Purveyor of festivals wicked, weird and just plain bizarre, Cat Mills heads to La Tomatina to find out what the tomato-squelching fuss is about. And gets herself pummelled in the process.
I am setting out on an adventure of epic proportions. The goal? To partake in the strangest festivals, celebrations and competitions the globe has to offer. I’ll be documenting everything along the way with my webseries, Wicked and Weird Around the World. We’ll be attending everything from Finland’s Wife Carrying Championships to Frozen Dead Guy Days – a US festival celebrating a cryogenically frozen grandfather. We’ve already shot the notorious Toe Wrestling World Championships in the UK for our first episode, and I can tell you that toe wrestling is a lot harder than it looks. Think you’ve seen it all? You’re wrong.
One of the most exciting festivals I have ever been to was La Tomatina, also known as the world’s largest food fight. The festival is held on the last Wednesday in August in the tiny town of Buñol, Spain, and is a free-for-all as thousands of people throw tomatoes at each other. This cosy Spanish village with its cobblestone streets and population of 10,000 people swells up to accommodate the flux of 20,000 (some sources claim 40,000) visitors each year.
The festival is rumoured to have originated around the end of WWII and its true origins are foggy – was it started by friends who were having a laugh? Perhaps it was a political statement for class issues? No one knows for sure, but La Tomatina is a festival that cannot be missed.
I stayed in the nearby city of Valencia to attend the festivities. Finding the right accommodation can sometimes be tricky, but I found a comfortable hostel. Buñol can easily be reached from Valencia by taking a morning train and we made sure to get there early to beat the rush. When I arrived in Buñol the thing that immediately struck me was just how many people were there; I was surrounded by thousands in white shirts and shorts. I strolled with a friend down the city streets, passing sangria booths and excited tourists. We made sure we were as close to the centre of it all before things kicked off. Locals on roof tops dumped buckets of water on the crowd below as they cheered.
We puzzled over the greased up pole standing at the end of the square and cheered on as eager participants clamoured over one another, trying to claim the prize at the top – a large ham. Then we heard it: horns blaring! The crowd shifted back and made way for the trucks bursting with the red fruit and the organisers began throwing armfuls out to anyone lucky enough to catch them.
When partaking in La Tomatina, you are supposed to squish the tomato before you throw it to soften the blow. This doesn’t always happen and you might find yourself getting thwacked with a hefty piece. Thousands scoop smooshed tomatoes off themselves and throw them in all directions. Needless to say, at the end of the hour long fight everyone is red – from stinging eyes to squishy shoes.
As the crowd slowly made its way out of the centre square, kind locals took to the streets and hosed down participants before cleaning the cobblestones and plastic coverings protecting the shops. I passed by individuals lounging on sidewalks, ringing the water from their socks while the sun dried chunks of tomato on their shoulders, and I eventually gave up on trying to find the friends that I had lost along the way. I made new friends on the train to Valencia and realised that I shouldn’t have taken my time getting back to the hostel – there wasn’t a drop of hot water left in the pipes.
La Tomatina is an amazing adventure and a must for anyone wanting to do something a little unusual. There are few other celebrations that can promise you the most exciting, hilarious and terrifying hour of your life.
La Tomatina is held on the last Wednesday in August in Buñol, Spain. Flights to nearby Valencia start from £199 for travel from June to September.