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Published: November 17th 2007
What do you think you're doing soldier! Get in there and fight!
With 38,000 people crammed into a small town, all chucking tomatoes at each other, this has to be the biggest foodfight known to man.
In any case, it was madness.
But before I detail the big fight, you're probably all wondering if and how I made my train after my huge night in Madrid right?
Having got home from Kapital at 6.30am or so, I was up a mere 2 1/2 hours later to catch my 9.25am train to Barcelona.
I must have looked absolutely terrible - I certainly felt it.
On the train, the old man opposite me looked at me and asked me, "Anoche," and then proceeded to raise an invisible pint towards his mouth.
"Si," I responded groggily, "bebo mucho, mucho cerveza".
My time in Barcelona - three whole days - was basically a pit stop.
When I arrived at the hostel, I basically coma-ed out and didn't wake till 9pm.
A guy I talked to back at Cat's Hostel had told me about an awesome nightclub called Razzmatazz - a six floor superclub including an indie/alternative/rock floor.
Two superclubs in two nights? It had to be done.
I then gave Carlos - the Spanish guy
We Were There!
Though you wouldn't think Davies was - his t-shirt is far too white. Poor effort.
I met in Nice who lives in Barcelona - a text to see if he wanted to catch up and go to Razzmatazz. Unfortunately, he lived a fair way out of town and could not make it into town very soon. That was a sign that Razz would have to wait for another time, and that I needed some well needed rest. So after a kebab (the worst I have tasted on this trip so far) and a shower, it was back to bed.
The next day, Davies arrived from Paris. He enjoyed it, but admitted he did blow the budget there a little bit - Paris is fairly expensive, after all. For the rest of the day we basically made plans as to where we were going to after La Tomatina;
We had seen and done basically nothing for two whole days in Barcelona - so after La Tomatina, we are definitely coming back here, before heading to Annecy, a lakeside town in the French Alps to see a couple of Davies' friends before heading to Bruges, and then Amsterdam.
The next day was spent was basically just organising ourselves for La Tomatina - the purchase of goggles, train
The battle line after the battle.
reservations and clothes we would never wear again ;-)
Then it was off to Valencia the next day.
La Tomatina actually takes place in Bunol - about 45 minutes by train out of Valencia. The town is small though, so most people, including us, stayed in Valencia and just went along to Bunol for the day.
Our hotel was nice - a modern, spacious room with two huge single beds, spotless bathroom, minibar and TV. And at 54€ (27€ each) this was the best value for money we have come across yet. I can't believe our luck in getting this hotel for La Tomatina, when every other place in Valencia is booked out and/or price-hiked. Sweet deal.
The Hotel Kris Abadia is what it's called - see if you can stay there if any of you ever head to Valencia...
The rest of the day was spent preparing - the sole of my right sandal had completely come off in Madrid, so I needed some glue to repair it among other things.
A large degree of planning has to go into this event - how to take photos (disposable camera), how to carry disposable camera (shoelaced around the neck),
Essential eyeware to prevent a nasty eye infection.
how to carry money and rail passes (small ziplock bag folded into board-short pocket), what to take, etc.
El Corte Ingles - basically a Farmers-style hypermart in every city in Spain - therefore became our best friend. You can find anything here, including the groceries - and it was just across the road from our hotel.
After eating our supermarket dinners with our hands (this is a hotel not a hostel therefore there was no cutlery available) we then settled into our wonderfully comfortable king-sized single beds for a good rest before the big day.
A quiet sense of excitement, and perhaps a little bit of nervousness coursed through our veins when we awoke the next day.
It was hot - 38 degrees hot - but it was otherwise perfect weather for perhaps the most keenly anticipated day of the trip.
Once we arrived at the train station we then realised the scale of the event. Literally hundreds of people were queueing to get on the special trains put on by Renfe. Among the crowd waiting for the train were a group of Kiwis with watermelon helmets - good to see that we were being well represented here.
In Valencia, waiting to board the train to Bunol.
large cheer went up as the train arrived, before everyone started piling in. Some people were lucky to get seats, but for the rest of us it was standing room only for 45 minutes.
Cori and Natalie, (read previous blog entry
) were staying in Aldaia, outside Valencia. The train though was packed, so there was no way they could've got on when the train stopped in Aldaia. I was meant to meet up with them, but never did (I later discovered from Mark from the hostel in Seville
, that the girls actually made it but got split up during the fight).
Another cheer then went up when we arrived in Bunol.
We got there around 10.30am, half an hour before the fight begins. The tradition is that at 11am, a large piece of ham is placed atop a greased-up pole in the town's main square, the Plaza del Pueblo. Once someone manages to climb the pole and grab the meat, the fight then begins.
