameras (don’t dare take a real camera because it WILL be ruined!). Then, suddenly without warning, our street became a river! They must’ve started hosing the people or street above, which literally washed a sea of tomatoes over our feet.
Next thing I know, Scott is doing a full on dive – Slip N’ Slide style – down the street, not stopping until he reached the pool at the bottom. I knew one of Scott’s goals for this trip was to make “tomato angels” (like snow angels, where you lay in the tomatoes and flap your arms & legs around), so for some reason I joined him. At this point… why not?
This is officially the most out of character thing I have ever done in my life:
The fight lasts for an hour (which I thought sounded like a long time to throw food, but ended up going by really fast). So at 12:00 sharp, another rocket is fired and people mostly respect that the event is over and stop throwing tomatoes. All the locals then come out onto the streets and start hosing people off, or dumping buckets of water onto the crowds from the balconies above. This is helpful, but by no means a way to get satisfactorily clean. There are a few showers setup around the city, and thankfully we found an area with several showers that were not yet discovered by the masses.
So now, we were (mostly) tomato free but sopping wet, so we all bought the official La Tomatina 2008 t-shirt so at least one part of us was clean & dry. We wandered around the city a bit longer then boarded the train back to Valencia, along with every single one of the 40,000 people - possibly all in one train car. At least that’s what it felt like. It was almost as crowded as it was in the thick of the food fight, and even hotter. Believe it or not, I would have rather had people throw tomatoes at me all day long than to stand on that train for one more minute. It was by far more miserable than having tomato in my ear.
Anyhow, it turned out that Wendy & Thomo were staying near our hotel in Valencia, so we made plans to meet up again later that night, after we all had a nice shower & siesta. They were great company, and the conversation flowed until 3:00am, like we were all old friends. We all had an absolute blast. Jeff even said that if this was the only thing he did on his entire trip, it would’ve been worth it all. It was also the perfect finale trip for our year in Spain, as it summed up everything we like about travel… seeing new places, meeting new people, and doing something a little adventurous that would never fly in the U.S. I think we’re ending this year with a bang big enough to shoot us ½-way across the world and crash-land in California!
Now we have about a week to show Jeff around Barcelona, say hasta luego (not adios!) to the friends we’ve made here, and get packed up and ready to go………!