Spain – La Tomatina

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As August approaches and I’m thinking of the events happenning around the globe, my mind automatically shifts to the Spanish village of Buñol, the home of La Tomatina.

On the odd chance you have never heard of the Tomatina festival, this is the largest food fight in the world which takes place annually in a small town in the province of Valencia. And when I say food fight, I’m refering to tomatoes. 150 tonnes of them, to be precise. At least that is the planned amount for this year’s event on the 26th August. Seeing as last year’s food fighters used 125 tonnes, I find it easy to believe.

This year is a special one for the event, as La Tomatina celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2015. If there ever was a perfect time to witness the mad tomato throwing in the heat of the Spanish sun, it would be now. The history of the festival is quite intriguing; according to the official website, it started spontaneously on the back of a local parade – a group of young people distracted one of the participants, who turned to vegetable market stall for vengeance.

I have taken part in the food fight back in 2009, and to this day I remember the one hour of vegetable throwing and dodging as a time filled with pure joy, sun and most of all, complete freedom.

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If you are thinking of participating, you will need to do a bit of preparation first. Here are my tips:

1. First and foremost, unless you plan on staying in Buñol for the night, do not attend the event on your own. Sure, catching a train from Valencia sounds easy enough in theory, but there is a small problem with this: you will lose everything you have on you during the tomato fight. No matter how careful you are, others around you will not be. So don’t take your chances.

Most of the hostels in Valencia will have organised bus trips to Buñol for the day. (This goes without saying, but book your stay in advance. Walk-ins are not really a possibility around this time.)

There are dedicated tour operators specifically for the event, but they’ll just rip you off. So will the hostels, for the matter, as most of them have a minimum 3-4 night stay policy in place for the Tomatina week, but at the end of the day, you have to stay somewhere, so you might as well take advantage of the perks the hostels do offer. Trust me, a bus driver who does not mind passengers covered in overly ripe tomatoes.

2. Speaking of overly ripe tomatoes, you will stink after the event. Since nobody wants you to actually get hurt, the tomatoes used for the fight are soft, i.e. well on their way out. The good people of Buñol actually come outside of their houses and will help you wash off the worst with their garden hoses, but wearing clothes you plan to throw out immediately after and making sure you have a ride home arranged are common sense.

3. Do not wear flip flops, they will be the death of you. Or if you’re lucky, you’re going to lose them within a few minutes. Sandals are a good way to go. The organisers also recommend goggles. I’m on the fence when it comes to that, while they do protect your eyes, the minute first tomato hits them you will not see a thing. And seeing will be quite crucial.

4. There will be people who will try to tear your clothes apart, especially if you’re a woman. Make sure to mentally prepare yourself for this, and move out of their way if you see them approaching (trust me, they’re not subtle, so you will spot them – unless you’re dealing with the goggle situation described above).

5. You’ll probably try to stick to your friends, but it will not be easy. You definitely want to agree on a meeting spot for after the fight in advance, since your group is bound to split up at least a bit.I would recommend making a pact with one specific person in your group and focusing all of your energy on not losing them, as if you try to keep up with everyone, your focus will be too diversified and you may end up completely on your own.

6. It should really be obvious from my previous points, but do not bring any valuables. If you really, really want to try to take photos, buy a disposable camera. But you’ll probably lose it. (Yes, I may have mentioned that before).

7. Have fun! If you prepare for the event, plan how you will get back and use common sense, you’ll be just fine. Enjoy yourself and be in the moment. The fight only lasts one hour, so make every minute count!

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