This was the day of the main event of our trip, ‘La Tomatina’. It is an yearly festival famous to be known as tomato festival around the world. Effectively it is a tomato fight held in the town of Buñol near Valencia, on last Wednesday of August. The festivities go on for a week and this day marks the end of it with people throwing tomatoes on each other. We were excited to be part of this festival and cross off one thing from our bucket list. We woke up at around 4, picked up our friends Gagan and Indu at 5 AM from their hotel and left for Buñol. As we were getting closer to the town we could see many people going there too. We understood that this would be a very big event with whole town and many more people participating. We reached Buñol around 7 AM and the whole town was buzzing. With so many people around and so much happening we felt energetic. We wanted have a quick breakfast before the event. There were many make-shift shops selling food. We grabbed few quick bites and went for a walk in the town before the event; since around 9:30 or so the streets become jam-packed with no chance to move forward or back.
Everywhere we saw there were people from different countries in groups and alone. They were drinking, eating, dancing, getting ready. There is an Australian group called ‘Fanatics’ who travel around the world in huge numbers to attend various events. They were also there. To my surprise, I met one of my Aussie ex-flatmate Kate there, with that group.
We went till the centre where it all begins, took some photos and returned to our car to change and get ready for the event. There were TV crews covering the event for the international media. Since we did not want to ruin our expensive cameras, we purchased waterproof one-time use cameras to capture the action. Despite warning Chirag, he took his Ray-ban with him, a decision which he was going to repent. There were many temporary hawkers selling various stuff for the event, like swimming glasses, caps, flip-flops etc. We bought few glasses to protect our eyes. After getting ready, we went straight to the centre of the town, but this time it was difficult to move forward. However, we kept moving little bit at a time and reached the centre. It was a narrow street with people packed like chickens. There was no space to move around and it was quite hot even at that early hour of the morning. However, the locals knew about this and were throwing buckets of water from their rooftops on the crowd beneath. That gave all of us a respite.
The event does not start before a ceremony is finished. There was a high pole with a big piece of ham tied at the top. Someone should climb the pole and remove the ham before the tomatoes could be brought in. But there was a catch, the pole was laced with some slippery white butter. That made it interesting. People started trying their luck. There were locals, Spaniards, Australians, Asians and everyone who wanted to give it a try. Guys were using different techniques to tackle the slippery pole. Some tried to climb on the nearby ledge and then jump on the pole. Some tried to wipe the butter off using their t-shirts. Some tried brute force, some tried intellect. But the pole stood there with the ham on top of it. It became a matter of pride. Actually it is. The person who takes down the ham becomes famous across the town and area as the brave one. Nearby towns compete for it and they make it a matter of pride.
We also thought to give it a try, but we were some 25 feets away from it and it was nearly impossible to even reach there. Many people were trying and even pulling the one who was on the pole. After all it was a matter of pride! The progress was slow but there was progress. As the slippery butter was wiped off by people without t-shirts, pole hugging Aussies and boys in colourful dresses, one local boy climbed to the top. He took the ham down as his prize and the prize of the town. Everyone cheered!
Though there was a little scuffle for the ham and the claim about who took it, but it was settled quickly. It was time for the trucks to come in with the tomatoes. I wondered how a truck could squeeze in this jam-packed street. But it did.
The trucks came in intervals with loads of tomatoes. People went crazy and the fight started. There were tomatoes everywhere. In the air, on the street, on the backs, on the heads, in the hands, in the eyes. The only thing we could do was grab and throw. The acidity of tomatoes was cruel as it went in the eyes. The swimming glasses were useless since they were too tight and small and were stifling the vision (in the battle). I ditched the glasses and went ahead. Not to forget Chirag’s Ray-Ban was nowhere to be seen. After a while a fight broke out literally and not in a funny way. Guys started tearing each other’s clothes, soaking them in the tomato puree on the road and throwing them as missiles. I became a bit worried about stampede, but it didn’t happen thankfully. There were water cannons to cool things down, as-in not the temper but the heat. They were doing their jobs.
This went on for over an hour or so and then the last truck came in and dumped all the tomatoes for the last round. People started dispersing and then everything was over. All of those people packing the streets were just gone and streets were just filled with tomato river. 3 inches deep tomato river flowed on the streets. Chirag lost his flip-flops or shoes(whatever he was wearing before the fight) to the river. But the river brought him gifts as well. Two different flip flops for the left and right foot, which he accepted gladly. My sandals were ruined too but I saved them somehow.
We roamed on the tomato-laden streets for a while and saw the aftermath. There were torn clothes everywhere, hanging on the wires and decoration overhead. The local people and authorities started the cleaning with huge water trucks spraying water to wash everything down. There were locals offering water pipes to clean the people. We stood in one of the queues and got ourselves a clean water hose down.
The party was just getting started, with people gathering at different spots across the town and just dancing and drinking and having water sprinkles. We had to go back to Valencia for our city tour. So we decided to leave after a change of clothes and went straight to Valencia.
It was 3 in afternoon that we reached at the ‘City of Arts and Sciences’ in Valencia. This is a huge place which has a lot of things dedicated to Arts and Science. It had art museums, opera house, science museums, marine life zoo, planetarium, cafés and a very impressive architecture. Built across a large area it had harp like structures, armadillo like structures, huge pools and a good colour scheme.
We were famished by that time, so we went straight to café and had some food. Since we had little time before the place was supposed to close we had to decide what to see because we could not cover everything. We are not a big opera fans so we decided to go for a 4D planetarium show. Chirag anyway slept throughout the show. Anyhow, we finished the show and roamed in that large space.
We went to ‘Oceanographic’, a marine life zoo with wide variety of marine life. They do a Dolphin show every hour so we ran to it and grabbed some good seats. Dolphin show was amazing with audience mostly children and parents accompanying them.
After the show we went inside the zoo to see the marine life and were really impressed. It was a different world altogether. We went through a tunnel which had glass ceiling and water over us. That water had sharks in it. We clicked few photos with the sharks. There were colourful fishes and sea horses. There were a lot of different animals. We spent some more time till around 8pm there and clicked a lot of photos.
Parikshit and I wanted to go in the city to experience the night life of Valencia since it was amazing the night before. But Chirag is an old man, and he desperately insisted that we drop him to the hotel as he wasn’t feeling well. Very reluctantly, we dropped him off at the hotel and went straight back to the city. We visited few landmarks, did some night photography and relaxed in the main plaza to see street artists playing with fire.
We saw few old men playing guitars and mandolins sitting on restaurant table outside on the road. That was pleasing music. We were tired as well because of an early start and exhaustive day. So we returned to the hotel around midnight and called it a day.