Vikram Ahuja, founder and CEO of Byond Travel, counts La Tomatina as one of his favourite albeit down-right craziest travel experiences. Here, he shares his account of attending the world’s largest food fight as well as his top tips for surviving the onslaught of ketchup.
It was few years back, when I had just moved to Barcelona for two years of business school. I had chosen to study in Spain not only because of the school’s excellent academic reputation, but also for the opportunity to travel.
And when I met my classmates, I knew I had clearly made the right decision; we were all strangers from around the world (there were 49 nationalities amongst us) but we hit it off right away, simply because we shared a passion to travel. So it was inevitable that one evening, between sips of sangria, we hatched a plan to attend La Tomatina. We had all heard enough about this crazy all-out tomato throwing war to be intrigued. Would it live up to the hype? We were determined to find out.
Now, for those of you whose only exposure to La Tomatina is a shirtless Hrithik Roshan smudging tomatoes on an equally shirtless Farhan Akhtar, it’s nothing like that! Outside the carefully constructed Bollywood studios used in the film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, it is actually one of the craziest and messiest festivals in the world. First, let’s answer a few simple questions.
What is La Tomatina?
La Tomatina is an annual festival celebrated on the last Wednesday of August. It is basically a food fight where people from all over the world come together to throw tomatoes at each other. Sounds crazy? Welcome to Spain!
Where is La Tomatina held?
It is held in the town of Bunol which is in the province of Valencia, located in the east of Spain.
How much do tickets cost?
Attending this celebration will cost around £10. However, if you would like to climb onto the trucks carrying the tonnes of tomatoes into the town (thereby giving you the advantage of initiating the first tomato attack), it will cost around £750.
How do you get to La Tomatina?
The eighteen of us hopped into rented cars and drove all the way from Barcelona to Valencia. If you are someone who likes amazing views, then you will love the drive along the coast. It is about 350 km and takes about 3 to 4 hours. Then, from Valencia, it hardly takes 35 minutes to reach Bunol.
Another option is to take a train but you will not be able to pre-book seats. You can also take a bus. Book a seat and enjoy a ride with strangers singing and buzzing with the anticipation of taking part in the world’s biggest food fight!
Now, knowing the basics is not enough. La Tomatina is nothing less than a warzone and the people no less than soldiers defending insanity and madness. You must be prepared to play this war. Here are 7 tips to survive the battle of tomatoes!
Plan ahead: La Tomatina is a popular festival. Tickets sell out, train seats get filled and accommodation becomes unavailable. So make sure you book all your tickets and rooms way ahead. This applies to travelling to the festival as well. You must leave very early for Bunol, and especially so if you are taking the train which is always packed on festival day. Get up early, buy your ticket and be smarter and quicker than others in order to get on the train.
Know the rules: For your own safety, it is important to know the do’s and don’ts before you go—squish the tomatoes before throwing, start when the first bell rings and stop throwing at the second bell. And you must make rude gestures at people before throwing the tomatoes. Wait, what? I’m just kidding about that last one…or am I?
Good gear is essential: Clothes you are not emotionally attached to (you probably won’t return with them), a nice pair of protective goggles, comfortable shoes (a lot of walking is involved) and pack a couple of energy bars too. Don’t carry expensive electronics and/or wear fancy clothes as they will probably get ruined.
Warning: People will rip each other’s clothes off as the madness ascends to the next level! Wearing flip-flops is a bad idea as well.
Technique: Do squish the tomatoes before hurling them at people. The red ones are ripe and for the taking. Avoid the green ones, they hurt. There will be tomatoes flung back for equal measure; in those cases, DUCK!
Stay sober: You’ll be smack in the middle of one of the biggest parties in the world but try to go easy on the alcohol and stay in the moment. Trust me, you are going to want your reflexes to be at their best and your memory to be at the strongest for all the stories you will bring back with you.
Take care of yourself: Tuck your t-shirt into your shorts so that later you can pull it out and use the clean area of the cloth to wipe your face and eyes. This helps a lot! There will be a lot of pushing and shoving so try to avoid the crowds. At one point, I found myself pushed to the floor and within 10 feet of the wheels of the trucks. Luckily, a friend pulled me away and saved me from being run over; being buried under layers of tomato slush sure would be a terrible way to go.
Have fun: Once you get past the idea of launching tomato attacks and get used to the crowds and the craziness, you will realize that this is a-once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everything from the friends you will quickly make to the kind locals hosing you down after the festival, to the sense of accomplishment of having survived this fiesta—this is a story that lasts a long time.
We witnessed craziness, chaos and a lot of laughter, but the memory that especially burns bright was seeing 40,000 adults giving up all their inhibitions and pretences and just enjoying the madness of each moment, behaving like mischievous kids. It was like being transported to a childhood long forgotten.
So, if you really want to experience a festival that thrives on forging friends with strangers and blends madness, exhilaration and the real culture of Spain, well then, you better be at La Tomatina this year.
Featured image source: Festinga