Thursday, August 30, 2007

La Tomatina

Alright Ladies and Gentlemen, I am alive and well and emailing you from Valencia an hour before taking the 2:08pm train to Barcelona.

What a crazy and fun experience the Tomatina was! Check out the recovered photos below...

My traveling alarm clock went off at 5:30am, and Greg and I suited up for battle. We donned our "Canadian Ketchup Team 2007" tshirts and grabbed our goggles and waterproof cameras. Off to the train station for 6am to buy our tickets to Brunol. Already, masses of like-minded people had congregated on the platform, waiting for the 7:08 train. The mood was tired excitement... coffee, tea and cheese bread helped.

Soon enough, our shirts had been noticed by other Canadians. Two Vancouver girls (wearing the red and white "Team Canada") invited us to join the Canada Team, which included several other Canadians (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg!). The train arrived, and like cattle, we boarded on mass. Team Canada (now about 23ish people!) were squashed in beside the Batpeople and some English girls.

An hour later, we pull into Brunol and begin the mass walk down into the city center. Greg and I grabbed a huge beer for the walk, upholding the Canadian side. We pass many people who have driven to Brunol, parked, (drank) and were sleeping in their cars. More and more people joined the pilgrimage downslope.

Eventually, we hit the town center along with hundreds of others. In the middle of the square was a greased pole with a ham leg on top. The object of the pole is to get the ham! The tomato fight begins only when the ham has been obtained. Three hours of people trying individually and as a team to get the ham 40 ft in the air. A cheer would spread through the crowd whenever someone got high (Well done Guy Dressed as a Cow and Banana Man!); a boo would erupt whenever someone worked selfishly and pulled someone else off the pole (Big BOO to Guy with Erik on his Shirt, who climbed over one of the only girls to attempt and pushed her head back. Grrr.)

As people went for the ham, the crowds grew restless. Everyone is packed together like sardines, and the shirts began to fly. Not content to wait for the tomatoes, groups of (unfortunately) local Spaniards began grabbing guys and ripping their shirts off. They are they soaked and thrown into the crowds. Wet shirt (sometimes knotted) stings! I luckily managed to hold onto my shirt (for the time being).

Greg did not want to get fully into the mosh-pit of tomatoes, so he stayed close to the water cannons (that sprayed the inviting crowds) while I dived right in. The closest anyone got to getting the ham was a man who grabbed the bottom, swung on the ham and then fell back to earth.

A roar engulfed the crowd (now 40 000 strong, lining the narrow streets of Brunol) as the first of five dumptrucks full of tomatoes comes into view. Eight or nine volunteers stand in the trucks and pelt us helpless throng with the first of the (roma!) tomatoes. We have to squash against each other to let the trucks pass. Then they will stop and dump their entire load onto the ground and anyone crazy enough to stand in the way.

Chaos erupts. Tomatoes, tomato paste, seeds, peel, sweat, shirts, sandles fly. I loose my googles. Greg has long since disappeared. It is every man and woman to themselves. One truck after another roll by, adding fresh tomatoes to the mix. My feet (in cheap canvas shoes) slop through the tomato-water-shirt mix. Time stands still and flies by at the same time. Tomatoes hit me left right and center. I attempt to take photos without being singled out and destroyed. My shirt is ripped off and is lost in the mix. Bodies slip past as I try to get a shot off. A reporter with a microphone and no shirt yells at the camera on top of the building. We lift him onto our shoulders. Mouth full of tomato. Don´t know how girl´s bikini tops stay on. Some don´t. Fall, but am too squashed to move. Smell of tomato and sweat. Taste of ugh. Hair caked with tomato. People stained red everywhere...

After a time (one hour- felt like 10 min and 5 hours), the final bell tolls signaling the end of the fight. People are still squashed together and like a mass, begin to move down hill. I want to go uphill to the train, but the current is too great and am carried along. The streets run not red, but a sickly purple colour. Shirts litter the streets as a man picks up sandels and thongs, to sell later. The crowd begins to thin and I can begin to choose the direction of travel.

I turn right and begin the slop uphill to the train and see just how destroyed Greg was. My back still hurts from the burn of the sun/people... Locals are hosing down the tomatoed, and selling beer and shirts. I arrive and meet Greg, who was whiter now than he was before the fight! Apparently, he was caught behind the water jets and could not get to the main mosh. Amazing! I on the other hand, was caked everywhere with the fruit, and had to by an ill-fitting shirt before being let on the train.

Everyone had the air of happiness and accomplishment. We had survived La Tomatina! On the 1:08pm train ride back to Valencia (and out hotel´s shower), I wondered if Vancouver could host a ¨thing¨throwing festival...

Only snowballs came to mind.

I apologize for the length of this post, but the experience was once in a life time. I loved it and recommend it. Just don´t bring any clothes you would want to keep!


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