Tomatina - an ultimate bucket list moment
If I were to write a bucket list, it would have to be full of things I want to do and experience, rather than just places I want to travel to. Why? Because the places I want to travel to are too numerous to count, and the list would be never ending. So, to keep this hypothetical list manageable, I shall restrict myself to events, attractions, experiences...
My sister, who clearly knows me too well, got me a book a few years back by Lonely Planet (so you know it's going to be good) called 'The Best Place to be Today' which lists famous events that take place around the globe, one for each day of the calendar year. Amongst them, some that have long been on my bucket list: Hogmanay in Scotland (now done!), Day of the Dead in Mexico, watching the wildebeest migrate in Kenya, walking through the cherry blossoms in Japan, and throwing tomatoes in the world's biggest food fight at La Tomatina Festival in Spain.
This last one, I quickly learnt, is utterly divisive. When I would tell people I was dying to take part in Tomatina, I would be met with one of two reactions; extreme enthusiasm, or extreme confusion. 'Why on earth would you want to do that?!' and 'sounds like my idea of hell,' were some of the most common reactions.
In answer to the question 'why?' I can only recall the vivid memory of flicking through one of mum's old National Geographic magazines when I was little and being absolutely captivated by photos of the Festival in full swing. Ever since, it has been on my bucket list, and I always knew I wouldn't leave this side of the world without making the dream a reality. Last week, I did just that.
The festival takes place on the last Wednesday in August every year in the small Southern Spanish town of Buñol. It is one of the craziest things I have ever been a part of, and unlike anything I am sure I will ever experience in the future. Since it started with an incidental food fight in 1945, it has become a truly global event, with people from every corner of the globe gathering in the narrow streets of this tiny town to participate.
As well as the diversity of people in attendance, there were several things which made the experience extra special. The first was the lack of phones. You're warned ahead of time not to bring any valuable devices and especially phones to the festival - something I can stand by, as the only member of our group who brought one had it absolutely ruined, despite employing a zip-lock bag. It's been a long time where I have been a part of something that wasn't being recorded at every second for social media, and to see crowds of this size truly just living the moment was pretty extraordinary.
The second thing was the interaction between festival goers and locals. It would be easy to shut up shop and avoid the crowds at all cost if you were one of Buñol's locals, but quite the opposite happens at Tomatina. After the final horn has sounded, as tomato-splattered people pour through the streets to leave, locals come to their windows, balconies, and doorways with buckets of water or hoses to wash off people as they pass. Often, language barriers mean there are no words exchanged, just smiles as one helps another. I managed to capture a photo of one of these beautiful moments, and something about it juist got to me. It would be so easy in a scenario like this for crowds to get wild and pushy and mean, for the event to bring out the worst in people. Instead, it brought out the best, and I can't say how glad I am that I got to do it.
I'll let the photos do the talking... snapped through a tomato-soaked blurry lens on my waterproof camera. Seriously, do not take a phone into this mayhem, you'll regret it. (Blake Lively did it a few years ago and learnt the hard way...)
Sunrise! It's an early start as the festival takes place in the morning - you wouldn't want to be doing this in the full heat of the Spanish August sun!
Before - look how clean we were!
These four festival goers from Japan took the tomato theme to the next level - adorable!
Incoming! Crowds pack even tighter to make way for trucks which come through dumping tomatoes, all while cold water rain down from hoses overhead.
The crowds, after the final horn sounded.
Ever made tomato soup using your feet?
As the festival goers pour through the streets to leave, locals emerge with hoses and buckets of water to give a helping hand.