Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, August 29, 2006 was originally posted on August 31, 2006.

DAY 5:  “Two tickets to Tomatina, with a return ticket,” said the young traveler in his British accent.

The Spaniard behind the ticket counter rolled his eyes, unimpressed at the Brit’s complete disregard of the local language.  However, he knew what the guy wanted since almost everyone in the Valencia train station was headed towards the same place: La Tomatina, the world-renowned tomato food fight in the small town of Buñol, about 45 minutes from the city center of Valencia.  At 7:45 that morning, the station was crowded with Brits, Germans, Aussies, Japanese, Americans, Canadians, and some Spaniards — some wearing Tomatina t-shirts, some toting waterproof disposable cameras — all gearing up for the sloppy tomato-filled G8 summit.

“Dos para Buñol,” I requested at the counter.

NO ONE REMEMBERS exactly how it started, but La Tomatina has been a tradition in Buñol since the 1940s, an annual event attracting 40,000 people to the otherwise sleepy town on the last Wednesday of August.  Like Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival (The Running of the Bulls), it has become a huge tourist draw, and it was evident with all the foreigners packing into the train like clowns into a small car.  “Oi!” yelled an Australian.  “[Could you move the line down!]”

Some people were annoyed.  “You should probably say that in different languages,” someone called out.

Forty-five minutes later, we all arrived in Buñol, where the festivities were slowly getting on their way.  Some backpackers had camped out in tents, while some slept on benches in the train station, and they were all getting ready for the food fight to begin around eleven that morning — most of the preparation involved drinking beer and sangria.  Groups had come in “teams” representing their countries and social cliques, from Team Canada, to the guys in tuxedos, to guys dressed up as Mexican banditos, to the numerous groups of Australians in homemade team shirts.  Like most backpacker enclaves, the “guiris” — a Spanish term similar to Mexico’s “gringos” — had come with an ignorant imperialism, causing a ruckus and blasting their own canned music; I don’t know how many times I heard Madonna’s “Hung Up” blasting from a speaker system.  We barely saw a Spaniard in sight — but then again, it was a regular work day for most people.

With only a couple of hours sleep the night before, Jack and I wandered around town looking for a place to grab a bite and get some coffee.  Most stores had boarded up already for the madness to ensue, the way Times Square in New York does on New Year’s Eve, but we did find one place raking in the dough, providing bocadillos, coffee, and above all, beers to the masses.  We sat at a table outside and people-watched, gaining energy for the day ahead.  Not surprisingly, our guy talk conversation evolved into one in which we used the term “tomatoes” to refer to a certain part of the female anatomy.

“Hey, I’d like to see her tomatoes.”  (Works best in a Brooklyn accent.)

With coffee, ham, cheese and bread in us, we started the morning off right, with breakfast beers around 9:30 a.m.  It was then we befriended an actual local, a guy from Valencia who was in attendance for his first Tomatina.  He explained that it was something he’d always heard about, but never went, and he was as excited as the rest of the guiris to participate.  With that said, we actually started noticing other Spaniards around, mostly teens cruising around in cars blaring their horns and chanting “Toma-tina! Toma-tina!”

“I definitely hear some Spanish now,” Jack told me when we walked by another group of Spanish youth.

And wouldn’t you know, he heard more Spanish as we walked with the thousands of others down to the main plaza at the base of the valley.  “Gaston!” Jack called out.  He recognized a face, and then another, and so did I: it was his friend Nicos and company from Barcelona who I met on my big Global Trip, the one that actually introduced Jack to Sylvina two summers prior.  Unfortunately we lost them in the crowd as the streets got more narrow and more crowded with the clock quickly approaching eleven.

“TOMA-TINA! TOMATINA!!” went the chants of the crowd, followed by a couple of rounds of “Buñol!  Buñol!!”  Rowdier and rowdier the mass of people got, bouncing beach balls off the walls.  Local on-lookers from the terraces and roofs of buildings joined in on the fun by spilling buckets of water from above.

More chants ensued.  More madness.  But no tomatoes just yet.

A cannon fired, signifying the beginning of the festival, spawning the entrance of five dump trucks filled with 110 tons of overripe tomatoes.  Around the corner from my vantage point in the main plaza stood a ham placed atop a pole.  A contest began in which people had to race up the pole to bring it down.  I’m not quite sure what this signified, but as soon as the ham was let go, it was the signal for the food fight to begin.

Revelers from the trucks armed the masses with the tomatoes, throwing them out to the streets with an unfair advantage.  The unofficial rule was to crush the tomatoes before throwing them to soften the blow, although from the looks of things, a lot of them exploded on impact with their target.

The more tomatoes were distributed out to the streets, the more ammunition was available for the all-out tomato war, which was confined to just about five small blocks.  Jack and I made our way into the battlezone, armed mostly with tomatoes pieces albeit a couple of whole ones, throwing them any way that we could; it was so crowded there wasn’t much room for arms swinging.  In fact, there was barely enough room to move and we had to fight the pushes and shoves simply to stay upright and prevent ourselves from being stampeded and crushed by the mob — or worse, drowned in a pool of tomato sauce.

