...surviving a drive by fruiting.
26.08.2009 - 26.08.2009 35 °C
We rose early on the last Wednesday of August, the day of the annual La Tomatina festival. In preparation for the event, we had hit the local carrefour to buy a couple of cheap t-shirts and some eye protection.
The traffic grew heavy as we approached Bunol. As we hit the outskirts of the town we saw hundreds of 'free-campers' who had set up on just about every square inch of space available on roadsides, vacant lots, car parks and parkland. We parked the car and started to walk into the centre of town. The air was filled with the smell of the hot breakfasts being sold by local street vendors, and the cries of "beer... one Euro!". There were thousands of people sporting all manner of outfits. We observed various national flags, a couple of guys with watermelon helmets, a group of guys painted in 'Braveheart' theme (complete with tiny plastic swords and shields), a group of girls dressed in Aussie Swimming Caps (Members of the Fanatics), an excellent volleyball helmet, and a rowdy bunch of Portuguese men chanting "Por-tu-gal!..Por-tu-gal!..." as they forced their way through the crowd towards the Plaza Mayor.
We managed to reach the halfway point along one of the avenues approaching the Plaza. We found a bit of wall to lean against and started watching the proceedings. Local home and shop owners had covered the facades of thier premises with boards and sheets of plastic. They hid on the balconies of the upper floors and darted out from cover occassionally in order to hose or bombard the crowd with buckets of water. A group of about 8 local men and women had set up a large dining table in front of their shop. The sat in suits and ate morning tea determined to withstand the constant targeting by water bombers on the upper floors. They remained there, chatting calmly, until just before the start of the event and refused to react as the crowd roared it's approval with each drenching from above.
The event starts with an open challenge to climb a greased pole and retrieve a large ham which is attached to the top. We were some distance from the main plaza, where this takes place, so were unable to witness the activity. We were alerted, however, to it's successful completion by the sounding of an air horn. This blast of the horn also announces the beginning of La Tomatina. Before too long the already packed avenue was further compressed to allow the first of the tomato trucks slow passage, and our first supply of fresh fruit with which to pelt each other senseless. The width of the vehicle was significant and, as a result, people were pressed against either side of the avenue with substantial force. For the few minutes that the truck was in front of us, it had become difficult to take a deep breath and I was fearful of receiving a future paternity suit from the girl in front of me. It was a tad embarrassing, very uncomfortable, and a little distressing for shorter folk. The wall to wall armpit reminded us that we would soon be climbing aboard the London Underground again. However this crush, unlike the peak hour tube journey, had a pay off. It allowed you to vent your aggravation through the use of controlled violence, courtesy of the drive by fruiting. Each truck contained tons of ripe red tomatoes and several people in the tilt back of the vehicle. They stopped periodically and tipped a heap of fruit on the ground and as the crowd raced to get to the bounty, the men and women perched on the sides would fire off a volley of red missiles at those below.
Most of us had equipped ourselves with eye protection, swimming or safety goggles, but they soon steamed up and became impossible to see through. This left us without any peripheral vision and open to easy attack. We soon had a combination of whole and mushed tomatoes bouncing off, or splatting against, every side of our heads. T-Shirts were also soaked in the river of tomato juice on the street and flung with venom. This had the added effect on temporarily mummifying you as it wrapped around your face and head. We had not forgotten the early attacks from the residents and took aim for the gaps between their protective plastic sheeting. They returned fire with buckets and hoses. The whole tomatoes ran out and the fight would abate for a while, until trucks arrived with fresh ammunition. They did so on 3 or 4 occasions and, after about an hour, a final series of blasts of the air horns signalled the ceassation of the day's hostilities.
We took the opportunity to remove our steam and tomato filled eyewear and survey the area. Everyone was covered from head to toe with seeds, skin and tomato flesh. A river of juice and pulp flowed along the avenues as we embarked on the challenge of getting out again. We saw a break in the sea of people and joined the exiting throng. BAD IDEA... there was a crush of drunken men pushing from every side. Jen was constantly shoved around and was only just managing to keep her feet. I pity anyone who fell because they would have been trampled. A girl next to us was very distressed and looked ready to pass out. We had worked our way to the edge of the crowd when a couple, seeing our predicament, reached in and grabbed us, and the distressed girl. They pulled us to the safety of the wall, much like being rescued from a river torrent. It was a relief to only be taking soggy T-shirts to the head again. What a debarcle. We caught our breath and then started laughing, with relief, before stockpiling knotted, soggy shirts for a revenge fuelled volley at the next group of drunken louts. Our stress levels abated with every successful face shot. The rest of the crowd joined in and one loud, muscle bound, moron was pelted mercilessly... ahhh, rough justice never tasted better. I could hear Robert Duvall in my mind "I love the smell of tomato in the morning".
Our next challenge was to find somewhere to clean ourselves up and change into some clean clothes for the drive back to our hotel. We had rented a Seat Ibiza and assumed Europcar would prefer it returned without the bolognaise. It had quietened down considerably when we tagged onto the crowd leaving the avenue for the main square. People were splashing, jumping, sliding and sitting in the river of tomato juice. Many people were heading down a hill towards a narrow stream in order to rinse off. We joined them and, after a trecherous climb down the slippery bank, were washing off the morning's ripe red coating. It was only then that we detected the faint smell of sewerage. We looked in horror at those immersing their heads in the water and decided that, as we had escaped death by tomato, it would be a shame to subsequently die of hepatitis. We scrambled up the hill and joined the end of a long line which had an old couple, with garden hoses, at the other end. Mrs Gardenhose was giving everyone a powerful spray of water from head to toe. She had an excellent technique and was very efficient. She was obviously a veteran and was racing through eager participants. Her husband was somewhat less efficient. He was far more laboured and took his work very seriously indeed. Particularly long female legs and bikini tops. I drew the short straw and received only a cursory squirt from Mr garden hose. Whilst showering later at the hotel, I flushed a large chunk of tomato from the inside of my left ear. I should have worn a bikini top!
We had intended to clean up our clothes and shoes but it was clearly not going to be possible. Our Keens and Salomons, along with clothing, was confined to the garbage bin. We were certain we smelt strongly of Tomato, but later surmised that we had bolognaise sinusitis. Our skin was perfect though... because we're worth it.
La Tomatina is held annually, on the last Wednesday of August, in Bunol. You can find reasonably priced accommodation around Valencia and it is easy to travel to Bunol for the event. There are a host of activities on the preceding night and also the day/night of the event. Live entertainment and plenty of food and souvenir stalls. It is intense, a real challenge to those who need some personal space, and enormously enjoyable. Give it a go if you ever get the chance, but wear shoes you are happy to throw away afterwards and bring eye protection. We had a blast and hope to do it all again some day.
Volleyball Helmet = Stylish and Protective
The locals are protected by plastic Sheeting...
...and they attack the crowd with a barrage of water bombs
The calm before the storm
The tomato truck arrives
We survive the first volley
The sea of tomato pulp
The guy in front of us takes a soggy T-shirt to the head
The crowd prepares for the next wave
Trouble starts as a real fight breaks out
The first re-supply truck arrives
...and the food fight continues
El hombre está en la sopa de tomate
Climbing down to the El Stinko river
Mr & Mrs Gardenhose (note: Mr GH is far less interested in his current male client and prefers to gaze at the bikini he just hosed)
The post fight street party begins
The First Truck Arrives
La Tomatina 2009-The Worlds Biggest Tomato Fight
Post Tomatina Street Party feat. The Coolest Dancer In The World