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La Tomatina - One of the most infamous Spanish festivals

Joining more than 30,000 red faced, rouge bodied, cherry clothed and rojo haired revellers watching a procession of trucks filled with tomatoes may not appeal to most as an ideal way to spend a Wednesday morning. But, throwing tomatoes across a street packed with strangers and splashing tomato juice over your friends until the scene resembles a B-grade horror movie is as fun as it sounds. And, if you feel like you are still too clean for the occasion you can simply take a seat in the pool of tomato juice that slowly flows down the streets of Buñol for two hours.

The tomato growing season for this Spanish town, 40 kilometres from Valencia, always ends on the last Wednesday in August, when the population of 9000 is joined by 25,000 visitors for the cultural celebration of La Tomatina.  
Before the smell of 125,000 kilograms of ripe fruit is even in the air, the excitement begins with the crowd gathering around a 20 metre pole covered in soap. As residents throw water from the balconies above, determined individuals attempt to climb the slippery pole or group together to create a pyramid until someone finally reaches and releases the trophy at the top – a leg of ham.

This person is idolised until a fire truck arrives to soak everyone who has managed to squeeze into the packed street. Any male wearing a t-shirt, which should be white, has it ripped from his body and these drenched t-shirts provide the first objects to be sent soaring although anticipation is now just as high.  
When the first banger, or gun, sounds a collective cheer is released even though it is several more minutes before the tomato trucks appear. For the uninitiated, the adrenaline is flowing because of the fear of the unknown, soon to be replaced by the fear of flying fruit.  
Six trucks filled with ripe tomatoes and juice make their way down the main street, slow enough to enable the more adventurous to climb into the trailer for a constant source of ammunition. With the trucks tipping their contents onto the street every 100 metres or so, those on the ground have just as much firepower and it is not long until the scene is a red blur of exhilaration.

It is easy to assume that an event such as La Tomatina is steeped in historical significance, but unlike most European festivals, this one is relatively new. It does, however have a foundation as unusual as could be expected, with it starting in 1945 when some young locals got carried away during a carnival and a food fight ensued. When they attempted to repeat the fun on the last Wednesday of August in the following year the police broke up the crowd, but not before a tradition had been built.

As well as being a memorable couple of hours this is an event that stays with you, and not just in your hair and on your skin. The clothes you wear during La Tomatina will smell like La Tomatina for many months to come, with washing them or merely swimming in them doing little to change this. Those who have tomatoes as a staple part of their diet can expect to be reminded of the overwhelming smell of tomatoes each time it is prominent in a meal.

With ongoing memories like those, who needs the evidence? An occasion like La Tomatina is hard to properly capture on film, mostly because of the seemingly killer tomatoes attacking your camera more often than they miss. A hotel room is the best place for a camera during the festivities, as even a disposable can be expected to be ruined by the red stream of sauce. For those more daring, or just desperate for proof, covering all of your camera except the lens in a tight package of bubble wrap might be very risky but well worth it if you do get the shot.

More experienced campaigners will wear goggles and earplugs, rather than a camera around their neck. Both are a good idea as the tomato juice does get in the most unlikely places, where it can cause infection or at least stinging.

As there will inevitably be a few stray tomatoes, the houses and shops in the main street are protected by large plastic sheets. This means that they are inaccessible hours before the tomato-filled trucks arrive, so it is a good idea to bring any supplies with you from Valencia.

As there is little to do in Buñol once the tomatoes stop flying, it is a good idea to base yourself in Valencia. This major Spanish city sits on the Mediterranean coast and has some interesting architecture and nightlife that will momentarily keep you away from the beach.

Despite all this messiness of La Tomatina, the festival has increased in popularity and recognition over the last five years, and the sooner you get to the event the less likely it is to be totally ‘touristised'. Still, there are sure to be a considerable number of travellers at La Tomatina on Wednesday 31August.  

La Tomatina rules:
* squish tomatoes in your hand before throwing them, to ensure they are soft – the fun is in covering others in the juice, not in bruises
* do not bring glass or plastic bottles to the event, let alone throw them
* any male should not wear a t-shirt, or should ensure it is an expendable one as it will inevitably be ripped off before the first tomato is thrown in amusement
* at least try to resist the temptation to ‘tomato' those only spectating
* tomato throwing must cease when the second banger sounds, and the immaculate and ridiculously fast clean up begins

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