Fruit-Filled Mayhem

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

I've been on some pretty crazy rides on this trip, 42-hours on a train across Australia, 27 hours of international smuggling messiness on a bus in Asia, but at least those were to get from Point A to Point B and where Point B was a place I'd be staying a while. But Spain was another story. I did, for the record, work in five days in Barcelona, but I took an overnight train from Italy to Barcelona and was then on another overnighter later in the week right back to Italy just to have the right to throw tomatoes at people (and vice versa). I had heard that La Tomatina, in the tiny town of Bunol, was about as much mayhem as you could get in one day. I'm more or less willing to agree.

To get to Bunol from Barcelona I needed to take a six-hour bus ride that left Barcelona at 4:30 in the morning. To prepare for the big day, I did the logical thing and didn't pay for a hostel bed that night and instead spent the whole night out on the town with a bunch of people from the hostel that I had been in the night before. We made it through to 3:30, I met up with a group of three Aussie girls who had been in Ios my first few days (as in four months ago), caught up with them, got on the bus and immediately crashed out. The plan worked to perfection.

We got into Bunol at 10:30, half an hour before the festivities were set to kick off. It was about a 20 minute walk through the modern town lined with makeshift beer and sangria stands and joined the masses in the old town, where the streets get significantly windier and narrower. I squeezed through as best I could while the crowds chanted Olè and the locals in the balconies threw buckets of water on us. At 11 a banger was fired off and it all started. Moments later a large dumptruck inched toward us, turned the back vertical and then the streets were filled with tomatoes. The first 10 to 15 minutes were actually not fun at all. I was still about 15 meters or so from the real action where it looked like everybody was having a lot of fun and I was caught in the middle of the mosh pit from hell. There was so much pushing and shoving I had no control of my legs, yet the crowd was so packed that you couldn't fall if you tried. I was on the verge of losing my flip flops any number of times so I decided to hope for the best and go barefoot the rest of the way with footwear in hand.

I eventually managed to squeeze (and get crushed) along the walls of buildings until I had made my way into the middle of it all. At this point I was starting to get a little redder and maybe even get to chuck a rind of tomato or two. While stuck along the wall I kept getting crushed into this small Australian girl, and once we realized after a few minutes we weren't going anywhere we figured we might as well introduce each other. And that's how I met Renee. We wound up developing a nice little friendship and an excellent working relationship. By sliding in front of her and propping my arms against the wall over her (as I said, she was short) I could create enough space for her to bend down and pick up tomatoes. I was keeping her from being crushed, she was keeping me in crushed tomatoes. By the time the hour was over (it's only supposed to go until noon) the tomato juice was up to my ankles and I was covered head to toe in rotten tomato. It was fantastic.

And just because the rules stated the fight was supposed to end didn't mean the thousands of drunk fruit throwers were going to wrap things up. There were still plenty of whole tomatoes (a great commodity) to hurl (I nearly pulled the motherload and nailed the camera man up on a balcony -- instead the tomato whistled by his ear) but after another half an hour, it was all juice. At that point La Tomatina turned into La Comisetina and the street had turned into two sides hurling knotted up, juice-saturated t-shirts at each other. Somehow we managed to find ourselves in no-mans land before retreating to the front line. There was another half an hour of t-shirt launching (plus a few malakas throwing flip-flops) that was fairly incident free, aside from when I was about an inch away from getting a t-shirt to the nuts. That would've put a damper on things. Otherwise, overall I think I got better shots on people than they had on me.

Still, cleaning up was a mission. I had a few people try to spray me off with hoses after the police had finally come and broken things up. The tomato was caked in my hair and started drying in the midday sun over my body. I also didn't get nearly as much attention from the hose guys as I would've needed because I was lacking flashable tits that they could concentrate on. A couple showers back in Barcelona later, I was fairly certain I had gotten all the dried tomato and seeds and juice out of my hair and ears and any other unimaginable place it had squirmed its way into. Was it worth the obnoxiousness of two 15-hour overnight trains? In a word, yes.
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