Bob the Globetrotter
I developed quite a lot of interest to see the Spanish Food Festival once in my lifetime. I read and found it to be a crazy fun Festival held in a Spanish town called Bunol on the last Wednesday of August each year. It has now earned great appreciation from all over the world and since 2002 it has become a global tourist hotspot. I have visited Spain a couple of times earlier but somehow missed to attend the show. So in 2016, I chalked out my Spanish itinerary in such a way that I can cover both La Tomatina in Bunol along with experience one Bull Fight Show in Madrid which I have never seen before. Obviously some other spots like Alicante, Seville, etc were in my itinerary. I left my home for a 2-week vacation in Spain with my family in the 3rd Week of August 2016.
It is usually convenient to visit Bunol from the city Valencia but as per our schedule, we had no alternatives other than starting from Madrid. We checked out from our Madrid hotel late evening dumping our baggage in the cloakroom of the hotel as we have to return the next day after attending the La Tomatina Festival in Bunol. Our bus left Madrid with our Tomatino group around 2 am in the morning and reached Bunol in the morning around 7 am with a couple of restroom stops in between.
Our ticket for the Festival was pre-booked. Now the organizers and Spanish Tourist Officials had restricted the number of visitors to 20000 probably for security reasons and the gaining popularity of the event. So definitely booking early tickets is a wise decision. Tourists visiting the event must know the following key points. We cannot enter the game arena with any extra gadgets except your camera, mobile phones, and wallet. It is very important to know your carryon items must be covered with waterproof materials because there is a high chance of these items getting damaged if you are participating actively. I would advise not to carry your passport inside the event arena but if you have no choice it must be triple covered with waterproof materials and tightly secured to your body parts. In fact, we had to carry our passports along with us. Mind you the security check at the entry point is very strict. They will not allow any extra items other than which I have mentioned. Better to keep any extra items on the bus itself otherwise you have to stand in a long queue to hire an overpriced locker near the entry gate. There is no dress code but remember you have to dispose of all your garments even your shoes after the active participation in the Tomato throwing Festival. I would term it a crazy fun-filled unadulterated entertainment game. It is advisable to carry fresh garments and an extra pair of shoes. The bus driver will not allow you to enter the bus with stained clothes. I took my video camera with an innovative waterproof covering. It is difficult to film the event while actively participating in the event. I had to duck several times during filming as tomato missiles flew all around me continuously. Protective eyeglasses are not mandatory but may be helpful. Avoid slippers strictly which will be very inconvenient for movement through the huge crazy crowd with tomato splashed slippery grounds. Before throwing tomatoes it is mandatory to crush them and make it soft so that the missiles do not injure your target friends. The magnetic coded wrist band which serves as the entry ticket must be worn throughout the show. Losing it means a lot of hassle to get a new one. We wore blue T-shirts with the event logo on both sides, shorts with chained pockets, and snugly fitted washable jogging shoes.
The bus we traveled from Madrid dropped us in the parking area about 3Kms away from the main arena. Quickly gulping down our packed breakfast we moved towards the Festival Site which starts from Plaza del Pueblo. Already plenty of buses had arrived from different places and crowds began to swell with passing time. The crowd was bubbling with excitement and all people were in a jovial mood. When we reached an open area near Bunol Railway Station we found plenty of jars and packets of “sangria” the Spanish red wine for us. The atmosphere was filled with fun and excitement. Everyone was enjoying the unlimited Sangria drink. Youngsters kept running from here to there hugging each other with wine glasses in their hands. People were singing, shouting, clapping, dancing while busy drinking the unlimited Spanish beverage served.
Some groups had brought different musical instruments and were exhibiting their musical talent. It was unbelievable to see thousands of Global Tourists in a small town called Bunol in a single day enjoying at their peak The mercury of La Tomatina fever was rising steadily. After having a few glasses of Sangria and warming ourselves dancing with the musicians we moved on to reach the main event site to secure a good spot to enjoy the Festival. All roads seem to lead to plaza del Pueblo.
