La Tomatina by Chhavi Naswa

Chhavi Naswa attends the biggest tomato fight — La Tomatina — in Spain and urges you to start planning for next year's edition from now. She stresses it is a once in a lifetime experience that you must enjoy... as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara... 




Chhavi en route La Tomatina
If you’ve seen the Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, then the chances of La Tomatina being on your bucket list are pretty high. For those of you who are still clueless about what La Tomatina is.. well.. it is literally the biggest official food fight in the world using tomatoes.

I got a chance to tick La Tomatina off my bucket list in the August of 2016 before starting my Master’s studies in Barcelona. I, along with a big group of 80 eccentric students kick started the journey to get the first hand experience of this fabled tomato fight.

The annual tomato festival is celebrated in a small Valencian town of Spain called Buñol. It is a 3 hours drive from Barcelona. La fiesta de tomates is scheduled for the last Wednesday of August every year. We reached Valencia by bus in the afternoon a day before for the festival. But you can also do a day trip from Barcelona to Valencia. Given the size of the group, we had pre-booked our accommodation at Apartamentos Turisticos Valencia. If you do choose to reach Valencia beforehand like we did, I’d recommend booking the stay well in advance since there are a lot of tourists at that time of the year.

Tip: You must book your festival tickets beforehand, preferably online, since you can’t buy them on the day of the festival. The sooner you book, the cheaper you get it for. Also, the tickets are non transferable, that is another person cannot enter the festival on a ticket in your name.

There are a bunch of things you can indulge in Valencia. Depending on your preference, you can either spend your time at the beaches or explore the magnificent architecture and museums of Valencia.  We spent the evening at Ciudad de Las Ciencias Y Las Artes de Valencia, a history museum and enjoyed dinner at Malvarrosa beach with smooth Spanish Sangrias.

The location of the festival was 20 minutes from our hotel. We started from the hotel at 8 am. Even though the festival starts at 10 am, since we had to collect our entry bands before that, we thought better be early than be late and sorry.

The first thing we did after getting there was take a ‘before’ picture.


Carry a waterproof camera (we used Go Pro) and a waterproof cover for your mobile and money.


It’s a fun idea to take before and after pictures of yourself at the festival.
 To measure the full impact, wear a white top. 
After collecting the tickets we made a beeline for the town square where the tomato fight takes place. Needless to say, the city was flocked with people. I was surprised to see the number of Indians that made it to the festival. We do take our movies very seriously. As we walked along the streets to find a spot, we observed that all the shops and houses were covered with plastic sheets to protect from damage. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reaching early and finding a good spot. Your entire experience depends on it. Make sure not to stand in the middle of the street. That’s where the tomato trucks pass. Also, what you wear to the festival is also of great importance. Wear something that you wouldn’t mind discarding after the festival. Please wear closed shoes if you don’t want bruised feet. You can also use swimming caps to protect your hair from the messy tomato seeds but I didn’t wear one. Though, I did use swimming goggles to protect my eyes. 

"We were positioned right next to Palo jabon - a greased pole with a Spanish ham at the top. The festival starts with a queer tradition of climbing up this pole and retrieving the ham. Whoever can climb the pole and get the ham can keep it"!

At 10 a.m. the siren was honked and soon after the ham was retrieved. Trucks filled with tomatoes started entering the streets. People standing in the middle of the road started moving towards the footpath. In the process, I also got separated from my friends. 

"For the first 15 minutes I felt like a tomato that was being squished real hard. At a point of time, I really felt like I was going to die in a stampede and coming for the festival was the biggest mistake of my life."


Tip: Crush the Tomato before throwing them. Whole tomatoes hurt real hard!

But afterwards, that feeling washed away as we all somehow managed to find some space to stand on whole 2 feet instead of just the toes. To add to the relief, I got reunited with a part of my group and we had a fun time squishing and slinging tomatoes onto each other.


"If you’re expecting Tomatina to be like how they showed in the movie ZNMD, you’re in for a real shock my friend. Space is a luxury you’ll not have." 

Go with a bunch of friends with whom you know you’ll have a good time.

You’ll also not get to Hop On and Hop Off the tomato trucks. That’s only for La Tomatina crew. Though what you can take away from the movie is the fact that you MUST go with a bunch of friends with whom you know you’ll have a good time.
At 11 a.m. a siren marked the end of the festival. After that, the locals washed the people using hoses from their homes. You also have the option of using public shower rooms. To avoid the long queues at the public shower rooms, we bought passes for an after party where we did an ‘after’ picture and washed ourselves clean. Afterwards, we enjoyed some exquisite paella and chilled sangria. That was followed by dancing to a local band’s music. It was a dance till you drop affair as we were literally the last people to leave the city. 




La Tomatina is once in a lifetime experience. If you don’t mind getting dirty, you must do it with your buds!


Tips:
  • Wear old clothes or clothes that you can discard after the festival.
  • Wear closed shoes that you can throw/wash afterwards. If you wear flip-flops, you may get hurt.
  • You might find swimming goggles useful to protect your eyes useful. You might also want to use swimming cap to protect your hair.
  • Take waterproof cameras if you want to take pictures.
  • You can also buy waterproof cases for your phone and money. It’s better to take coins instead of currency notes.
  • Buy your tickets and book your accommodation in advance.
  • Go in the group. The more the merrier!
  • Reach early and find a good spot.
  • Squish the tomatoes before throwing them.
  • You only have 1hr. Make the most of it!
  • Do a before and after picture.

What: La Tomatina
Where: Buñol, Spain
When: Last Wednesday of August



Our hopper Laveena Shetty added:


I went to the festival this year in Aug 2016, lost my iPhone and all my pictures. Funnily enough, I wasn't the only Indian who lost her phone. Locals and other European travellers normally cover their phones with a waterproof case & hang it around their neck. Less chances of losing your valuables as the festival can get quite claustrophobic! Tip for future attendees - please leave your cards/cash in your bus/car - parked a km away from the festival venue and carry money(around €30–€50) just for food and water.


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