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Time to move to Spain

Medically retired at short notice our plans to move to Spain are brought forward by a few years. With little time to spare, this is our story.

La Tomatina 2016
09 September 2016

La Tomatina 2016 

When it's your wedding anniversary I think most people would like to do something special. Maybe romantic, thoughtful and memorable, where you can look into each others eyes and... Throw tomatoes at each other? 

The last Wednesday in August in the town of Bunol the worlds greatest food fight has taken place. For 71 years, people have gathered to throw tomatoes at each other in the Main Street in the town centre. This year was no different except that my wife (and I... really!) decided we would spend our wedding anniversary there. It's something we have seen on YouTube before we even came to live in Spain and it was on our bucket list of things to do when we came here. 

We decided to book one of the packages available in order to leave nothing to chance. After a few searches on the internet we came across PP Travel, who would provide hotel accommodation B&B for two nights in Valencia, tickets for a pre Tomatina party, travel and entry to the event itself and an after party. All we needed to do was get ourselves to Valencia and back. 

It's the first time we have used the train service in Spain. I'm not a regular train user and heard a lot about how the train service in the UK, usually negative and I do know it's expensive. Having said that our train fare from Orihuela to Valencia was a lot cheaper than the one from Gatwick airport to London Euston. It's also one of the few train journeys I've had where all the paying customers had seats. What a novelty! If I must be critical, the journey was fractionally short of three hours. I had wondered why before we travelled and found that the trains spent a lot of time in stations and seemed to take the 'scenic route' to its destination. I do know however there are quicker trains on different routes. 

We stayed in a hotel about three kilometres from the main railway station (taxi fare just short of 8 euros) and only a short walk from the well known City of arts and sciences.

We booked in to our hotel and were handed our La Tomatina tickets, which were in the form of a wristband together with our La Tomatina T-Shirts. We Were also given a wristband which would gain us entry to the pre event party. The pre party was held at the L'Umbracle nightclub from 8.30 pm. The club itself was pretty impressive. Open air but laid out almost like a massive garden with large plants dotted about the many sofas, essential for the older clubber! Quite an impressive light show came into its own as it went dark. The club quickly filled up and it became quite evident that we would be in the older age bracket of the event. A few drinks later we decided we'd had enough. I'm convinced Sue would have stayed all night if she could however sensible me thought we should really get to bed at a reasonable hour given we would be boarding the coach at 6.45 the following morning, so we left just before midnight with hundreds still partying. I remember a saying from a few years ago something along the lines of "It now takes me all night to do what I used to do all night". Actually, it now only takes a few hours and then I become all sensible. I go to bed convinced the party revellers will regret their excesses the following morning. 

Breakfast is 6-6.45am. It's clear that people have taken their instructions seriously and worn old clothes with the intention of throwing them away post event. Don't expect to return in anything you've worn at the event. We are told to bring a full set of spare clothes to leave on the coach for when we return and have 20 euros each in a plastic bag hidden in our shoes. The journey is about 45 minutes to Bunol and we are there at 7.35am. It's a 25 minute walk downhill into the town itself and I do wonder at the time how we are going to keep entertained until the 11am start. 

Our walk into town reminds me a little of some events I've been to in the UK such as  England one day cricket matches or the day we spent at Heaton Park, Manchester on the return of The Stone Roses. In other words the streets are full of sellers, food outlets and portable bars. The difference being of course, the time of day and it was so much warmer here. You can actually buy most things you need when you arrive but without the advantage of leaving anything spare on your coach and many already are enjoying a pint or two. 

I would estimate that about 75% of those attending are under 30 however it's reassuring to see people from all age ranges and many nationalities. We hear Australian, USA, European and Far East accents as well as many from the UK who have attended this Spanish event. One of the traditions of this event is a greasy pole which has a large Ham lodged at the top, free to anyone who can reach it. Nobody in 10 years has managed to do this and it soon becomes obvious why. The grease is a very thick lardy type slop which is smeared the full length of the pole by a man. A crowd gathers to see what it is and the man acknowledges this by throwing slop into the crowd. It's 8.30 am and locals are starting to gather on the roofs of their homes looking down on the quickly gathering crowd. They assist the atmosphere by throwing water down off their roofs and the crowd cheer. Then a child about ten years old arrives with a hosepipe and sprays the people below, they cheer again. We find that if you stand next to the building, which has been covered in plastic protective sheeting, you escape the worst of the wet. 

Then one by one, people attempt to climb up the greasy pole - It's hilarious. Groups of 4,5 and 6 all try by climbing on top of each other and eventually sliding to the floor. The first female to try gets a big cheer. She climbs on top of the bodies below, someone shouts something and she pulls the top of her bikini down, just for a second to loud cheers. Minutes later a Chinese guy climbs to the top of the bodies and the crowd chant "Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan!" He waves just prior to sliding to the floor. 

Behind us, seeing our safe haven from water and grease a number of locals come out with buckets of water and thrown them into the crowd. It's only 9.30 and we are soaked. We decide to go and get a drink which means walking through the locals armed with buckets of water. Sue makes the mistake of trying to run through them which of course means she is targeted. I walk slowly through and miss the worst of it. 

We have to leave the ticketed area to access the portaloos and caterers, which we do and at about 10.15 decide to make our way back to the main area for the festival. If I have one complaint, it's that from 7.30 until the scheduled start at 11am is a long time to wait with not a lot going on. 8.30 or 9am would be better but then you can come by train if you wish as the station is in the town and trains run from Valencia for the cost of about 8 euros. 

At 10.40 a siren sounds and a large Lorry carrying people and tomatoes makes its way slowly though the jostling crowd. The people start hurling the tomatoes at the people and the people throw them back but also at each other and the fun starts. For the best part of an hour a mixture of tomatoes and more tomatoes are thrown across the narrow street. Occasionally the natives on the roof add to the mayhem by throwing buckets of water and pointing their hose pieces at us. I begin to realise why so many people have goggles on. I have a baseball cap with a large rim to protect me from the worst of the onslaught, like an air raid shelter however it doesn't protect from a direct hit. Direct hits are many but the brim does actually do a decent job. 

Lorry by Lorry they arrive, up to a sixth and each one makes the road more ragu like. The throwing is interspersed by chants and songs, most of which are incomprehensible but 'seven nation army' seems to be prominent.  Despite our lack of sleep hours the night before we last the whole hour and it goes very quickly. I occasionally look around and laugh to myself. It's like being back at school? Or maybe echoes of the bucket of water song from Tiswas is more appropriate I think as I take a hit. Each hit from a bucket of water results in more cheers as they have done all day. I spend a lot of the time laughing however, at the ridiculousness of a 54 year old throwing tomatoes at anyone who gets in his way, for an hour, and enjoying it. 

We escape down a side street and begin to look for one of the locals primed with hosepipes ready to hose us down. We find one and he sprays us but doesn't really do much as a small queue is forming and he seems to want to give everyone a little spray. We decide to look for the river we were told was the better option. We haven't a clue where it is and could be walking in completely the opposite direction for all, we know. We have about two hours before the coach is due to take us back so feel we have plenty of time to get lost. As I've seen many 'lost in the wilderness' type films over the years I have the brilliant idea of going downhill as there's bound to be a river somewhere downwards, isn't there? Amazingly we find the river and there's already many taking advantage of the flowing water. Some are standing under taps but we find a small waterfall about a foot high to stand next to and spend the next ten minutes removing our now pink clothes and removing the chopped tomatoes from our clothes and bodies. 

As we walk back to the centre of town there are thousands walking around covered in tomatoes and just happy to be there. Most of the places to eat and drink are shops and mobile but eventually we find a proper bar to sit outside and dry off. A beer and a Bacardi later we are ready to return to the coach. The after parties have started and people are dancing in what appears to be a main square. Many people seem to quite like the tomato look as many haven't bothered with the hosepipes. There are pink clothes filling the bins as we walk up the hill to the coach park and many clothes are abandoned in the roadside. 

Back at the coach we change our complete set of clothes and only then are we allowed back onto the coach. As the coach pulls away we see many people have decided to make a day of it and are happily enjoying a drink. Some of our coach party haven't quite removed all the tomatoes from their hair and many are obviously very tired given the early start following last nights late party. Within minutes, most people are asleep. 

What a fantastic day we have had. I would thoroughly recommend La Tomatina to anyone fit and able to do it. It's an early start but that won't bother some people, it's very wet but great fun, 22,000 people can't be wrong. We are back at our hotel by 2.45 pm and following a quick shower where bits of tomato drop from places we didn't realise existed, have the rest of the day to enjoy Valencia. 

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