La Tomatina is the highlight of the annual festival in the small town of Bunol which
is about 25 miles (40 km) west of Valencia. This is a relatively recent festival, maybe
only 50 years old but the origins are already somewhat obscure so we won't go there.
The purpose is basically to have a big tomato fight with 20 or 30 thousand of your
closest friends. We had a hard time finding detailed info on the web before we went but
Bunol is a pretty sleepy town normally that gears up for their big day. Don't try to
drive through town, just park on the outskirts where large fields have been devoted to
that end and then walk in. We arrived around 9:30 AM and by 10:00 we were standing in the main
The first event involves a ham on a pole. Yes, you read that correctly. It also involves
an awful lot of lard on the pole below the ham. In this picture, on the right side of the
Channel 2 banner is a tall thin pole. You can see a hapless person clinging to it. Way
up at the top is a oblong purple-white object which is the ham. When the ham falls, the
festival starts (approximately). For enough people to pile on the pole and allow some
nimble person (usually a child) to cut the ham down, all the lard has to come off first.
Most of the lard comes off on the bodies of people who are unsuccessful for the first hour
or two of this display. The ham came down around 11:30 AM.
Once the ham is down, the fire hoses come out and the whole street/square/mob of people
are hosed down. This is a good thing because it's really quite hot out there and the
water is quite cold. Notice the protective plastic sheeting placed over all the buildings
to minimize tomato damage. Around this time the crowd gets a bit surly and t-shirts come
off (of men) get balled up and thrown. This is actually sort of dangerous because a
wet t-shirt can cause some damage, so this is a fine time to practice being short.
At noon, a single cannon shot is fired over the city and the trucks roll in. This is
a good time to practice being crushed as the previously full main square suddenly has
to accomodate four enormous truck of tomatoes. These people in yellow jerseys ride on the
truck and distribute (sort of) the tomatoes by pitching them into the crowd. Periodically the
trucks will dump larger loads as well. In this picture there are flying tomatoes as
well as at least one flying shirt.
Here come the tomatoes. This is about what it looks like, except clearer because all
the sane people are wearing goggles. If you're not wearing goggles you will probably
be risking eye injuries, and possibly spending most of the time trying to see. We spent
a fair amount of time trying to see even with goggles. It doesn't really matter if you
catch tomatoes and then throw them, because there will be plenty of chunks to pick off
of yourself and other people before re-throwing them.
Once the trucks leave, the battle starts. Meanwhile, the hoses are still going.
Here is David when he still had his shirt. If you are male and don't remove your own
shirt it will be removed for you. People will surround you chanting 'Camiseta! Camiseta!'
and then that will be the last you see of your shirt. It's okay, you weren't going to
be wearing it again anyway.
Theoretically tomatoes are supposed to be crushed before being thrown but they can still sting especially early on in the tomato fight when there are still big pieces. While the sheer number of tomatoes used is staggering, when you divide it by 30,000 people the result isn't particularly high. Finding whole tomatoes more than a couple minutes after the truck went through was rare or impossible.
We can't say for sure why she did this, but after David's shirt was lost to the crowd, all that remained was a sleeve (the left one in fact). Melanie commemorated this by wearing it as a bandana for the remainder of the event.
At 1:00 PM, one hour after it begins, another cannon shot is fired and just like that they turn off the hoses and it is over. An hour seems like a long time to have a tomato fight but it all passes rather quickly. Luckily we were close to the hoses for the last part of the hour. Originally because we were hot and wanted to be closer to the cold water but it's also nice to get the tomato juice out of your eyes and ears periodically.
The biggest mess is the street which has become sort of a watered-down marinara sauce by this point. Lots of people arrived barefoot (even more left barefoot) which I don't think we can possibly recommend. Once it's over it isn't particularly easy to remove the rest of the tomato from your person. There are few hotel rooms in Bunol itself so most people are commuting. We found a random resident who was kind enough to hose down people on the way out of town so we had at least a minor cleaning before we returned to the car. Supposedly there are public showers near the river but we're told that they were far too crowded to use reliably.
Watching the spectacle, without participating is possible but of course if you can see it, you're probably in range unless you live there and have a window to hide behind. So back at the car we toweled off as best we could, changed clothes and drove a few miles off to a gas station were we completed our limited cleaning process and threw away everything we had been wearing. This is our 'after' picture, although we had already been hosed down a few times. We're not convinced we were really tomato-free until arriving in Granada later that evening and showering, or possibly until the shower after that.