In the midst of the chaos of divorce I whisked my kids off to Spain for a few days of sun and fun. There were the bike races in Alicante—the time trials of the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France—only this one comes with Sangria. But best of all, were a few sweltering days in the magical city of Valencia.
The highlight? La Tomatina, a tomato festival held in Buñol, a small town just outside of Valencia. What is La Tomatina? It is the world’s largest food fight. Combine 22,000 participants with 165,000 kg of rotten or slightly off tomatoes and place it in the narrow streets of a medieval Spanish town, and you get a pretty good idea of the mayhem that can ensue.
It is hard to conceive of being packed into these narrow streets, wall to wall bodies, and then to have enormous trucks filled with tomatoes come trundling through. Recipe for disaster, and yet, all was well. You are advised to squeeze the tomatoes before throwing them, so they won’t hurt so much. Despite the potential for aggressive or inappropriate behaviour, there was very little of that on display. It was mostly just people laughing and covering each other with very pulp tomatoes, and then just pulp.
Everyone is wearing goggles or scuba masks to protect the eyes from the tomato acid. Flip flops are not advised as they will get lost in the soup. Clothes to throw away.
When I stepped out into the street, I found myself shin deep in tomato. Surreal. Every square inch of me was covered in pulp. The mayhem lasts for exactly one hour. People throwing, splashing, and sploshing. I was really worried about getting beaned in the chest, but thankfully that never happened, although some man’s shoulder was pressing against it for a while. I would guess that 90% of the tomatoes that got thrown at me were thrown by my children or the woman standing next to me.
Laughing was dangerous because you never knew what might fly into your mouth. Rotten tomatoes don’t taste great. There were two American males in their 20’s standing behind me at one point and their conversations were an exercise in idiocy.
“We could actually get crushed,” said one.
“This is dangerous,” said the other.
“If a woman were having her period here, nobody would ever know.” Are you serious? I crossed the street and pelted the shit out of them.
Afterwards, the local residents throw buckets of water down on our heads, or many use their garden hoses to clean us off—and the local firemen blast people with their hoses. We trudged back to the car, stripped, towelled off, changed, and drove back, still shedding bits of tomato along the way.
We were all zonked—throwing tomatoes hysterically and laughing like a madman for an hour is exhausting.
Three showers later, my skin was still shedding a yellow-pink colour to my white bath towels, and I found tomato pulp in one of my ears.
Later that evening we went to a delightful tapas bar around the corner from our flat and recounted the days adventures.
One of my children told us a story of going over to the house of a girl he had a crush on when he was little.
“She had a bow and arrow. I took it and aimed it at the ceiling, and shot the lightbulb.”
“It blew up; it was so loud. It just popped. Glass flew everywhere.”
“Oh my G. What did you do?”
“I took another arrow to shoot at the wall, and aimed at nothing, but the arrow went through their television.”
“Yeah. It got stuck right in the middle of their flat screen TV.”
For the next 15 minutes none of us could breathe. You know when the sound of each other’s laughter just makes you laugh more. Well, that’s what happened. And yes, I wet myself from laughing.