Imagine thousands of men and women swimming in a sea of pasta sauce and you can begin to picture what it's like to attend La Tomatina Festival, the world's largest tomato fight.
One of the highlights of Spain's ever-eventful festival circuit, La Tomatina is easily its messiest. On the last Wednesday of August each year, revelers pack into the Plaza Mayor in Buñol, just west of Valencia, with shirts off and goggles on, prepared for the stinging juice of the acidic fruit.
While last year’s event brought some 40,000 people into the tiny town, organizers cut the number of participants in half this year due to safety concerns over the size of the crowd. “We have had a problem for the past eight or 10 years: La Tomatina is not controlled. We don’t know how many people are going to come,” Buñol Mayor Joaquin Masmano Palmer told Spanish media.
In the red, if you will, to the tune of $6.7 million, cash-strapped Buñol hired a private company, SpainTastic, to charge revelers a fee for the first time in 2013, leading to fears that Spain’s biggest festivals could be on the path to privatization. Each participant paid a minimum of $13 for the privilege of pelting others with tomatoes, all while turning the streets into a virtual slip n’ slide. Revelers stationed in the coveted tomato trucks, meanwhile, paid upwards of $1,000 for the honor.
Organizers offloaded five truckloads carrying some 130 tons of tomatoes into the square Wednesday, and within minutes the area was filled with chunky red bits and slippery seeds. When the battle was complete, a cleanup crew hosed down the streets and storefronts, while revelers rinsed the pasty red muck off their bodies in portable showers and a river nearby.
The annual event, which began with a humble food fight in the mid-1940s, pumps about $450,000 into the local economy, a welcome boost for a country in the throes of recession that's suffering from a jobless rate of more than 25 percent.
The majority of the tourists who flock to Buñol come from faraway nations like Australia (19.2 percent of ticket sales) and Japan (17.9 percent). Britons (11.2 percent) and Americans (7.5 percent) also make the pilgrimage to participate in the signature Spanish celebration, which is, perhaps, second in popularity only to the San Fermin Festival and the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
Have a look at what happened at the 2013 Tomatina Festival below: