It’s time to paint the town red and I mean literally. La Tomatina is a yearly festival in Bunol (a small village just out of Valencia). What is it? It’s a huge tomato food fight. You would think ‘ugh the locals must hate it’ but they fully embrace it and love all the drama it brings! The origins behind this festival aren’t really known but everyone has their own makeshift fairytale. I’ve known about it for ten or so years and always had it in the back of my mind as a bucket list item to do – this year figured why the hell not?
I went with my friend Justin (as you’ll know from my Valencia post) and we organised our trip with PP Travel who sorted out our accommodation, wristbands and all the necessary mumbo jumbo things. Our hotel was a basic one just out of the city centre and no real complaints or compliments for it. I probably could’ve organised all aspects of the festival myself but having to not worry about transport and make it nice and easy was a treat.
The day started with hotel breakfast and everyone bustling onto six coaches. The drive from Valencia to Bunol took about half an hour and we rode as the sun was rising. There were a ton of buses there and even more people arriving by train from the city. Everyone was decked out in their white clothes and amped up for such an early hour in the morning. As you walk through the village the locals are all outside their houses selling sangria, paella and other snacks. Some are offering bag storage and others have water-proof phone bags and flip flops. If you’ve forgotten anything last minute these people have got you covered (admittedly for double the price).
When you get more central there’s an entrance and they check your wristband and confiscate any hard items like tripods. The fight takes part on a single street so all the houses and shops are completely covered in tarp to avoid any permanent damage. All the locals are on their rooftops looking down on all the participants, some throwing water and others yelling/wolf whistling. The buzz and energy constantly builds as the start of the fight gets closer and I got so excited.
One of the unique aspects of the fight is how it starts with a ham up a pole and people trying to climb and grab it, it’s definitely worth watching for a bit!They grease the pole to make it hard to shimmy up and a word of warning – when watching don’t get too close or else you’ll get greasy backsplash (although it does weirdly smell quite good). Everyone climbs on top of one another, feet go in shoulders, hands go in heads and there’s just a large clump of twisted bodies trying to get high and higher up the pole. The most successful attempts were when people worked as a pyramid and put the lighter people at the top but with all the shouting and cheering it’s quite hard to properly organise haha. Then as you wander up the rest of the street the locals are throwing water from their rooftops, there are hose battles going on, people are drinking and eating and generally getting riled up. Watching old ladies throw buckets of water from their roofs to jeering tourists is so funny. They seem to really enjoy the spectacle of it and the tomatoes hadn’t even arrived yet!
A siren and drums triggers the beginning of the fight and the trucks start driving down the street. As it is such a narrow pass you have to squish up against the side of the buildings with all the other people to let them pass. In that brief period of the truck driving past you get absolutely pummeled from the guys sitting on the trucks. Once it’s gone past the madness begins and people run into the street to start chucking. This bit is kind of a blur as it happens so fast. You start slipping and sliding everywhere from the juices on the cobbles and there’s no politeness or sensitivity here haha – it’s all in and all for themselves! I think around ten trucks make their way down and the fight goes on for an hour until another siren. You can leave at any point by going down side streets where many people watch from or take much needed breaks.
When it ends there are several places to wash off including locals hosing down outside their houses and a stream at the bottom of the village. Then whilst the clean up begins, you can wander out of the village near the train station and there’s drinks, dancing, music and more paella to build your energy back up! Then a change of clothes later, a coach ride back to Valencia and you’re free to continue your day at around 1pm after a manic morning!
My tips would be bring goggles! Although they will get covered in juice and become pretty useless for seeing out of, they were really useful when the trucks went past and you can’t defend yourself. Tomato juice will get in your eye so having something dry to wipe them with is really handy. Every so often I’d lift my shorts up and use the inner part but really a tissue or handkerchief stored in your underwear would be perfect! Definitely take photos and bring a waterproof case of some sorts. We just used a plastic baggy and it worked pretty well but something a little bit more profesh would be ace (although honestly we were too busy chucking to take photos). Bring coins (not notes) and put them in your shoes (trainers not flip flops). Having money for drinks and food after is the best but don’t risk putting it in pockets as they will get gunky. Other than that be up for a laugh, be up for getting sticky and go for it!