Our desire to travel to Spain was born out of a desire to be a part of La Tomatina in Buñol, a small town about an hour outside Valencia; a bucket list item that we just had to be a part of, even though we were twenty years older than most of the participants. We’ve seen images of this event for years and each time we do, we swear we’re going to make the trip. Now we can gratefully cross the item off our list.
If you’ve ever been in a mosh pit (mosh pit: for the AARP crowd, it’s a large crowd of hooligans at a punk concert that slam, push and bounce around) imagine being in the craziest one ever with 45,000 people who’ve come from all over the world to be packed into the narrow streets of Buñol for four hours or more–that’s La Tomatina. For hours we stood (if you can call it that) in the middle of a narrow street leading to the village square while being pushed from side to side as waves of bodies moved with a pulsing motion forward, back and from side to side. As more and more people pushed their way to the front of the throng, the crowd grew more and more dense until it was impossible to find a spot where you were not crushed against bodies. One wrong step and a fall and it could be the end. Luckily, neither one of us suffered any injuries. And, this was all happening before the beginning of the tomato fight.
We ended up next to a gang of thugs ripping off t-shirts from unsuspecting men trying to push by. And once the t-shirts were ripped from the men the shirts were tied in knots and thrown around the crowd.By the way, none of the men harassed any of the women and most of the young men were even protective of the women in the crowd. We eventually decided to just take our shirts off instead of having them torn off our bodies.
As more and more people jammed closer to the square, the temperatures soared. All of those bodies produce a lot of heat and when you combine that with a hot, cloudless day in Spain in August, well you can imagine the crowd’s growing discomfort. We did get the occasional relief from the stench and sweat whenever the locals threw buckets of water and sprayed hoses from their balconies or rooftops down onto the crowd. This only made the knotted shirts that much harder as they grew saturated from the water accumulating at our feet. By the way, it’s no fun to get hit in the head with one of those. And someone had the nerve to bring a hollowed watermelon as a warmup. Another thing that hurts like a mother f#$%er when it hits you in the head.
The actual tomato fight doesn’t officially start until some crazy young man climbs to the top of a greased poll and captures the jamon. And once he does, he’s then hand passed overhead through the crowd along with the jamon, as a type of hero, until he reaches the end of the crowd. Once he reaches the end, a huge cannon blast signifies the start of the tomato fight and all hell breaks loose! If the sardine packed crowds weren’t enough, the crowd gets pushed out of the square as huge trucks drive through the small street with huge rugby player-types (the forwards, not the backs) walking in front as they push everyone who is not on the narrow sidewalk out of harms way of the truck. Of course as they do this everyone is being smashed up against one another and the wall. Riding on the trucks are more rugby players throwing tomatoes (think of the hard Roma variety) into and at the crowd and that’s when the fun begins.
We were pushed down a side street by the first truck and as each truck passed by we were pushed further and further down the street until the second blast signaled the end of the tomato fight. By that time we were standing in a river of red as water and tomato filled the streets. Once the trucks pass and the streets run red everyone who has not had enough will body surf down the streets and throw handfuls of red mucky whatever at who ever is around. (This is the part that most people see in images). After all those hours of being in the mosh pit from hell with smells of sweat, tomatoes, sewer (Buñol at the end of summer smells just as bad as any major city in the summer) and god only knows what else, we had had all we could take as we gagged our way out of the crowd. Our forty year old bodies had given up. We threw a few tomatoes and had a great time but we weren’t covered in red like many of the participants.
At the beginning, just as we exited El Arbol’s bus and as we walked down to the city center, we thought that this might be an annual pilgrimage, but as we ascended back to our bus after the tomato fight neither one of us wanted to return to the event again. At dinner that night, it took all the muster we had left to gag down a few cherry tomatoes. Maybe our next bucket list item needs to be something more age appropriate and serene, like yoga in Bali.