Coming out of the train station we were greeted by a party atmosphere and loads of campavans pumping out techno music in the station carpark. We thought it would be a huge money spinner to sell t-shirts (you're not allowed to get on
The clean crowd hots up keenly anticipating the tomatoes, while locals in the balconies above cool them off with buckets of water.
the trains back to Valencia without one) after the fight here - well we weren't the only ones, as we passed several vendors while walking through this cute, but unremarkable town towards the Plaza del Pueblo. As we got closer, we could hear the crowd cheering.
We then reached a street that was absolutely packed with people, and as we fought through the crowd towards what we thought was the main square, we suddenly realised that we were not going any further and would miss the "meat grab". In fact the crowd was so tightly packed, that there was no going out the way we came in either - we were literally stuck. The crowd then became like a sea as people started to push forward and back, most of them drunkenly, as the sweet smell of sangria dominated the air.
It was an awesome atmosphere. There were people from all corners of the globe here - Spaniards, Germans, Australians, Canadians, Japanese, Britons and Brazilians among others - all gathered for total, testosterone-fuelled, tomato mayhem. Several chants of "oleeeee, ole, ole, oleeeee" went around as everyone, myself included, joined in the fun while no doubt releasing some excitement at the
People who climbed up onto the balcony top-left became prime targets. The guy in the foreground is a good example of why you need goggles.
same time, as the wait for tomatoes started to become almost unbearable.
The locals were getting into it too. Most of the shops had boarded up their storefronts with wooden panels and plastic sheets to protect them from the carnage - it was like they were prepared for a hurricane or a tornado. From the floors above, the locals would douse the tomato-hungry crowd below with hoses and bucketfuls of water - I managed to get hit a couple of times and it was cold - lucky it was a hot day.
Another Tomatina tradition is that people start throwing wet clothes at each other, as a prelude to the main event. At the junction ahead of us, it was all-out war. A couple of dudes managed to climb onto a second storey balcony - so naturally they became natural targets for clothes, and later on of course, tomatoes. They took some big hits - some of which were hilarious.
A roar from the crowd then signalled that the first tomato truck was about to arrive.
So picture this - the streets of Bunol were already packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. In order to let the truck through,
Here Comes The Truck
Not the best photo - sorry...
space has to be made - space that just doesn't exist. What this means is that people are pushed together so tight, that your feet are lifted off the floor, as there is no space on the ground to put them. This was stressful - at one point I was fearing that my right lung was going to pop like my left one did last February - nobody was enjoying themselves.
Actually, I am wrong - the people on the truck were having a blast. With the crowd too preoccupied with trying to stay alive, the people on board the trucks were taking aim at sitting ducks. What a job - how do you get to go on a truck? At one point I was hit by an avalanche of tomatoes and my head was completely drenched, with absolutely no opportunity to fight back.
We were packed together so tightly that whole tomatoes would land on my shoulders enabling me to use whatever part of my arm I could get free to throw it back. As you can imagine though, my throws under such stressful conditions were not the most effective.
By the time the fifth truck had come through
Hit By An Avalanche Of To-ma-toes
Me after I just got king-hit by a bucketload of tomatoes.
I was well over it - I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I had managed to get next to a wall, so it meant that I could put both hands up against the wall and use all of my strength to push away from it to stop myself and the girl directly in front of me from getting crushed while the truck passed by.
Then it was all over - we had hardly chucked anything apart from the scraps that came out way.
We then decided to follow the route that the trucks had taken, thinking that perhaps they unloaded whatever tomatoes they had left at the end of the route for a big fight. However, the crowds got thinner and thinner as we went in the truck's direction (which was a relief at the time) until it became clear that there was no gold or tomatoes to be had at the end of this rainbow.
Back at clothes-throwing junction, it was still mayhem. Dissatisfied with what I had just gone through, I decided that we might as well get in there and fight.
It was basically people on one side of the junction versus people
End Of Round One...
Five more trucks to go...
on the other side of the junction, and just getting to the front line was a mission, as I (and several innocent bystanders) got hit several times en route to the battle line. I then noticed on my left that the street was rich in tomato pulp, and that there was another battle being waged down this street. I then picked up some of this pulp and promptly chucked it at Davies - the fact he was taking a picture was the only thing that stopped him from swallowing a huge ball of pulp 'n' dirt. A British girl next to me then asked whose side I was on, which was met with a splattering of tomato pulp across her chest - and then the battle commenced.
After the British girl surrendered, I thought it was time to join the main clothes-throwing battle. I went right to front line where like traditional warfare, the side under more fire would retreat, giving up ground to the winning side. I copped some pretty big blows, as when clothes get completely saturated, they become extremely heavy and start to fly through the air at breakneck speeds. I was tearing completely into it -
Down On The Front Line
Extreme risk was taken to bring you these pictures.