For a good hour this continued.  As more tomatoes turned into pulp, revelers turned to other items to throw:  lost flip-flops, soaked t-shirts, and, at one point, a sloppy tomato hairpiece that landed right in front of me.  I heard that some people went as far as to rip the shirt off of other people to use them for ammunition.  (When we found Nicos later on, he had been one of these victims.)  As far as I could tell, nothing really got out of hand, despite the food fight being a total boys club — Sylvina wisely opted not to come — although there were a few hardcore Aussie chicks getting in on the action.  (Hey, how do you like them tomatoes?)

Another cannon fired, signifying the end of the fight, with most of the whole tomatoes already turned into sauce.  Rivers of tomato juice started to flow down the hilly streets, where guys slid down like it was a big Slip ‘n Slide.  The crowds started to thin out in the center (picture above), allowing people to play in the tomato-y slop like kids playing in snow.  Some alleys were so thick with salsa that you could almost swim in itJack and I surveyed the damage, wading our feet through it all and participating in the merriment as locals started the arduous task of cleaning upThe official cleaning crew hit the streets shortly after, pushing all the tomato remnants down the drains.  Hoses sprayed down all the red-stained walls — plus a couple of tomato fighters — and the whole town center was clean in a couple of hours, as if nothing ever happened.

The celebration continued back on the streets closer to the train station, where impromptu block parties overtook the streets and blocked out exiting traffic.  The chants of “Tomatina!” and “Buñol!” continued, with “Camiseta!” thrown in the mix whenever the crowd wanted a girl to take her shirt off.  (Earlier I had heard an American voice cut to the chase and simply called out “Show me your titties!”)  Beers soon replaced tomatoes since everyone had one in their hand — but instead of throwing them, they were consumed en masse.  Spaniards and guiris came together all in celebration of La Tomatina.

Jack and I somehow managed to bump into Nicos and his crew again, and we all befriended some girls from Australia, Oregon, and California, plus some guy from Colorado named Jeremy.  We partied with them and the girls until we had had enough — unlike the non-stop seven-day San Fermin Festival I’d experienced in Pamplona, the Tomatina party started to die down by sundown.  Unless you were passed out in an alley completely wasted or vomiting in a cup somewhere (we saw both), most people who had come in from the city just got back on the Valencia-bound train to clean up.  I for one definitely needed a shower.

THAT NIGHT Juan and Elisa came over for dinner (ironically on the terrace of their own apartment), where we regrouped over homemade tapas and a salad with tomatoes in it.  Eating them, I knew more than ever that tomatoes might be best digested than smeared all over my body — although it’s just not as fun.

Next entry: Stuff In Me

Previous entry: Homes

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Comments for “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”

  • Voila, the infamous Tomatina entry. How do you like /them/ tomatoes? I
    live for comments.

    Greetings from Milan! I’m here on layover en route to Athens.

    SARAH: Nope, not me. wink

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • really…these americans have to learn “show me your titties” in the
    native tongue of where they are traveling! idjots!

    (insert brooklyn accent) “mu??streme sus senos”

    beyo (blast airhorn 3 times repeatedly)

    Posted by markyt  on  08/31  at  01:42 PM

  • greece just beat USA in the FIBA world championships to move on to the

    should be some good celebrating there, greek style…

    extra white sauce b

    Posted by markyt  on  08/31  at  01:58 PM

  • Nice feet shot! You’re a flip-flop guy now.

    -Big up to Oregon!

    Posted by Rachel  on  08/31  at  04:53 PM

  • So that’s what the pic was for: an example of another type of tomatoes

    Posted by Dan 3  on  08/31  at  05:03 PM

  • That was good thinking with the goggles. I have always wanted to go to
    that festival!! One day…

    I am so excited that you are going to Greece. Speaking of “titties” as
    you boys call them - if you are into naked people, be sure to go to
    Paradise beach on Mykonos.

    Posted by sara  on  08/31  at  07:15 PM

  • That’s AWESOME!!! HA HA HA

    Posted by Michelle  on  09/01  at  04:31 AM

  • Was your camera in the little plastic bag you used to shoot stuff
    underwater? I saw one of those girls who had her camera - eeks…

    That looks like fun - and ditto to Sara’s comment - the goggles look
    like a must!! Did you partake in the slip and slide?

    Posted by tallgirl

  • so…DID any girls pop their tops??

    Posted by scott  on  09/01  at  04:45 PM

  • 9 comments? c’mon people, you can do better…

    im in athens, heading towards crete tonight… i’ll keep this entry up
    for the labor day weekend and have a batch for the tuesday rush—if
    there even is a rush anymore?

    TALLGIRL: no slip and slide… i still have a scab on my knee from a
    bike spill

    SCOTT: not at the party, but at the topless beach in valencia the
    following day…

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • YASU! i’m finally caught up:) i want to play in tomatoes…that looked
    like SO much fun!

    hike the gorge in crete! it’s the longest one in europe:)

    you’re not missing anything’s rainy and cold & I"M HOME FOR
    LABOR DAY - sucks.

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/01  at  07:20 PM

  • YASU! i’m finally caught up:) i want to play in tomatoes…that looked
    like SO much fun!

    hike the gorge in crete! it’s the longest one in europe:)

    you’re not missing anything’s rainy and cold & I"M HOME FOR
    LABOR DAY - sucks.

    (i’m jealous)

    - elaine

    Posted by elaine  on  09/01  at  07:24 PM

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This blog post is one of twenty-five travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer" (originally hosted by, which chronicled a trip to Spain's wild Tomatina festival, Greece's awe-inspiring islands, and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest in August/September 2006.

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