Tomatina: Seeing Red in Spain
Tomatina was never my dream. I went to Spain for a week of relaxing and decided it made no sense to go all that way and NOT see this crazy festival. I followed Ali down to Valencia to meet Val and Jaime. They all were really excited about this festival, it being on several bucket lists and the main reason for the weekend. Here is my take on it. Quick version, not my thing.
The festival is in the town of Bunyol which is a 45 minute train ride out from Valencia. This festival is BIG. I mean we got to the train station at quarter to 6am and there was a line already for the first train. The line behind us though was bigger still by the time the first train left with us on it. Walking though the top end of Bunyol there were tons of people already there some of whom slept in squares.
It is a long walk from the train station down a bunch of fairly steep hills down to the main part of town where the tomatoes are thrown. The top part near the station was covered with tables selling beer and offering to hold your bags for a fee.I had used the bathroom in the Bunyol train station and yet by the time we got near the center I needed to go again. I don’t like crowds, had been drinking water to stave off sleep and heat and pee when I am nervous. The crowds even at this point out from the center square were enough to cause me pause. I really don’t like to be amongst large crowds.
We went into a little cafe and they had explicitly blocked off their bathroom. I guess I understood that they don’t want 40,000 people tromping through but it angered me a lot. So I ended up saying good bye to my friends and went looking for a bathroom. This ended up being a group of port-o-potties each with a line a half an hour long. I was despairing that I would be able to rush back into the square and meet up with my friends so easily. In the end this was a good thing, I just didn’t know it at that time.
Alcohol seems to be the name of a lot of people’s game with this festival. An excuse to be drunk at 7am until noon and then keep drinking. Forty thousand people crammed into a small medieval spanish town is a lot of people. When some of these are drunk and are forced to wait for several hours to throw tomatoes, they get bored and create new games. Games involving tearing clothing from others and drenching each other with buckets of water. Call me boring but I don’t like the feeling of being attacked. It harkens back to school yard bullying. As I stood there watching and trying to stay out of things I began to think that this REALLY wasn’t going to be my thing.
I ended up moving to three different places. First a side street near the main square. I got to see the locals put out their tarps to protect their houses. This street was getting full so I walked down it and around to the other end of the main street. The biggest portion of the waiting time (you need to get to town around 7:30am and the throwing starts at 11am) I spent in a narrow area in the shade. This is where I saw the tearing and fighting and drenching. At some point I just started feeling claustrophobic looking around. I knew there would be mayhem once the trucks came even if I didn’t know their route. This was just too narrow. So I dodged water and found another side street above a square. This turned out to be a great place.
This square is the start of the truck route. The tomatoes are plentiful but not ankle deep. I was up above the main action. I was able to throw some tomatoes but not get covered. After the last truck went through I went down to take a look around and then is when I got pelted in the back. Amongst all of this I was feeling a bit lonely and missing my friends, so I wandered up another side street back to where we were supposed to meet. Locals with hoses were spraying people off, but the water was freezing.
I finally made it back (after another bathroom break) and found Val and Jaime. Ali was no where to be seen. She had apparently left early and I spent the next while frantically searching for my wife. I knew she had no money and would be thirsty. We did finally meet up with her and she was indeed not having a great day.
The aftermath of Tomatina involves the police trying to move everyone along while other workers hose off the center of town. Thousands of people start (or continue) drinking. Bottles, shoes, clothing and other types of trash just collect in town. There are almost no trash cans so everything just gets thrown wherever. There isn’t a choice. There were a bunch of guys grilling sausage along the roadside, but it really didn’t look so good. We ended up finding whatever food was available (crusty bread sandwiches with cured ham and cheese) that looked edible.
Play fighting, drinking and more drinking. Add wet t-shirt contests (over half the crowd is female and the vast majority are wearing white t-shirts) from being hosed off. Really,Tomatina is what it would look like if a frat party took over an entire town.
If you don’t like crowds or being pelted by disgusting goo…
If you need to use the bathroom regularly or have dietary limitations of any kind…
If the idea of an entire town worth of drunken people playing in said goo does not appeal to you…
…do NOT go to Tomatina.
Here are my bullet list of tips if you do decide to try this:
- Make sure each person has some money for: new shoes/flip flops; food/drink; new t-shirts(you need to be clothed to get on the train home). No matter how crappy what you bring is there is a chance you won’t even be able to wear it home.
- Do not store anything in your shoe. It will not stay dry.
- Try to get to the top (far) end of the town and watch the trucks come in. It seems less chaotic than what the others talked about.
- Set a meeting place for your group, but not in the center of town. After the stop you can’t go back for a while. Set it something like a specific food stand.
- Bring water, it is August in Spain. Yet note if you have a small bladder that bathrooms are NOT plentiful.
- If you bring a camera, put it in a ziploc bag. The pictures are mostly ok, just a little blurry but far cheaper than a waterproof camera or having your good camera ruined.
Survived though..I really did not have much fun. I am glad I can say I went and did not let my fear overwhelm me, but I could have lived without it. Despite which it was a good day with Ali, Val and Jaime.
Check out their views of the day as well.
- Ali : Tomatina – Part 1
- Val : Throw Tomatoes to La Tomatina
- Jaime : My Thoughts on La Tomatina
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November 15, 2011 @ 10:39 pm
How is it I am barely seeing this… wow I am so late!
I know me & Val had a blast, sorry you and Val didn’t have as much fun. It was a great experience either way for all of us. It was so nice to finally meet you and Val in Valencia and spend a whole week together not doing much!
November 16, 2011 @ 12:23 am
HIya.. I so totally linked to your post. One thing, my wife is Ali. We only had the one Val. Yeah, I am happy we went down and did Tomatina. I am happy to have done it, but will never want to do it again. Or anything similar. The running of the donkeys sounds more my speed.
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October 7, 2011 @ 10:19 am
*shudder* This looks like a total nightmare! I saw this on a travel show once and they made it look so cool and fun. This is definitely not for me. 😀
October 9, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
It wasn’t a total nightmare. It was crowded and pushy and a long wait for an hour of action. In the end not SO much different than a College Football game back home, except there you have your own seat and there are bathrooms in easy reach. Here was a similar packed atmosphere without the comforts. I’m sure there are people though that would thrive on that kind of crowd and think it was the greatest thing ever. There are also those that were too drunk not to have fun.
Dani | Globetrottergirls
September 27, 2011 @ 9:05 pm
La Tomatina looks crazy!! Every time I had heard about it I thought it sounded like a really cool festival but now, after looking at your pictures, I am not sure if I would enjoy it.
September 29, 2011 @ 6:05 pm
It was crazy . It was also a cool festival. I think if you could get into the spirit of it, it would be great. I couldn’t, it wasn’t. I still enjoyed doing stuff with Ali, Jaime and Val; but the tomato part wasn’t my thing.
September 17, 2011 @ 7:36 am
I’ve only heard of the Tomatina festival and never read such an in-depth account. I really appreciate your honesty. That barricaded bathroom does seem unreasonable with all of the people there. I think if I was ever in the vicinity of this festival I would go, but I wouldn’t make a special trip just to experience it.
September 18, 2011 @ 3:04 pm
Thanks. I guess I understand that they don’t want to have to clean up a bathroom or be the only place with an open one that isn’t a port-a-potty, but it just pissed me off in the moment.
If you are in the area, it is worth staying on the edges and seeing the thing from afar, I wouldn’t recommend a specific trip. Especially as it is just one day. Even we didn’t do much else that week, though it does take some recovery time.
September 16, 2011 @ 9:49 pm
The only way I would go to something like that is if I could watch the whole thing from a balcony…but I think reading about it here is close enough! 🙂
September 18, 2011 @ 3:02 pm
I was reading somewhere about trying to get a balcony. The best spots are definitely the houses that line the road. So if you want to get such a view make friends with a local. And don’t be late. I was sitting in one spot and the tarp had already been secured behind us. A girl came and was banging on the tarp shouting for her mother. She never did get in.
September 15, 2011 @ 6:01 pm
I am with you completely on this one. A food fight with a bunch of drunk people isn’t my kind of fun. You and I agree on this one. Sure makes for a fun story with photos but there are plenty of better ways to spend a day in Spain.
September 18, 2011 @ 3:01 pm
A story it definitely was.
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September 14, 2011 @ 1:27 pm
I don’t think I would enjoy La Tomatina either… too many people (and drunk, crazy ones among them), and I don’t like being in the middle of a big crowd. I make some exceptions for concerts but I can see my endurance is smaller now than when I was younger!
I’d probably watch from a higher building and take tons of (dry) photos, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t join the crazy crowds :p
Anyway I’m sure it was an experience!!!
September 14, 2011 @ 9:00 pm
Concerts are different. There is a purpose and a distraction. They don’t last so long and usually have avenues to move about it to go to the bathroom. I am not a big concert goer, but Tomatina was very different from even the most crazy concert. I am glad I went though.
Higher building would be good. You can probably see an old lady in the upper window in one of the plaza/truck pictures. That looked like a good vantage point. Though these are all local’s homes, so good luck getting in.
Debbie @ European Travelista
September 13, 2011 @ 5:26 am
I have to say Tomatina doesn’t seem to be calling me. I really don’t like festivals with that many people.
September 14, 2011 @ 8:58 pm
Definitely not a festival for you then. 40,000 doesn’t even fill most big stadiums, but it is more than enough in such a small town.
September 12, 2011 @ 6:19 pm
Sounds like quite an experience! I think this is something I would have liked when I started traveling in my early 20ies: huge party, many people, alcohol, a food fight, what’s not to love 🙂 Now I would prefer a tapas & wine kind of night out if I ever make it to Spain 🙂
September 14, 2011 @ 8:57 pm
I am totally with you. A quiet square with a wine and a plate of cheese. We actually did that in Valencia, it was nice.
September 11, 2011 @ 7:15 pm
I feel your pain:) I hate crowds and this looks like absolute torture. Some festivals get too big for their own good and then they become painful to attend….like the San Diego Comicon. I won’t go to that again. Nasty! Plus it sounds like a nasty international backpacking party of spring breakers. I had thought about attending this but I think about all the logistics involved with something like this. Nasty and dirty people, tomatoes, bathrooms, etc…..Now I do travel A LOT just not where the college crowds go:) Final thought for today…..if there weren’t any bathrooms around for people to use, where were all these people going? What was in the tomato sauce? “Food” for thought:)
September 14, 2011 @ 8:56 pm
Yeah, some crowds I can deal with. I go to a game conference with easily this many people in a conference center for 4 days and that is somehow more ok. They are moving and not throwing things.
There were certainly port-o-potties around, but not enough for the number of people. I guess a lot of people just held it or peed in corners or something. It was thankfully just slightly rotten tomatoes. Though it got mixed with all the debris so not anything appetizing. The smell of tomato was a bit overwhelming for a bit in the center. I swore on the day to not have spaghetti sauce again, but thankfully it hasn’t that particular scar on me.