Postcard from the Edge of Tomato Soup Street

Now some people may say it is a bit silly to travel 1,000 miles (1,600 km) for a day to a Spanish festival in the tiny town of Buñol (population 9,000) for the worlds largest food fight. However, in the book “100 things to do before you die” the tomato festival here, commonly known as “La Tomatina” ranks about number 8.

The first thing you notice as you approach the town are the coverings (plastic, net or paper) that envelop all the apartments. The second thing you notice are the town’s inhabitants pouring water from their balconies (from hoses, cups or buckets). Which means I, and the 38,000 other (up from 30,000 last year), were soaked before reaching the town square.

Drenched, you now approach the heart of the town. At about 11:30 in the morning, you see lots of people spoiling to throw tomatoes at each other. As the tomatoes have not yet arrived, you grasp for the next best thing – your neighbour’s t-shirt. So your wet t-shirt is ripped from your body, tied in a knot and thrown at the “opposition” – i.e. anyone else.

Following on from an exhilarating t-shirt fight, at 12:00 a firework is let off and before the tomatoes arrive a ham has to be cut from the top of a 12 foot (4 meter) high greased pole (no one knows why). To the chants of “to-ma-tin-a”, the ham is cut down, a cry goes up and a huge truck trundles in to the streets and deposits a quantity of tomatoes at your feet and the fight begins.

Now, many a botanist is uncertain about how to classify the unassuming tomato – is it in fact a fruit or a vegetable? Furthermore as everyone knows, the numerous varieties differ greatly in plant form and fruit type, the latter ranging from a small currant size through cherry, plum, and pear forms to the large, nearly round fruits, 4 inches (10 in) or more in diameter, which are the most widely grown.
But who cares? Cherry, plum or pear form is immaterial; all you need is a squishy one and first-rate throwing arm.

Once the truck has left, you are covered in pulp and are now thankful for the locals with their hoses and buckets who wash you off. Cleaned up, you are just in time for the next truck – and the whole processes starts again. All-in-all 130 tons of tomatoes are distributed via 7 trucks (we experienced 4 of them) and after an hour it is all over and people just go home.

This is one of the last “innocent” festivals in the world – who knows how long for. There is no rhyme or reason for it, it just happens on the last Wednesday of August every year – there is no religious or commercial reason for it, no one really knows how it originated, just 38,000 people who want to have fun and do. An unforgettable experience. I would recommend it to anyone.

(c) Ian Kimbell - All rights reserved

(c) Ian Kimbell - All rights reserved

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