This Wednesday (Aug 25, 2010) in a small town of 9,000 people called BuÃ±ol just a 45 minute train ride from Valencia, Spain is the famous La Tomatina festival. I was at this crazy festival last year and hope to go again in the future. From my trip I learned a few key tips for successfully enjoying this festival and have listed them below.
On the last August of every Wednesday 40,000+ people show up in the small town of BuÃ±ol for this festival. In the street there is a large lard and grease covered pole with a ham at the very top that the masses of people have one hour to climb to claim their prize of the ham and signal the tomato fight to begin. (often people canâ€™t reach the ham) If the ham is not retrieved the tomato fight still begins at 11am.
A loud speaker announces to the crowd in various languages that the fight has begun and many dump trucks full of tomatoes drive through the small streets dumping thousands of tomatos (spoils from the harvest) into the street and for an hour the biggest food fight you will ever take part in surrounds you.
The greased pole and ham go up around 10am and the tomato fight starts at 11am however people start gathering in the city and getting on trains from Valencia around 6am. The train I was on that morning was packed, with people in the aisles and on top of each other at 6:45am.
Unless you have a best friend with a house in BuÃ±ol there will be no place to put anything that you bring with you so bring the least amount of things as possible. (or leave it on your bus if you are on a tour) Avoid trying to bring a bag. On your person all you should have is some money and your hotel/hostel key and even that you should maybe leave at your accommodations and have the front desk hold on to it for you. I literally had my key tapped to the inside of my pocket with duct tape. (Also I luckily made a friend in an old man in the city who let me keep my bag at his house, use his washroom and fed my friends and I but this is not a common experience so donâ€™t go expecting this.)
You will be covered head to toe in tomatoes and water, DO NOT wear flip flops or sandals of any kind unless they secure tightly with lots of straps or Velcro otherwise you will loose them within minutes and your feet will get stepped on. (Also be sure to wear something that you will be comfortable in as it could be a long day). If possible try to wear clothes and shoes that you might never wear again. I wore sneakers that immediately headed to the trash afterwards. If you are male you will most likely have your shirt ripped off of you if you donâ€™t remove it yourself. If you are female sadly you may fall victim to this as well, so layer up if you can, I wore a t-shirt over a tank top over my bathing suit and gladly kept everything on. There are groups of people though that think its funny to rip other peoples shirts off, so be warned.
The crowd of people will be the tightest most claustrophobic crowd you have ever been in, way more extreme than any concert you have ever attended. If you see an opening in the crowd, do not head towards it as most likely that is where the people are ripping other peoples shirts off and there is an opening in the crowd because people are trying to avoid the area.
Girls should definitely have hair elastics. Goggles are a must because tomato juice hurts when it gets in your eyes! Also bring a water proof camera or a very good case. (You canâ€™t go wrong with a ziplock bag). When I attended last year there were many people selling both goggles and waterproof film cameras (yes film) on the street. Along with those many places and people were selling beer and sangria right out of their house (awesome). (**Note: Glass bottles or anything that could potential harm someone, yourself or otherwise are not allowed)
I hope these tips donâ€™t scare you off, but just prepare you and allow you to have a wicked time!
And while you are here why not check out the trailer for my Travel TV show where I visit Spain and attend La Tomatina!? Stay tuned for more videos soon!