"We came, we saw, we Tomatina'd!"
Bunol, Spain. Sultry Mediterranean climate, delectable cuisine, sweet sangria and home of the largest food fight on the planet. The edible ammunition of choice ... tomatoes!
Whether the initial volley was aimed at crooked city officials or the disorderly act of town hooligans, townspeople caught in the crossfire enjoyed the festivities so much, it has been celebrated every year since 1945.
Held on the last Wednesday of August, the now internationally acclaimed celebration, La Tomatina, draws thousands of Spanish and international tourists alike for what promises to be the fight of their lives!
With Sangria in hand and sporting the latest fashions in tomato-fighting apparel, a crisp, white tank top and sassy pair of red-rimmed goggles, I arrived to Bunol ready for war! The battlefield: one long, narrow cobbled street. The goal: get as dirty as possible.
Immediately swept into the flow of human traffic, finding the festival was the least of my posse's concerns. Staying together was. Wrapping arms and linking hands, we boldly sliced into the mounting mob of people. Ducking, weaving and squeezing through whatever small openings inadvertently afforded, "Team Tom" surged forward. Pressing through the crowd's outer layer, our inward assault soon met a more severe resistance. An impenetrable wall of bodies constructed of just as eager and determined participants.
It was then that the life and energy of La Tomatina washed over me. Well, that and a dozen or so buckets of water raining down from above. Gleefully hanging out their apartment windows overhead, mischievous children, geriatric enthusiasts and my personal favorite, Spanish cougars sporting their most revealing bikinis, all joined in the colossal hydration effort. Chanting in unison, "Agua, Agua," the sweltering crowd below summoned lofty locals from their perches, rewarded with buckets of liquid salvation.
Lunging toward the glistening cascades, water had never seemed so vital. SPLASH! Hydrating parched lips, cooling sweaty skin and preventing more than a few heat-induced surrenders, the refreshing showers continued to revitalize our tomato-fighting spirits!
Akin to an hourglass of sand, the crowd was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Just as one granule shifted or fell through, another would replace it. Wedged between amorous Spanish men, macho Americans, brave Japanese and crazed Aussies, I could hardly breathe without losing precious inhalation space to an elbow, chest or face.
BOOM - a cannon rang out and the crowd erupted. Someone must have retrieved the famed ham bone from atop the greased pole, the traditional start to the festival. Let the fight begin!
A few lone kamikaze-style tomatoes flew through the air, further stirring the crowd, but it wasn't until the first lorrie came into sight that the real excitement kicked in.
Hogging over half the narrow street, the first lorrie grinded its way through the crowd. As it parted the red sea in a most assertive manner ("honk, honk!"), mid-street inhabitants tried desperately to squeeze into the crowd's perimeter, while those already on the edges crunched dangerously closer to admit them. But the plain laws of physics won out. There was simply not enough room. Literally pushed out the back of the festival, many pour souls who fought valiantly to maintain their forward positions watched their red-laced dreams disappear into the grill of a big, blaring lorrie.
Plastered against the wall of people, I just barely secured a spot on the perimeter when the lorrie came rumbling by. Passing inches in front of my terrified face, if the mob would have surged forward in those perilous moments, tomatoes would not have been the only street salsa produced.
Suddenly, the lorrie stopped. A rickety steel door slid open and a wall of tomatoes spewed forth! Almost knocked off my feet, I was knee deep in tomatoes. No step was solid anymore - my every move dictated by the sliding salsa below. There was only one thing left to do... "Fight!"
Bending over to grab handfuls of the lorrie's prized cargo, I slung tomatoes like my life depended on it. Led by their fleshy red shells and trailed by the hued reds of their innards, tomatoes flew through the sky like stray comets. Providing the first line of defense, my goggles protected my eyes from the initial onslaught, but even they could not avoid the red curtain.
The crowd no longer had the purpose of moving forward; it gyrated every which way. At times lifted off my feet and onto the person in front of me, I gave into the pressure and, quite literally, went with the flow.
A second "BOOM" rang out, and the final lorrie turned out of sight. Eleven lorries, 40,000 participants, one metric ton of tomatoes, and an hour later the fight was officially finished but unofficially still open.
Some left the festival as they had arrived, excited and energized, while others departed looking worse for wear. But all participants shared one glorious characteristic -
the look of triumph!
As fast as the festival washed over, it was washed away. Opening throttle on their high-pressure hoses, firemen began to cleanse the streets while local residents offered garden hose showers. But we weren't done yet!
An undulation in the cobblestone road, creating a deep tomato pool, proved irresistible. Splashing in face first, tomato puree kicked up all around. Blissfully unaware of the sludge's true content, I flopped around like a maniac. It wasn't until I stopped to smell the roses that my upchuck reflex kicked in. The smell of vomit, urine and who knows what other bodily secretions filled my nose. We weren't just swimming in tomatoes, we were swimming in humanity!
After one smashing good time, we not only survived the largest food fight on the planet, we emerged with flying colors!
For more of Regina's adventures, visit www.backpackerswanted.com.