La Tomatina: So Much More Than A Tomato Fight
I have been hearing about ‘La Tomatina’ for years without ever adding it to my bucket list – something about a bunch of drunk tourists running havoc on a small Spanish town and marring a years-old tradition with their overuse of waterproof cameras just made me cringe…turns out, though, I should have.
For me, the adventure began at the Stoke office in Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon. A fellow Stokie and I were given the task of guiding a group of Aussie customers from Barcelona to Pucol, the location of the Stoke festival campsite. I use the word ‘task’ quite lightly – the job description was to get a bunch of excitable Australians from the Stoke office to the train station and then help them get sufficiently drunk before disembarking four hours later – not exactly hard yakka.
Soon after arriving at Stoke HQ, we were ushered onto buses to head to Requena for a pre-Tomatina water and wine fight. This is a lesser known tradition that is attended by more locals than tourists, although there are still plenty of drunken foreigners to be seen about the place. The prerequisites of the event are that you bring some sort of ‘instrument’ to make ‘music’ and that you are mentally prepared to be drenched in water by the locals as you parade through the winding cobblestone streets. Even after it is over you must be vigilant when walking back to the buses as those locals who don’t live on the main path are waiting to have their turn in the quieter streets.
Reality hit when we wound up at the campsite, a little more than slightly intoxicated, at 4am with the knowledge that we’ll be awoken in two hours for the main event. Many chose to sleep, but some of us saw the benefit in pushing through for the sake of avoiding a hangover – or an accidental sleep in. It’s in those wee hours of the morning that you see the true meaning of ‘get weird’ anyway.
At 6am, a Bloody Mary serves as a delicious alcoholic beverage as well as a nutritious breakfast option. There are bacon and egg rolls for everyone but for those of us who hadn’t been to bed, food was not looking all that appealing. Instead, we enjoyed the drinks – probably the only tomato we actually wanted in our mouths that day – and made our way to the buses. In our delirious state, the bus ride flew by in a whirl of friend making and face painting and we were pulling into the overcrowded car park in no time.
I must admit that I was particularly unprepared – for one thing, I was still sporting the clothes that I had worn on the train trip the day before, my ‘tomato fight’ clothes packed neatly into my abandoned backpack at camp – I had no goggles, and certainly no go-pro. Nonetheless, I joined the throng of Stokies and together we pushed our way as far as possible into the heart of crowd.
The Tomatina fight itself begins when some enthusiastic person is agile enough to climb a greased up flagpole to retrieve a leg of ham suspended meters above the cheering, chanting mass. If no one successfully removes the porky treasure they give up after about two hours and start the tom-fest anyway. The gun sounded and the crowd waited in zealous anticipation for the tomato-toting trucks to bring the ammunition that would fuel the world’s biggest food fight.
When they arrive, the mayhem began. At first people scrapple for individual tomatoes on the cobbled floor, but soon they are abundant as you stand in a shin high river that looks so strangely familiar you begin to wonder where your tinned Big Red is sourced. Handfuls of the stuff are scooped and dumped onto your head; rubbed into your unsuspecting face. You want to yell and scream in joy and fear but it’s best to keep your mouth shut unless you want tomato in that orifice too. Nowhere is off limits, it seems, as you feel a handful pushed into your shorts by the middle aged Spaniard behind you.
The trucks barrel through forcing people out of the way, an automatic divider pitting those on one side against those on the other. Friends turn to foe and strangers turn to allies. You lock eyes with the soldier across from you and begin the assault. It is a relentless back and forth until the truck is gone and the armies surge forth for brutal combat, a soppy mess of red and white writhing in the sea of squelch.
Riding on adrenaline all the way to the end, you emerge more caked in any one fruit than you have ever been before, and are grinning like an idiot. Locals are waiting with their garden hoses, watering cans, kitchen pots and water bottles ready to wash your filthy self before you try to board the buses back to camp.
After a beer or two we headed back to the buses and my mind was blown as I found myself standing next to the gentleman I had been one-on-one with back in the grand battle. We didn’t know how to greet each other now that we were no longer enemies, but we had seen the malicious side of one another and couldn’t really move past that, so we awkwardly laughed and went our separate ways. I think he remembered the look in my eye as I tried to fishhook him with a particularly large chunk of tomato.
Back at camp we sprawled out on blow up mattresses under the trees, drank more drinks, and puffed on cigarettes – I don’t even smoke, but it just felt right at the time. This ultimate chill session went on into the evening, people tried their hand at beer-pong, see-sawing and drinking as many beers and sangrias as possible in order to save cash at the after party.
The bus trip passed in a whirl of drunken DnM’s as we skulled straight vodka behind the seats like we were high-schoolers. We danced our way into the after-party gawking appreciatively at the selected venue. The mezzanine featuring a swimming pool overlooked a massive dance floor heaving with fist pumping Lotharios ready to drink away the smell of rancid tomatoes. The Stoke crew piled into a pergola by the pool and got super weird. Clothes were shed, Mooses were made, and random shit was spoken.
Returning to the campsite in the wee hours didn’t mean the end of the party as those still kicking huddled in cuddle puddles and welcomed the sunrise over the beach. Beers were continuously poured well into the next day, right up until it was time to leave. It was with heart-wrenching sadness that I boarded the bus, and a single tear trickled down my cheek as we pulled away from the curb. Well, not really – but you feel me. The past 48 hours had been such a perfect mix of fun and fucked-up-ness, and I did not want it to end.
If you travel with Stoke, La Tomatina is about much more than a tomato fight.