Thursday, June 21, 2012

La Tomatina

The last Wednesday in August marks Spain’s messiest festival. Held in Buñol, an otherwise drab industrial town 40km west of Valencia, La Tomatina is a tomato-throwing orgy that causes the population to swell to more than 40,000 visitors in a town of just 9000 inhabitants.
The mayhem takes place on the town’s main square and Calle del Cid. At precisely 11am a large greased pole with a ham attached to the end of it is hoisted into the air, and there’s a mad scramble as people struggle against each other to pull it down. Once this is achieved, a rocket swooshes skywards and over 100 tonnes of ripe, squishy tomatoes are tipped from trucks to the waiting crowd. For precisely one hour, until a second rocket is fired, everyone joins in a frenzied, cheerful, anarchic tomato battle. After being pounded with pulp, expect to be sluiced down with hoses by the local fire brigade.

A food-fighting history 

The crazy food-fighting festival of La Tomatina began in 1945, but it is not known why. Locals have numerous theories, including the popular tale of disgruntled townsfolk attacking city councilmen during a town celebration. However, it could also be attributed to anything from an anti-Franco protest or simply a fun food fight between friends. Whichever way it started, the townsfolk of Buñol enjoyed it so much that it was repeated year after year, finally becoming an officially recognised celebration in 1952. Despite being canned briefly during the 1970s for having no religious significance, it has returned full-throttle every year.
The festival is now held in honour of the town’s patron saint, St Louis Bertrand, and the Mare de Déu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenceless).

 Travel plans

Most people come for the day, arriving on the morning train from Valencia and heading back in the afternoon. But if you want the full La Tomatina experience, stay for the week-long celebration, which involve music, dancing, parades and fireworks. The night before the fight, a paella cooking competition is held where women traditionally dress in white, and men forego shirts altogether.
Protection for the fight is recommended – wear old clothes and shoes and a pair of goggles to protect your eyes. As you’re hosed down with water after, a change of clothes is a good idea, although warm Valencia temperatures will have you dry in no time.
What you don’t bring to La Tomatina is also important. The crazed tomato-throwers take no prisoners; cameras are seen as positive invitations to pelt the owner. Women should be aware that a wet T-shirt competition is an unofficial part of the day. Tomatoes are supplied, but ensure they are squashed or fruit might not be the only bruised bodies in town.
If you don’t fancy being showered with soggy tomatoes, you can watch the spectacle in dry comfort on Canal 9, Valencia’s local TV channel. Or, you could avail yourself for the more painful orange-throwing festival, the Battle of the Oranges, held in the northern Italian town of Ivrea every February.

The Rules of La Tomatina
  • Do not bring bottles or hard objects as they can cause accidents and hurt other participants
  • Do not rip other people’s T-shirts
  • You must squash the tomatoes before throwing them as this reduces the impact
  • Ensure you keep a safe distance from the lorries
  • As soon as you hear the second shot, you must stop throwing tomatoes
Useful Advice
  • Wear closed shoes that you don’t mind throwing away afterwards. If you wear flip-flops, you may get hurt, or you could lose them easily during the battle
  • Wear old clothes, or clothes that you aren’t planning to wear again. They will most likely end up damaged from being ripped or incredibly dirty
  • You may find goggles useful. However, it is safer if you just ensure that you always have something clean to wipe your eyes with. The best thing is if you tuck your T-Shirt into your shorts to keep the bottom part of your T-shirt clean and dry
  • If you are planning to take pictures, bring a waterproof camera!
  • If you’re not from Buñol, and you want to stay overnight, don’t forget to look for and secure accommodation in advance
  • Do not miss the Palojabón – a soap-covered pole with a Spanish ham at the top: whoever can climb the pole and get the ham can keep it!
  • Stay safe and enjoy the festivities as much possible

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