We started walking along with thousands of other spectators. All were in a festive mood, singing, clapping, shouting, greeting each other, and so on. We walked along with the Avenue V Bianco Ibanez until we reached a 5 point crossing to take the next road Carrer Ruiz Pons. Now while walking we enjoyed the roadside scenes. The roadside houses were colorful and the residents stood on their balconies and doors and were cheering up the tourists. Many of them had set up food stalls just outside their houses. The music system was playing aloud. They were selling mainly food items and beverages. There were varieties of delicious Spanish dishes like Potatoes Bravas, Calamari, Tortilla Espaniola, Gazpacho, etc. The locals were so lively and friendly. It was a great feeling to see dancing, cheerful tourists from different parts of the globe meeting in a small town in Spain i.e. Bunol. On our way on the right-hand side, we viewed the Castello Bunol (main Castle of the town) at a close distance. Finally, we reached Ayuntamiento de Bunol. It is at this place you will find the paid lockers to keep your extra gadgets. After a thorough security check and showing our wrist band entry pass we took the next road Calle de Portal. From now on even the residents of the locality will also have to show their special pass. The drones were monitoring the crowd from above.
The road was thickly crowded and we were squeezing our way to seek a nice point to enjoy the show. Next, we reached the actual road Calle Sid on which the main event takes place. We managed a nice viewpoint adjacent to San Pedro Church called Plaza de DrRammy Cajal. It’s a wide-open space slightly higher than the road. From here the starting point Plaza del Pueblo was approximately 75 meters and nicely viewed. The houses and shops on this road Calle Sid were covered with huge waterproof colored plastic sheets to prevent their walls from getting soiled. We could see the residents on their rooftops enjoying and periodically throwing buckets of water on the spectators below. The spectators also responded with great applause. So the air was filled with excitement. Crowds kept pouring in and the area was soon jam-packed. The “Palojabon” was very close to us. It is one of the important parts of the festival. Palo jabon is a 2 storied high greasy pole from the ground on which a huge chunk of Spanish ham is kept tied. It is a great heroic effort if you can reach the ham by climbing the pole. It is said the festival will start only when one reaches the ham. But alas! The rule always fails. No one could reach the ham by 11 am when the first gunshot was fired to mark the start of the show. Many youngsters, irrespective of boys and girls tried their level best climbing up the pole to reach the ham but always felt short by 2-3 mts. They even formed a human pyramid which also did not work. So it was great fun to see this crazy activity. But these boys and girls demand a strong credit for their continuous desperate effort. With the 1st gunshot water cannons kept at intervals begin showering people with water and the truck loaded with smashed tomatoes takes entry into the crowded Calle de sid.
Strong applauses, thundering cheers from the participants raised the tempo of the show. The truck moves slowly through the crowds. The Volunteers on the truck were effortlessly thumping their feet to crush the tomatoes below and throwing tomatoes all around them. The crowd started collecting these tomatoes and started throwing at each other. Every 5 mins intervals a truck loaded with a huge amount of smashed tomatoes moved in. Imagine what could be the scene with 12 trucks moving in within 1 hour & people are having a wild passion for painting each other with smashed tomatoes. It is very important for the participants to be very careful not to get injured by the moving truck Sometimes they are only a few inches away from the wheels while playing. It is estimated that approx 150 thousand Kgs of tomatoes are used in the event. It is a lifetime experience to witness this crazy Spanish Food Festival of La Tomatina. The scene turned into a “ Red Sea” within 1hr. I felt this festival brings a strong harmony amongst us. After enjoying the game the crowd returned to their respective buses tracing the same route they have come along. All of them were covered with tomato peels and drenched with “tomato juice” Locals were offering a canon shower for cleaning up the body. On the way back, we were quite hungry so we entered a roadside food stall and had some delicious mouthwatering Spanish dishes. It was fun to see the surrounding fellow travelers looking so funny with tomato peels on their hairs, face, exposed hands & feet. Next, we disposed of the messy garments and cleaned ourselves with water. The bus driver will not allow you until you are perfectly clean. The bus left around 3 pm for Madrid after all the guests returned to their respective seats.
During the journey, while looking out through the bus windows I was recollecting the fantastic event and found so many similarities with our Indian festivals. Reaching the ham on Palo jabon with human pyramid formation was like celebrating “Janmasthami” (Birthday Celebration of Lord Krishna) The tomato splashing was like our “Holi” (festival of colors). All festivals have the same motto i.e to bring harmony create bonding & deliver happiness. Each one is expressed in different forms. I don’t remember when I fell asleep thinking all about the event when I woke up with a push from my son “Dad we reached Madrid”.
Dr. Sanjay Kumar Das
You Tube Vlog for La Tomatina Festival