La Tomatina (70th Anniversary)
I woke up today at 04:30, showered, and dressed in my San Fermin festival white (left over – and clean – t-shirt and pants). I then grabbed my bag with an extra set of clothes, towel, and sunscreen, and walked out of the hotel at 05:07. Next, I made my way to Plaza Tetuan, reaching it at 05:25. I then waited around for the buses to arrive to take myself and all the other partiers to Buňol. There appeared to be a lot of Aussies here for the festival and I thought it was an amusing that some of them turned their La Tomatina shirts (blue t-shirts given to all the participants who went through the “Festivals All Around” tour company) in to sleeveless shirts – such an Aussie thing to do. The buses came and lined up against the curb, stretching thirty or so deep. Around 06:30 we began to load up on to the buses. As the buses filled up in the front, I found myself migrating to the end of the line. Eventually I managed to get on to a bus (#20), find a seat, listen to a pep talk from one of the tour company owners, and then wait some more for the buses to depart. At 07:07 the buses finally departed Valencia for Buňol.
Some notes on La Tomatina: La Tomatina began in 1945 AD when some hooligans threw tomatoes at each other in the street; since food fights are undoubtedly fun, the locals decided to do this every year; the festival now occurs annually on the last Wednesday of August and over the last two decades it has exploded in popularity and size; the festival now draws many tourists from all over the world (I noticed Chinese, Indians, Aussies, Brits, Americans, Germans, etc.) and has become so big that they actually limit the amount of attendees – this started a couple of years ago and now I think they only allow 20,000 participants; since you have to get a ticket, I chose to use a tour company (“Festivals All Around”) just to make my life easier even though it was no doubt much more expensive. Also, this being 2015 AD and thus the 70th Anniversary of La Tomatina, we were told that they would have many more tomatoes compared to the previous years (I have no idea if this claim is true or if it’s just fluff the tour guides told us to boost our morale, but it seems likely).
We reached Buňol at 07:55, exited the bus, gathered in to a large group, and walked to where the tour company had set up a designated sangria drinking station. They had several large buckets filled with sangria and everyone drank as much as their minds desired, dipping their plastic cups in to the burgundy pools of sweet ambrosia whenever necessary. I had three cups whilst standing around before we were gathered up by the tour company staff and led to ground zero for the festival. La Tomatina takes place on the main street in the old town (on Calle de Cid and Calle de San Luis); at the center of the street is a church and the city hall, as well as a ham pole that is set up for the festival (this ham pole is a tall wooden pole that is covered in grease and lard and has a large ham hanging from the top; the objective is for some festival-goer to reach the ham during the day (preferably before the start of La Tomatina at 11:00) and pull it down with him; in order to be successful, everyone needs to work as a team, otherwise it is basically impossible to scale the pole and reach the ham; someone does not always get it and many years no one gets it – I didn’t see anyone reach it while I was there and I don’t believe anyone managed to get it this year). Anyway, we were led to the center of the town, where the middle of the mayhem would occur. Once there, at roughly 09:30, we all stood and waited for the festival to begin at 11:00. I happened to be standing next to a platform with high-powered water hoses which were used to drench the partiers while we were waiting and during the main spectacle – this was a big mistake and I would not recommend anyone to stand near this water platform; first of all, the water was cold and the sun was not always out (it was partly cloudy today); second, getting drenched in water was not why I came here, I wanted to get covered in tomatoes and it seemed like there was more water than tomatoes; finally, it was too far from the action, I learned that being in the center of the main street is not enough, one has to actually stand on the street (not off it like I initially did) in order to get access to the bulk of the tomatoes). While I was standing with many other partiers, in this tight crowd of people, I watched all the people trying to climb up the ham pole – this was amusing and fun to watch (at one point a drunk man wearing almost nothing and with genitals in full view climbed up, pulled down a woman’s pants who was trying to climb the pole and thus exposing her bum to the world, and then playfully acted like he was humping another woman before he descended back down to the ground; I didn’t see him attempt to climb the pole anymore and I’m not sure if he was taken away for lewd behavior). Anyway, after waiting for an hour and a half, the festival began. I didn’t hear the rocket go off and I think they may have started a little early, but around 11:00, the tomato trucks (large dump trucks filled with tomatoes and passengers riding in the back whose job is to throw the tomatoes) started making their way down the street from Calle de San Luis. It seemed impossible that these large trucks could make it through the thick crowds of people, but they did, and it took maybe fifteen minutes before the first truck reached