Tomatina battleWhat’s red, messy and very Spanish? Welcome to La Tomatina!

When we were at school, food fights were actively discouraged by the teachers. But then we weren’t in Buñol, where once a year you have to stand up and fight, or risk drowning in a sea of more than 115,000 kilos of squishy, over-ripe tomatoes. They do say that tomato juice is good for the skin…

Buñol is a small agricultural town located approximately 38 kilometres west of Valencia, with a population of around 9,000. At first glance, their week-long celebration at the end of August seems not dissimilar to any other Spanish town’s fiesta with dancing, loud music, fireworks, processions, market stalls and late nights. On the Tuesday night there’s always a huge paella-cooking contest in true Valenciano style. And then Wednesday dawns, the tradesmen cover their shop fronts with protective plastic and it’s Tomatina time!

Banned by Franco but revived in the 1970s, La Tomatina is such an important event in Buñol’s calendar that the town council now supplies the tomatoes. The vibrant red fruit, no doubt ripened even further by its journey from Extremadura, is dumped onto the Plaza del Pueblo in the centre of town. But before the messy fun can start, one intrepid reveller has to successfully climb a greased wooden pole and reach up to a prize Spanish ham. Then you’ll hear the water cannons signifying battle commencement.

Up to 40,000 visitors annually invade the town to unleash their inner demons in what has to be the world’s largest tomato fight. There’s no beginner’s circle for the uninitiated, so here are some words of advice if you fancy your chances:

  •  If you’re not afraid of looking a bit daft, try climbing the greased pole. It’s open to everyone to have a go.
  •  Wear protective goggles or hide a rag down your trousers so that you can wipe your eyes when the tomato juice attacks.

Other recommended items of clothing include:

  • Gloves (acidic tomato juice can make your hands really sore).
  • Old clothes that you don’t mind ruining (tearing other people’s clothes is a no-no but still happens all the time).
  • A swimsuit or trunks underneath your clothes will prevent you exposing yourself unnecessarily.
  • Shoes that fasten securely but that you can wash or throw away afterwards. Wear flip-flops and you’ll be surfing the slush until they fall off and get lost in the crowd.
  • Avoid taking valuables. They’re bound to get lost or ruined! If you want to take photos, get a waterproof disposable camera.
  • Squish your tomato before you throw it. This is a fun event not an all out war!
  • Don’t carry anything that could be dangerous when accidentally thrown and definitely no glass bottles.
  • Looking for a strategic advantage? Stay low to the ground to avoid becoming a target!
  • Keep clear of the lorries replenishing the tomatoes – they may think you’re a fruit!
  • When you hear the water cannons sound for the second time, your time is up – stop throwing!

Tomato bath TomatinaThe fire engines will hose down the streets but you will need to head down to the Buñol River to join the masses in washing off the tomato slime! Unless a friendly local takes pity on you and splashes some water on your first!

Don’t expect to find a place to stay in Buñol and don’t leave accommodation arrangements to the last minute. Valencia is only a short train ride away and many of the hotels organise excursions to La Tomatina to make life even easier.

The next La Tomatina celebration is on 29th August 2012. Happy fighting!