Davies was a wuss though, and he stayed back a few rows. At times there would be "charges" against the opposition where an entire lot from our side would charge at the opposition, throwing whatever we could get our hands on, in order to gain ground. After one successful attempt, a dude shouted, "VICTORIAAAA!!!!" which was met with howls of celebrations at our victory.
Then suddenly the cops came along with their whistles to put an end to the fun, and the crowds slowly dissipated - I don't think I was the only one tempted to chuck tomato pulp at a cop. Sensibility prevailed however, and we were left in the aftermath - the street we were fighting on was completely covered in half an inch of tomato puree.
Everything was covered in tomato - the walls, the streets and the people - the stench made me swear never to eat tomatoes again!
Beer and hot dog stands then popped up out of nowhere as people started to get into the post-fight festivities. Our first priority though was to find some water to rinse myself off. Davies' t-shirt was way too white - perhaps I should've dealt to him a
The not-so-clean crowd dissipates as the cops call an end to the festivities.
bit more myself - a poor effort indeed. I decided to dispose of my previously-white singlet.
The fire crews who were hosing the town down also helped hose me and some others down, including some Chinese girls who got completely and unexpectedly bucketed. Some locals generously provided running water, and some even provided shampoo and body wash to passers-by.
After washing ourselves off, we dried ourselves out in the hot Spanish sun before taking a walk back through the town. There wasn't an obvious main square anywhere, but there was a space that we assumed was the Plaza del Pueblo. But it seemed more like one long street rather than a square.
They were very efficient in washing the place down though - within a couple of hours, the whole town was spotless.
I couldn't resist buying a chorizo hot dog (with tomato sauce, of course) on the way back to the train station and I thought that I'd try and get away without having to buy a t-shirt.
Once we arrived at the train station there was a massive crowd waiting just to get into the station. Once again everyone was squished up right against each other in
Some locals were so kind to provide running water and soap for the participants.
the sizzling sun. The dude in front of me was silly enough to take bring his backpack which was completely covered in tomato waste - and it reeked. Half an hour later I make it to the front, where the steward points at me - I needed a shirt. Well if he thought that I would make my way back through the hundreds of people squashed up behind me for the sake of a shirt, he was wrong. He soon realised the trivial nature of his request and relented.
After getting through we had to wait another 20 minutes for the train to arrive. Some funny Australians in front of us likened the train's arrival to a "lucky dip" as to whether the doors would stop in front of us.
It was a long hot journey back to Valencia and just about everyone was falling asleep, whether they were seated, or like I was, on the floor.
Once we got back to Valencia, to our immense frustration, our metro tickets ceased to work. A warden then rushed over and told me to scram since I wasn't wearing a shirt - for heaven's sake, just for one day?! Annoying American girl
Streets Of The Barrio Del Carmen
The atmospheric streets of Valencia's old town.
next to me really pissed me off with a patronising "you need a shirt, buddy!". F*ck you.
So we had to walk back to hotel which wasn't actually that far, but a combination of disagreement over directions, the blistering heat, dehydration and general frustration meant that it felt like it took forever.
So by the time I got back to the hotel I was well flustered and annoyed - but nothing a cold beer, a nice shower, and a siesta couldn't fix.
Around 8pm we decided to head into the old town, the Barrio Del Carmen, for a bit of post-Tomatina nightlife. We had McDonald's and I decided to have a cerveza with my combo - how cool is that? That would never be allowed back home, but I guess Europeans drink more sensibly, so it makes it possible.
Much to our surprise and disappointment, the old town was eerily quiet. There were tons of people on that train back to Valencia, so where the hell are they? An Irish bar was fairly busy, but we thought we would try and avoid it, if at all possible.
We ducked into a snazzy joint recommended to us by Mark from
The band and dancers come out to play at Johnny Maracas.
the hostel in Seville, called Johnny Maracas. The place was really cool with a real Central/South American vibe and the place started to fill up. We thought we spotted Brian from Lagos
, but it was just another dude passed out in the middle of the bar. His friends were giving him a real hard time, not that he knew much about it.
It was Brazilian night tonight in the bar, so soon the band and the drums started up along with a few dancers which was really fun to watch. We were still tired and slightly dazed despite our siesta, so we decided to leave. Eveywhere was quiet - there was no after-party and if there was one happening, then we were certainly in the wrong place. Maybe it was all happening back in Bunol.
So it was back to the hotel for another sleep in our comfy beds.
It was to be our last unfortunately, as we shifted to a hostel in the middle of the old town the next day.
