As winter draws to a close and spring is ushered in, India witnesses the festival of Holi, one of color and chaos. A religious festival of gaiety and mirth it is celebrated over most of India. So, no stranger to whackiness, I was enchanted to read about La Tomatina, a hugely popular festival that draws people from all over the globe. Come the last week of August, people from all over the world descend on the town of Bunol in the province of Valencia, Spain, in large numbers.
So what is La Tomatina? This is a state sanctioned festival where more than 20,000 people throw ripe tomatoes at one another just for the joy of it. The story told about how the festival originated way back in 1945 is equally crazy. During a sober parade, an unruly element hurled tomatoes from a nearby stall at one of the parade participants. Enraged, he reciprocated and soon it was a free for all. The stories are many, one of them being a fun food fight between friends. According to the La Tomatina website the festival was banned by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco for having no religious significance. The people of Bunol held a mock tomato burial in protest and the La Tomatina was reinstated as an official festival. Now it returns every year stronger than ever. The festival is now held in honour of the town’s patron saint, St. Louis Bertrand, and the Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (mother of God of the Defenceless)
The battle takes place in Bunol’s main square, the Plaza del Pueblo and Calle del Cid. At about 9 am a greasy pole with a ham attached to the end of it, is hoisted into the air. There is a mad rush to get the ham down. At precisely 11 am, whether the ham has been retrieved or not, a signal is fired and the tomato trucks trundle in to tip 150,000 kilos of squishy ripe tomatoes to the impatient crowd. For the next hour participants literally see red, as a frenzied battle ensues with everyone hurling tomatoes joyfully. Despite the mood of merriment, participants have to observe certain ground rules. No one is allowed to throw hard objects such as bottles. The tomatoes have to be squashed so they don’t hurt on impact. Don’t be surprised if this rule is not strictly adhered to. T shirts cannot be torn or thrown, stay away from the trucks and do follow the instructions of the security staff. A second signal at the end of an hour, calls for an end to the festivities. People scramble for the nearest hosepipe being wielded by a local for a thorough wash down.
Click here to see a picture post of most interesting carnivals in the world.
Soon the fire – fighting trucks are brought in to hose down the streets and order is restored. The tomatoes act as natural cleansers, purifying the skin, and the streets benefit from the juice too, looking freshly scrubbed after the hosing.
Tips to Remember
Till 2013 the festival was free for participants, but since then foreigners need to pay 10 Euros. A ride on the truck could set you back greatly, almost 750 Euros. Remember the tickets need to be purchased well in advance as the number of participants is now limited to a little over 20,000. Accommodation is scarce and expensive, so to avoid disappointment book in advance. A lot of people just come in from Valencia for the day and return back after the festivities are over.
If you are travelling from Valencia, take an early train to beat the crowds. Reaching early gives you a fair chance at securing a vantage point to view the ham- retrieving, which you don’t want to miss.
Wear old clothes and shoes and some protective eye covering.
It is advisable not to carry your phone for pictures as you will be a sure target for merry makers. Also avoid carrying other valuables.
You may consider staying in Bunol for the week long celebrations for a complete La Tomatina experience. There is music, dancing, parades and fireworks. There is even a paella cooking competition the night before the festival. Here the ladies choose to wear white while the men leave off their shirts. Tourists who have been to Bunol for the Tomatina suggest joining a tour which is both affordable and convenient.
Such unusual festivities are conducted in other parts of the world as well. Tomato fights have been held in places as disparate as Columbia and China. A similar event in India erupted into a huge controversy and was soon banned. The reason, too many tomatoes wasted.
La Tomatina has its own Google Doodle and Google puts up a temporary banner during the festival.
Read about some craziest, maddest festivals in the world here!