La Tomatina

I’m pretty sure I only own eight pairs of socks and they were all in my bag. It may have just been paranoia but I don’t think anyone wants to play Travel Scrabble with a big ginger guy wearing one pink sock and one luminous green one. I left my flat in Marchmont at 2pm on the Sunday and by the time my flight left I had done 296 miles in just under 17 hours, giving me and average speed of just over 17 miles per hour. These are the perils of a 7am flight from East Midlands Airport when you live in Edinburgh.

After a standard cramped cheap flight and a smooth landing in Valencia airport a smile spread across my face as soon as I got out of the plane. Vitamin D coursed through my veins and I was thoroughly awake despite my best efforts at a night’s sleep being a half hour nap on a bench in the airport. The clinical, climate controlled atmosphere in the pristine subway is a stark contrast to a wet wait for the number 22 that awaits tourists at Edinburgh airport. This modern convenience makes ‘the Tube’ look like a Neolithic attempt at the skateboard and I remain seriously impressed by its efficiency and cleanliness. After alighting at Angel Guimera station an elderly Spanish woman asks me for directions, obviously fooled by my previous attempts at some haphazard Llengua Valenciana dialect in the station. ‘Perdona soy escoce*acute*s’ *absolutely check the spelling of this translation* seemed to suffice for her and she toddled off up the Calle de Ferran de Gran Catolica.

I successfully negotiated the five minute walk to the apartment and managed to rendezvous with my friends who had left Edinburgh the previous day on a direct flight, more impressive than this is the fact that we managed to find and hook up with our wee Aussie pal on her tour of Europe, finally our merry band of Tomatinos had been completed.

La Tomatina is a truly bizarre event with a history stretching back to 1945 with a couple lads being given a slap on the wrists by police for throwing tomatoes at each other during a festival celebrating giants and enormous papier mache heads in the town of Bunol *need nasal accent on the n*. The year after more people arrived at the festival with their own supply of tomatoes and now 66 years on the event draws in thousands of people from across the globe who pack themselves into a street in the town centre for a food fight of epic proportions.

We were fortunate enough to have the benefit of a day’s grace to explore this fascinating medieval city of contrasts before the carnage that awaited us. The apartment we stayed in was sandwiched neatly between the University’s impressive botanical gardens that provided much needed shade and the towers of the Torres de Quart that offered a unique view across the entire city. From the top of the towers of the medieval defensive wall terracotta roofs spread out for miles in each direction that make it seem possible to hotfoot it across the city in minutes for a quick dip in the Mediterranean. The reality on ground level is entirely different. Valencia is truly a city to get lost in, something that can be achieved with great ease. In such a densely packed urban area incredible medieval architecture jumps out amongst stuccoed walls of brand new apartment buildings and the only real way to navigate is through use of the multitude of stunning graffiti. After a faceful of albondigas and a couple of jugs of sangria the sight of a 20 foot tall cat with it’s tail on fire is strangely both a magnificent sight and a tell-tale sign that you need to carry on to the horse being pulled along by snails and then take a right at the rabbit choking a chicken in a paella pan to get back to the apartment safely.

We had heard that one of the highlights of La Tomatina was the all night street-party before the main event and were more than keen to get involved. Boarding a 10pm train to a relatively small town in rural Spain armed with nothing more than a E5 bottle of gin, some cash and a key card for the apartment seemed a daunting prospect but would later prove to be the perfect way to travel. Being one of the last trains to depart the city for Bunol it was absolutely packed and we ended up cramped on the floor beside a group of Japanese students being taught how to drink by a decisively chipper Spaniard named David. Amongst this group was a lone American named Austin and a couple of David’s compadres. One of which, a Cristiano Ronaldo look alike, I would later name Siete (number 7) and never actually learn his real name.

The train journey was simply a taster for what would prove to be an enormous multi-cultural party. Never did I imagine I would end up downing bottles of cheap Spanish cider whilst chanting Japanese songs and being asked to explain the meaning of the peculiar Scottish phrase ‘shitebag’.
We couldn’t have asked to meet a more useful set of people than David, Pablo, and Siete, on arrival in Bunol they switched immediately into Van Wilder mode and set about organising the best possible deals on booze and incredibly tasty Spanish delicacies. Unfortunately imbibing in traditional Spanish moonshine for next to nothing often leads to a loosening of one’s inhibitions. In one particularly bizarre incident during a traditional Scottish ‘taps aff’ one of the Japanese girls entirely misunderstood the situation and proceeded to get her arse out much to the chagrin of the local Taverna owner’s wife, this was merely a taste of what was to come.

The night continued much in the same vein, seriously cheap booze was consumed at serious pace in serious quantities amongst silly behaviour. David and company eventually lead us to a gig and DJ set in the town square where me and my compadres dance ourselves to exhaustion atop wheelie bins, walls, and makeshift stages. Behind one such stage we decide to adjourn for a short nap in order to be able to deal with the onslaught of 120 tonnes of tomato.

On arising from this nap I managed to lose all grip on reality, something I blame on a series of events that occurred within minutes of my awakening. Nature called as it would after that much sangria and there was nowhere else to relieve oneself apart from some bushes, whilst I made use of this makeshift facility I was accosted by a scorpion and in a terribly uncharacteristic move I defended myself by proceeding to piss all over it. At this stage I wasn’t entirely sure if scorpions naturally occur in Spain and decided to find my ecologist pal Conor to ask his professional opinion. Unfortunately when I encountered Conor he was wearing a string of sausages as a scarf and alternating between sticking a sausage and his own penis out of the fly of his shorts. I had to find something real amongst the chaos, surely Rhona and Rachael would be able to provide clarity amongst shenanigans. I was sorrowfully wrong, from somewhere they had procured a wicker basket and were skipping down the road singing some utter gibberish.

Shortly after this things began to get real, the sun began to rise, the sausages disappeared, the gibberish was a Spanish song the girls had learned and I decided that it was perfectly probable that I had pissed on a scorpion.

After a few hours of further partying, most of which involving dancing around the wicker basket in one of the many lean-to clubs established for the purpose of the street party, we had arrived at our destination. It was here that David, Siete, and Pablo bid us a fond farewell as they were too tired for la tomatina and hadn’t really come dressed for the occasion.

The festival begins with a peculiar ritual involving a competition based around the retrieval of a ham suspended at the top of a severely greased pole. Obviously the best tactic for this is for everyone to pile in and create a human pyramid with the biggest and strongest at the bottom and a skinny little guy ascending to the glory of a massive hunk of jamon iberico. This is not the procedure that was in the heads of most of the idiotic drunken rugby louts in organised tour groups and on more than one occasion I found myself bearing the weight of a massive scrum half on my face. After almost 2 hours of trying a small local chap managed to scale the pole with the aid of a towel and crowd surfed his way to the best ham sandwich of all time. Almost as soon as this is over 7 massive lorries begin to make their way down the street which on this occasion is packed out with 45,000 people, approximately 35,000 more than were expected by authorities. Due to this the actual tomato fight was a massive let-down as most efforts are focused on staying upright and grabbing anyone unlucky enough to fall to the ground. Seeing so many colour coded t-shirt bearing people around I can’t help but think that word has got out too far and an amazing event has been spoiled by tour organisers looking to cash in on a youthful lust for chaos. Regardless of this La Tomatina is entirely worth a visit as the party beforehand is entirely unrivalled by any night that the UK can offer and Valencia is a truly unique city that has been unspoilt by tourist hand.

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