“In Spain, we mainly use red plum tomatoes, but it is always fun to experiment. Try using a mix of colors or substitute green tomatoes for plum next time you make a tomato dish.”
– Jose Andres Puerta (famous Spanish chef)
I was glad that my friend, RH, was okay with the plans of going to Valencia and La Tomatina before we go to Ibiza. I got excited too when I found out from TB that there are 2 TBs going as well, Kim & Scott. I get in touched with them, and we invited more TBs to join us. As the day get closer, our “alliance” was getting bigger! With people coming from different parts of the world, I knew this would be an epic event.
La Tomatina Festival all started in the last Wednesday of August of 1945 when group of young people went to attend the Giants and Big Head Parade in Buñol, a small town in Valencia Spain, and started a vegetable fight. They repeat it after a year until it was banned in the early 50s. In 1957, it became an official festival after the young people held a “tomato funeral”. In 2002, it was declared as Festivity of International Tourist Interest. Now the festival is celebrated
Honestly, as the day get closer and as I read other people’s experiences about the festival, the more I get excited yet scared at the same time haha! Though there were no serious accidents or injuries recorded yet for this festival, I know that things can always happen for the first time. But thinking that we will be a big group, I know I will be safe and I would be able to enjoy it as I always imagined it in the past years.
I have read several helpful tips in preparation for this festival, but still some things you only learn as you experience it yourself.
Here are some of my tips especially if you are traveling with group of friends:
- Buy your tickets at the same tour operator.
My friend and I (with another TB, Taruna) are on a different tour operator from the rest. We planned to meet the night before so we could discuss where in the map we could meet them on the day itself. We were all aware that it will be difficult because of the huge crowd, and especially in this festival, people tend to lose or break away from their friends.
- Do not rely on the map to set a meeting point.
I still think that it is best that you have a unique small flag/hanky with you to raise above the crowd to send signal.
The three of us arrived in the town of Buñol around 9am and it was already packed. We also realised that the “meeting point” doesn’t exist at all. But we still went on the “assumed” meeting point but as expected, we didn’t find them there. We continued walking towards the Ham Pole, but we couldn’t go further because the crowd won’t let us anymore and my friend RH was under the weather so she was feeling a bit claustrophobic already at that time.
- Do not go if you are claustrophobic. :P
- Plan an escape route.
When we decided to settle at one point, I made sure that we were beside a corner of an enclosed street with police officers. If things get out of control, then we could just run there because for sure they will open that street for emergency.
However, things remained under control, it was just that we have decided to get out of there already after the 3rd truck because Taruna needed to go back soon as she was catching a flight just after the festival, and I also saw RH was not enjoying being squished anymore every time a truck will come and unload the tomatoes.
Stay a little bit farther from the Ham Pole where the streets are very narrow if you don’t want to be squished like tomatoes every time the truck comes! Yeah I know this is the best location if you want some real action, but if you are or you are with tiny girls, chances are they will be squished by all the shirtless hunks around lol!When we managed to get out of where we were, we realised that it was more “manageable” to fight towards the other end (near the exits).
At this time, we sort of recovered our strength and I told Taruna that we still want to stay longer and come back to where we once were after the fight just to take some pictures with the river of tomato pulps (just like in the pictures!). Then we lost her :P
- If it’s becoming too much for you to handle, get out for a while and just come back again.
This was my plan. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go back anymore because I guess this was everybody’s plan too. So even after the last BANG was heard (meaning the fight is over), people still stayed and some continued throwing tomatoes. I was becoming impatient already and I was also looking after RH who is feeling a bit ill, so I called off my plans of returning, and we went on looking for showers to clean ourselves.
- Take the chance to shower where locals are offering their water hoses, because the queue was very long if you decide to shower at the checkpoint.
This is also the point where we finally met some of the people we were looking for! They somehow lost the other guys too :P The good thing about taking your shower before checkpoint is you can enjoy your Paella and Sangria right away because of the short queue! Take note that you won’t be allowed to board the bus or train if you are still covered with tomatoes.
- Lastly, just ENJOY the experience!
Things won’t always happen the way you plan it and the way you imagined it. Don’t get worried or disappointed if you lose or didn’t find your friends, you can always make friends with anyone there. It’s a food fight, people will hit you and you’ll get hurt at some point, some people will not follow rules too (one guy hit my legs with his wet shirt!), just laugh at it and enjoy the moment, that surreal moment that you are in La Tomatina, and you have to make most out of the whole experience! Que sera, sera!
I am glad that I have ticked this off my travel bucketlist finally! I have planned 3 times already to go on a trip to Spain but kept on not happening and now I see why, because this was just the perfect time to go. None of my cancelled Spain trips covers the La Tomatina Festival, and what made this trip special are the people I’ve met that most of them became my friends until this day.
Most of them were solo travellers! Travelling solo is always liberating for me. It’s always fun to experiment and try new things our of your comfort zone. When you’re used to using red tomatoes, try using green ones next time and try something different! I always learn new things about other people and most especially about myself. Usually when you travel solo, that’s when you feel you are not alone, because you get to interact with more people. It’s always fun to experiment and try new things even just once in your life.
The journey is more rewarding than the destination and it’s the people you meet along the way that enrich the experience ;)