Bunol a charming sleepy little Spanish town of 9,000 residents that lies 30 miles away from Valencia is known for many things - Its fabulous paella, delectable Mediterranean fruits, almonds and olives and most of all, the La Tomatina!
Held annually on the last Wednesday of August, it is the world's biggest food fight where thousands of people from all over the globe come together with just one aim - To paint Bunol red (literally), by pelting each other with tomatoes.
The genesis of this event can be traced all the way back to 1945 to some disgruntled youngsters and their decision to disrupt a parade because they were not allowed to participate. Since they happened to be standing next to a vegetable stand they just picked up as many tomatoes as they could find, and began throwing them at the participants and bystanders. Despite being punished by the local authorities, the youths kept returning for the next few years with their own stash of tomatoes. Soon, other people decided to join in and, a fun tradition was born!
Today, La Tomatina is one of Spain's most popular and anticipated festivals that spans an entire week and includes colorful parades, dancing and even fireworks. The night before the grand finale, the streets of Bunol are lined with large pans of delicious tomato Paella simmering on wood-burning fires. Tourists and locals alike, gather and enjoy the good food and drinks until the wee hours of the morning.
On the day of the big event, area businessmen scramble to cover their storefronts with tarps. As the time for the fight draws near, thousands of people flock to the designated streets to get ready for the pelting.
While the rules state that a volunteer has to climb a two-story high greased pole and pluck the Spanish ham that lies atop before the event can begin, the organizers do realize that it is a difficult task - One that very few people have been successful at. Fortunately, they are not sticklers for rules and treat any valiant attempt as the signal to sound the siren that gets the party started.
As soon as that happens hundreds of bags of tomatoes are tossed to the eagerly awaiting crowd so that the mayhem can begin! In order to avoid injuries and keep the 'fight' a family-friendly event, participants are required to squash the tomatoes, before tossing them. Physical contact with opponents, other food items and glass bottles are also prohibited.
This year's festival that attracted over 40,000 participants took place on August 29th, 2012. After pelting each other with over 120,000 tons of tomatoes in the allotted hour, the enthusiastic crowd still dripping and slipping over the red juice that lined the streets, headed over to the makeshift showers or the nearby Bunol River for a cleansing dip. Then, it was time for some delicious paella and a well-deserved siesta.
As for the tomato mess? It is cleaned up by the hard working residents of the town, who actually like it, since the acid in the fruit helps remove the dirt from the concrete, leaving the streets of Bunol sparkly clean!
Sources: huffingtonpost.com, jaunted.com, smithsonianmag.com