On the way there we picked up some famous Valencian oranges - nothing special, if indeed they were actually Valencian oranges.
Home Backpackers was voted one of the top
Plaza De La Reina
Lovley green plaza where Valencia's cathedral is located.
10 hostels by hostelworld.com, and the spacious kitchen and dining area was definitely cool, although the highlight had to be the awesome rooftop deck dominated by a huge gold dome.
Once we had checked in, we were to spend the rest of the day exploring Valencia.
Our first stop was Plaza Virgen and it's nice outdoor cafes before entering the Cathedral. Inside what is a very pretty church was the preserved left arm of St. Vincent and the Holy Grail. Yep, the only Holy Grail recognised by The Vatican. I'm not sure exactly how it works, because I thought that the Holy Grail is still yet to be found, but whatever. I also think that supernatural forces were conspiring against me as I could not take one decent photo of the grail, that wasn't blurry.
Back outside it was a beautiful day to be in the Plaza de la Reina outside the cathedral. After passing underneath the old town gates, we then went down into the Jardines del Turia. The now dried-up Turia River has been turned into some of the most beautiful modern parkspace I have ever seen. I would describe the park as sterile - but certainly not
Jardines Del Turia
Valencia's stylish and modern parkspace on the dried-up Turia River.
in a bad way. The park is so tidy and well-kept that you almost couldn't believe that all the plants, grass and water features were actually real. The wide lanes and complete separation from the road also makes the park perfect for cycling.
Following the "river" will eventually lead you to the stunning Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. A large complex of ultra-modern museums, I felt like I was on the film set of Aeon Flux. It was wonderfully refreshing to see such modern architecture for a change, after weeks of old churches and castles. L'Hemispheric, an IMAX theatre and the Palau De Les Arts in particular were stunning buildings.
Valencia's limited metro system meant that we had to take a long walk to get to the waterfront, passing through a bit of ugly industrial wasteland along the way.
The first place we went to once we got to the sea, was the America's Cup Village. We saw Team New Zealand's shed and pictures of Sir Peter Blake and Russell Coutts (dare I say it) in the museum. I did feel a sense of pride in seeing this - a reminder of New Zealand's yachting achievements. Team New
Palau Des Les Arts
Valencia's magnificent modern-looking arts, music and exhibition hall.
Zealand in 2007 really did try their best during the regatta and can't really be faulted - the last race in particular was excitingly breathtaking and heartbreaking in equal measure. It was cool also to see a piece of home in such a different and foreign place.
After passing Alinghi's unbelievably flash headquarters we got to the beach. A nice beach it was too as we rested our weary legs.
Being the birthplace of paella, we just had to try some. So after walking for miles trying to find Las Arenas and it's reasonably priced paella, we came back to where we started on the beach to find out that it was here all along.
The restaurant we settled on took ages to cook our food (I think they forgot about us) so we got complimentary sangria and garlic bread as compensation - we certainly weren't complaining. Contrary to popular belief, Paella Valenciana does not have seafood in it, but rather, chicken and rabbit. Don't know if ours had rabbit or not, but it certainly tasted good, although whether it was worth the wait was another story. The extra sangria certainly was.
By the time we finished dinner it was
Sea-shell IMAX theatre.
about 11pm - a typical time for Spaniards to finish their dinner. Valencia's metro system tended to disagree - we had already missed the last train back into town! I asked a local for confirmation of this and he duly did. He then went on a rant in Spanish - but my much improved understanding of the language managed to work out that he was complaining about the metro service and how people stay out later in summer, yet the metro shuts down early. I have to agree with him - Valencia's metro system is the worst metro system I have experienced on my trip. It's infrequent, it shuts down early, the tickets don't work and it doesn't service parts of the city that it really should.
We then bumped into an Aussie couple who were in the same boat as us - it turned out they were staying at Hotel Kris Abadia (it also turned out that my old flatmates Loren and Rangi also stayed here during their America's Cup trip to Valencia) which wasn't too far from us so we shared a taxi back. It ended up being quite cheap as we only paid 2.50€ each.
Valencia's promenade of beachside restaurants.
our time in Valencia was a slightly frustrating one. It definitely has it's highlights - the gardens, the old town and the museums in particular, and with the waterfront and the beach as well, it definitely sounds like a great destination. Whether it was the time of year I don't know, but like Seville the place was dead, and there was just no vibe to the place which was disappointing. There seems to be more of an industrious air here.
La Tomatina is definitely something that you have to do at least once in your life. I'm not sure I'd do it again, but I think it is all about being at the right place at the right time once the fight begins.
We had definitely planned on being in Barcelona at the right time - will it be the right place though?
Find out in the next entry!
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