us in the center after having started. As the trucks came through, they would stop every now and then, raise the truck bed up (as the passengers held on to the sides to keep themselves from sliding out), and dump a shit load of tomatoes on to the street for everyone to use to pelt others. After standing by the water platform and unable to really move anywhere else for the first fifteen minutes, I made my way to the street to join in on the action (where I was standing initially, I felt more like a spectator than a participant – for anyone who actually reads this page and decides to attend La Tomatina, please remember to stand in the middle of the street; sure, you’ll have to move every time the trucks pass through, but at least you’ll be in the center of the action and more likely to be standing on a pile of tomatoes). Once I made it to the street, I had more tomatoes at my disposal and I was having a lot more fun (it was also nice to get away from the water hoses). Around 11:40, the trucks had all passed through and some people were actually departing the scene and heading back to the buses. I stayed around and continued to throw tomatoes at other partiers and kick up the slushy tomato juice on the street (the tomato juice was at least ankle deep on the side of the road). At 12:00, I heard the rocket go off and the festival was officially over. I hung around and took photographs with my iPhone (I had it in a zip-lock bag to help keep it from getting wet . . .) of the aftermath, playfully kicked up tomato juice at other people still having fun, and tried to make a tomato-angel on the road (as I, as well as others, laid down on the road, many people would kick up tomato juice and dump it on me, covering my white clothes in red). Finally, around 12:30, I decided to head back toward the buses as some were still having fun and still trying to reach the ham on top of the pole. I made my way back through town and when I neared the bus parking lot, I looked for a place to get cleaned up. There was a long line of people waiting to be hosed off by a woman next to a bar for one euro a person; it looked like she and the others were doing a thorough job with the hose, so I decided to get in line and wait my turn. After getting hosed down and tossing my t-shirt away, I bought a beer and drank it on my way back to the bus parking lot. Then, as I was trying to locate the bus I arrived on, my iPhone went dead – it had gotten wet and it looked like my gamble did not pay off and that all those pictures I took would be lost forever, like tears in the rain). At this point I was a bit worried and depressed that the iPhone would fail me after all we’ve been through together. Oh well. Anyway, as I was walking around trying to find the bus, I was stopped by a cameraman and female interviewer; I wasn’t really interested in being interviewed on camera without my shirt on and a large cup of beer I was trying to drink in my hand, but I relented and answered their questions. Soon after I found the bus, finished my beer, and then took my seat inside the bus, putting on a clean shirt that I had brought with me (I brought swim trunks, sandals, and a towel too, but never used them). Shortly after 14:00, all the passengers had made it back to the bus on time and we drove off, back to Valencia. I slept part of the way and we returned to Valencia around 15:00.
Overall, La Tomatina was a fun experience, but it was rather short (only an hour) and did not have the festive atmosphere of San Fermin in Pamplona (after it finished at noon it was pretty much finished everywhere else; also, once all the buses of partiers departed Buňol at 14:00, I can’t imagine there being much life left in the town). This is certainly a once-in-your-life event that I have no desire to ever return to, whereas San Fermin was a hell of a lot of fun (especially the opening day when I got doused in wine as opposed to tomatoes) and I could honestly see myself returning annually if I only had the money and the time.
Once back at Valencia, I walked straight back to my room, put the iPhone next to the air conditioner to dry out, threw my pants and underwear away, and showered to get the rest of the tomato carnage off of my body and out of my hair. After cleaning myself, I laid down on my bed and tried to go to sleep, but I could not. I then wasted some time on the internet (it is truly a more dangerous time-waster than the television of old since it is infinitely more interesting compared to most shitty television programming – the internet is a rather attractive demon). I contemplated going to the after party (there would be free shuttle buses to take the parties to and from the club), but I decided against it; maybe if I was with a friend or in a more enjoyable mood, or maybe if the thought of loud music and expensive drinks had some allure to me, I would’ve attended; however, I figured it would be no fun for me to go alone. Finally, around 21:00, I walked to the nearby supermarket and bought some snacks, zip-lock bags (I should’ve done this yesterday instead of using a worn out one to protect my iPhone), and rice. I then returned to my hotel room (I did not feel like eating a real meal today), put the rice in to a zip-lock bag, and then put my iPhone in to the rice (yep, I was using that old trick to try and dry out its innards). I then drank some beer I had bought the previous night and I ate my snacks (chips and salsa) while watching the YouTube. Eventually, I went to sleep around 03:00.