Go, Soak in Spanish Tomatoes!

By: Staff | August 11, 2011 | | 3 Comments

Vighnesh Nagathan

Till last year, the last Wednesday of August was just another day for many Indians and “La Tomatina” festival at the village of Bunol in the region of Valencia, Spain, was just another weird festival celebrated by mad backpackers and locals who have nothing else to do. But `Zindagi Na Milega Dobara’ has changed it all. ZNMD has vibrantly driven home with a single song” Ik Junoon-Paint It Red” (Featuring Tomatina festival), the virtues of enjoying ‘the moment’ successfully into the psyche of Indian film-goers. Though the turning point of ZNMD is another Spaniard festival, what indeed one would ask first, right out of the movie, is ‘when is the next Tomatina festival?’

If you are the one who likes to unravel the world at your feet, or one who is inspired to participate in the largest food-throwing festival in the world, you are fortunate time-wise! La Tomatina festival of this year will be held on the 31st of this August, i.e., incidentally, the last Wednesday of August.

History or something that happened lately?

The festival does not have any mythological or religious importance. It only has a history of less than 70 years. The Tomatina fest has many stories behind its initiation. The most popular of the stories set in 1945 are: A group of youngsters starting a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician, the anarchic aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage.

The festival was banned by the officials in 1951, restarting it the next year and banning it again in 1957-58. However, the festival was approved again with strict regulations and modification pertaining to the safety and sustainability of the event, thanks to the pressure from the participants and town residents.
Soon the authorities found the tourist potential of the event and started promoting it. Now the tomatoes are even sponsored by various organizations.

Finally, in 2002, it was declared a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest.
Anyhow, this fest is celebrated every year with membership rising exponentially. It’s like Holi we celebrate in India, except that here they have time-limits and some ground regulations.
La Tomatina has turned an international event and includes participation of people from various nations gathering at a particular location throwing squished tomatoes at each other. There are no divisions of gender, languages, race, nationalities, etc. The highest spirit of any fiesta!!

How it all happens

Around 45,000 people crowd the narrow streets in the Spanish town of Buñol, which is situated just 15 miles outside of Valencia.
Notably, the whole thing is methodical. Once the lorries deliver the tomato ammunition around 10 am, the first custom is the “palo jabón”, similar to the greasy pole. Anyone can climb a greased pole with a ham on top and grab it, and at once the Chupinazo (huge siren) sounds as a signal to start the chaos. The revelers work into a frenzy of singing and dancing and fighting ‘in and with’ tomatoes all over. Exactly after 1 hour the Chupinazo sounds again signaling the stop of the fight and order is restored once. After this, water is pumped through hoses from fire trucks to keep the city clean and locals provide hoses to the participants to clean up. Some participants go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash themselves. Shopkeepers then take away the shielding tarpaulins and everyone lends a hand in hosing down the place. Within hours the town is restored and the tide of red disappears.

If you are claustrophobic don’t bother as the day by itself is great entertainment for the spectators. Food, wine and beer will be flooding bars and cafes of Bunol. You can, if you dare, make fun of the participants coming down the streets drenched in water and covered in tomato bits.

Basic rules
• No bottles or sharp objects — though you can carry alcohol in plastic bottles
• Do not rip out other people’s shirts (if they have some).
• The tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown to not hurt anyone.
• Be aware of the passing supply trucks.
• You must lay down your tomato weapons when the second hooter is sounded.

Practical tips

A set of goggles can be really useful to protect your eyes from the hard-hitting tomatoes. Also it is very practical as the acid in a tomato can sting the eyes.

White T-shirts is normal for ladies and gents are expected to be shirtless. A word of advice –Don’t put on Tee-shirt you value because you are likely to lose it or, worse, it may be torn off. And though the rules are there not to rip off the clothes if you are in the middle of the battle, be prepared to get ripped off. Don’t lose your temper- it’s the spirit of festival and is almost done in good humor. The rippers often hand you back your shirt and shake your hand.

Though ripping is usually confined to men, girls also had better take ample precautions. We cannot predict anything in the hour of chaos. It would be a good idea always to wear a sturdy sports-bra underneath or something similar. Also as a warning, this fest is not free of a minority who use the close proximity of people and commotion as an occasion to grope inapt body parts.

Avoid bringing valuables as chances are that they will be lost or stolen. And you perhaps don’t want to look out for stuff, than enjoying the moment.

If you want to bring cameras, prefer a cheap and old one that you don’t mind being damaged as long as you have memory card. An underwater camera would be better than a camcorder.

NO, NO for flip-flops – opt for a pair of trainers instead.

Though there will be stewards to monitor, be cautious about the trucks carrying the tomatoes as they do pass very close by.

Alcohol is permitted and, in fact, welcomed, but glass bottles are a strict No!


Getting there
If you are going from other parts of Spain, don’t forget to book a return ticket on one of the dedicated coaches running through Spanish cities.

From Valencia: Catch a coach from Estació Del Nord about 6:30 am. If you are late you find it impossible to go past the masses.

At least try to have a view of the slippery, ham-decked pole.

The last train back is at 9 pm – you have to clean yourselves by the local hose or some other source and put new clothes; otherwise, authorities may not allow you to get back into the train.

Accommodation
The hosting village of Buñol has very little option of tourist lodging. Many usually wait for a drink after the combat and catch the train back to Valencia to continue the party.
It’s better to reserve the hostels in Valencia in advance as the festival is very popular with backpackers.

The Feetup Hostel – Hilux Hostel has beautiful rooms and is ideally located in the historic part of town, the Barrio El Carmen. Hotels offer private rooms and 4-bed dorms all adorned by local artists. Some even include the breakfast into the package with once a night rates in the range €15-€25 per person.

Get set to pack your bags to unravel Spain and be part of La Tomatina fiesta.

Savor the pleasure of picking tomato seeds out of your ear for a minimum of a week before they start growing there!

Chalo! España!

Further Reading

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