The tomato growing season for this Spanish town, 40 kilometres from Valencia, always ends on the last Wednesday in August, when the population of 9000 is joined by some 25,000 visitors for the cultural celebration of La Tomatina.
Joining more than 30,000 red faced, rouge bodied, cherry clothed and rojo haired revellers watching a procession of trucks filled with tomatoes may not appeal to most as an ideal way to spend a late summer Wednesday morning.
But throwing tomatoes across a street packed with strangers and splashing tomato juice over your friends until the scene resembles a B-grade horror movie is absolutely as fun as it sounds. And, if you feel like you are still too clean for the occasion you can simply take a seat in the pool of tomato juice that slowly flows down the streets of Buñol for two hours.
Before the smell of 125,000 kilograms of ripe fruit is even in the air, the excitement begins with the crowd gathering around a 20 metre pole covered in soap. As residents throw water from the balconies above, determined individuals attempt to climb the slippery pole or group together to create a pyramid until someone finally reaches and releases the trophy at the top — a leg of ham.
This person is idolised until a fire truck arrives to soak everyone who has managed to squeeze into the packed street. Any male wearing a t-shirt, which should be white, has it ripped from his body and these drenched t-shirts provide the first objects to be sent soaring, with anticipation of what’s to come just as high.
Off with a bang
When the first banger – or gun – sounds, a collective cheer is released even though it is several more minutes before the tomato trucks appear. For the uninitiated, the adrenaline is flowing because of the fear of the unknown, soon to be replaced by the fear of flying fruit.
Six trucks filled with ripe tomatoes and juice make their way down the main street, slow enough to enable the more adventurous to climb into the trailer for a constant source of ammunition. With the trucks tipping their contents onto the street every 100 metres or so, those on the ground have just as much firepower and it is not long until the scene is a red blur of exhilaration.
By European standards, La Tomatina is relatively new
It is easy to assume that an event such as La Tomatina is steeped in historical significance but unlike most European festivals, this one is relatively new. It does however have a foundation as unusual as could be expected, with it starting in 1945 when some young locals got carried away during a carnival and a food fight ensued. When they attempted to repeat the fun on the last Wednesday of August in the following year the police broke up the crowd, but not before a tradition had been built.
As well as being a memorable couple of hours, this is an event that stays with you – and not just in your hair and on your skin. The clothes you wear during La Tomatina will smell like La Tomatina for many months to come, with washing them or even swimming in them doing little to change this. Those who have tomatoes as a staple part of their diet can expect to be reminded of the overwhelming smell of tomatoes each time it is prominent in a meal.
La Tomatina rules:
* squish tomatoes in your hand before throwing them to ensure they are soft — the fun is in covering others in the juice, not in bruises
* do not bring glass or plastic bottles to the event, let alone throw them
* any male should not wear a t-shirt, or should ensure it is an expendable one as it will inevitably be ripped off before the first tomato is thrown in amusement
* at least try to resist the temptation to ‘tomato’ those only spectating
* tomato throwing must cease when the second banger sounds, and the immaculate and ridiculously fast clean up begins
TOP IMAGE: By flydime (La Tomatina / Spain, Buñol) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons