If you are not a big fan of tomatoes it may be best to steer away from the charming town of Bunol around this time of the year. That's because every year on the last Wednesday of August, the normally staid and sleepy Spanish town of just 9,000 residents becomes center stage for the world's largest food fight - the La Tomatina. And as the name suggests, it involves . . . A lot of tomatoes!
A revered tradition since 1944, the roots of the festival can be traced back to some disgruntled youngsters who decided to disrupt a parade they were not allowed to participate in, by pelting everyone with the first produce they could get their hands on from the nearby vegetable vendors - Luckily for all, it happened to be tomatoes. The kids had so much fun that they kept returning every year and soon other bystanders joined in and a fun festival was born!
Over the years, the town has transformed this impromptu food fight into a week long fiesta that includes colorful parades, dancing and even fireworks. On the night prior to the grand finale, the streets of Bunol, Spain are lined up with vendors cooking up giant pans of delicious tomato Paella on wood-burning fires. Tourists and locals alike, gather to enjoy the good food and drinks until the wee hours of the morning. It is therefore no wonder that the La Tomatina has become one of Spain's most popular and anticipated festivals, second only to Pamplona's Bull Run.
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 Plaza Mayor to get ready for the pelting. The festival has become so popular that this year, town officials decided to limit the number of people that could attend to 20,000 and also charge a fee of about $13 USD if they wanted to participate in the tomato pelting. Those that desired one of the few coveted spots aboard the tomato trucks had to pay as much as $1,000 USD apiece.
While the rules state that a volunteer has to climb a two-story 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 succeed 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.
This year was no exception. After some brave young boys took a quick try at the pole, officials gave the start signal and volunteers aboard five trucks carrying almost 130 tons of tomatoes began to offload their wares into the hands of the eagerly awaiting food fighters, many of whom were wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the fruit's acidic juice. Some even got into the spirit by dressing up as tomatoes themselves.
Within a few minutes, the town plaza and the people present, were covered in tomato mush. The festival did not come to an end until every last red pellet had been turned to pulp. Spent and happy, the partygoers went to get cleaned up. Some took advantage of the impromptu 'hose' showers set up by obliging local residents, while others took a dip in the nearby Bunol River. As for the plaza itself? It was cleaned up and restored back to its original glory, in no time at all!
Resources: Ibt.com, wikipedia.org