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Sunday
Aug262012

Tomatina Festival in Buñol, Spain: a survival guide

Who hasn’t dreamed of throwing a tomato at their boss, bitchy boyfriend or girlfriend, an annoying brother or sister, or the classic throwing tomatoes at a bad stage performer?

Thanks to the fun loving Spaniards the yearly Tomatina Festival allows food fighting fanatics a street arena for an all out tomato war. Tomatina only happens every so often, and if you’re planning to head there for the first time here are some things you’ll need to know to survive the battle and emerge victorious!

Flying tomatoes at the Tomatina Festival in Buñol, Spain.

History

Tomatina first began back in 1945 when some punk teenagers joined a parade dancing in the streets and interrupting the festivities which angered the parade participants. One particular person began throwing things and others followed by taking tomatoes from a food stand and tossing them at the teens. A year later the same teens returned to the fest armed with their own tomatoes and began what has been a growing tradition.  The festival was shut down many times during the 1950’s but the cancellation in 1957 sparked the locals to put on a ‘Tomato Funeral’ where they carried around a large tomato in a coffin through the streets. The funeral gained the right attention and the festival was allowed once again and has continued without issue ever since.

The city is prepped and ready for tomatoes being flung at buildings

Strategy

Plan ahead! The fest takes place in Buñol, Spain and with an estimated 20,000+ people attending the fest from around the world accommodations are scarce. Most stay in the town of Valencia using the Sant Isidre Train to Buñol. It’s best to travel hours, if not the night before the fest to take advantage of the music, food, and festivities happening in the streets. It’s also a great way to avoid the overcrowded train and cab traffic.

If coming from a major city like Barcelona or Madrid you can do a day trip to Tomatina offered by many bus and tour companies for around $100 USD. These will pick you up very early, around 3-4 am, as it takes about three hours to get to Buñol. This will give you some time to enjoy the festival before the fight and get a decent spot to view “Palo Jabon” a greased pole with a ham hanging from the top. Tradition is that someone climbs the pole and releases the ham, once that happens a siren to begin the fight sounds. If no one releases the ham, which is nearly impossible but entertaining to watch, the fight siren will sounds at 11 am. The fight lasts for only one hour and two sirens will sound to signal the end.

Writer Melissa Castello’s got her goggles to try and avoid a tomato in the eye.

Battle Gear

This is a basic battle gear checklist to make sure you have the best time at Tomatina!

  • Goggles – A must! Though they are not very fashionable, they are there to protect your eyes from the acid in the tomato juice. If you forget your own there are plenty of vendors selling goggles on the street for about 2 Euro.
  • Camera – This is a once in a lifetime experience that you will want to do again and again, but one that you definitely will want to capture on film. Bring a waterproof camera or plastic baggie to protect your camera. No matter how careful you are it is inevitable you get soaked with tomato juice or sprayed with water from the towns-peoples hoses.
  • Gym Shoes – Flip flops will be eaten by the crowd in a matter of seconds. The environment is a 20,000 person mosh pit of tomatoes.  People are literally standing on top of each other pushing and shoving each other into spaces that don’t exist. You want to protect your feet from getting stepped on as much as possible so wear a cheap paid of gym shoes you can throw away after.
  • Clothing – Don’t wear anything you are attached to.  Especially don’t wear jewelry, you risk getting something ripped out or lost completely.  It is extremely hot in August in Spain and being surrounded but thousands of sweaty people pressed up against you definitely doesn’t help the heat factor. Dress light, shorts, tank, and/or sports bra for the ladies.  Women should be extra careful because even though it’s against the rules to rip clothes once that siren starts it really does become and all out war and rules or not clothes are flying.  If you take a bus bring a bag to leave on it with new shoes and new clothes. Most tour busses won’t let you back on in your tomato covered clothes but even more so you won’t want to ride home in those clothes. It won’t be a pretty sight or smell that’s for sure!
  • Money – Bring some cash and tuck it away in your sweaty shoe or in your bra. Don’t bother with a purse or bag; those will be gone in no time or possibly ruined. There are food and drink stands lined up throughout the city and you don’t want to miss out on some of the delicious locally prepared foods and the cervezas will help out by providing a good dose of liquid courage for those of you with crowd anxiety! Tomatina is not for the claustrophobic! 

Rules

  • Squish the tomatoes before throwing!
  • No ripping of clothes, though it happens anyway
  • No throwing hard objects. Also happens anyway, I was hit with someone’s ripped shirt which does not feel good. I also saw water bottles and flip flops flying above the crowds.
  • No throwing tomatoes after the siren signaling the end of the fight. This rule is the best to break. Not that I’m condoning it or anything but this is when the crowd breaks apart and you have the room to move. I had the most fun in the 5 minutes after the buzzer throwing tomatoes and sloshing around in the juice.
  • Avoid the trucks full of tomatoes. They won’t move for you so you must move for them. This one seems like common sense but I guess it has to be included.

Things can get a little messy at the Tomatina Festival.
General Warfare Guidelines

  • Besides for the basic ones I’ve mentioned above I just want to throw in a fair warning, especially to the ladies. When walking through the city of Bunol, from my bus stop through the fair and down to the fest I saw about two Port-A-Potties, and by the way they were absolutely disgusting but I will save the gory details and leave it as that. Ewwww. I had a girl squat and pee next to me while mid fight; once you are in that crowd there is no getting out. Prepare yourself in advance for this and you should be fine. Washing up after can be done in the local river which is easy to find if you just follow the massive crowd of people going to get cleaned. There are shower stalls near the train station and a self service car wash in the town that I saw being used as a shower by some. Clever idea I’d say, much better and powerful than the muddy river. I would use that next time for sure!
  • Drink plenty of Estrella (and water), taste the local foods, dance to techno in the street at 8am, throw a tomato at a complete stranger (or better yet a friend), and just enjoy the awesome party culture that is Spain.  The fest is unlike anything I’ve ever done before and if you use some of the tips above you will have a great time and lots of photos to make your friends and family jealous!

¡Buena suerte!

 

Melissa Castello has worked half a decade as a hostess and producer on the poker circuit traveling to the largest poker tournaments around the world. Her love of poker and passion for travel has brought her to 15 different countries. Follow her on twitter at @Chitownbeotch.

 

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