La Tomatina in 24 hours
If you’re anything like us you probably left your La Tomatina booking to the last minute. Like, literally the day before the festival. You probably frantically looked up train tickets to Valencia and found out, to your dismay, that they were forty euros and that every campsite within reasonable distance to Bunol was full of forward-thinking travellers and Spanish families. Your dreams of slathering yourself in tomatoes were slipping faster than your nipples that time you tried to go braless to a rave.
Enter the 24 hour Stoke Bender bus. A La Tomatina quickie if you will, complete with seedy orifices.
You’re standing outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Placa Catalunya, your designated meeting point. The delicious smells of street samosas fill your nostrils, blocking out the smell of urine wafting from Las Ramblas. You cave, although spicy food before a bus trip seems a little risky. Those vendors can be damn convincing. You work out which charismatic babe (the Canadian? The Australian? The Dutchie? The Kiwi pretending to be French?!) is guiding your bus and get your “wristie”. You’re Stoke’s now. There won’t be a piss-stop for well over an hour. If you get desperate, our guides recommend pissing into an empty sangria bottle in the stairwell of the bus. Ladies, we won’t be offended if you use a rolled-up Stoke mag as a funnel. True story.
You make your first stop at an enormous cafeteria in the middle of nowhere. What will you choose, a vino blanco or a chocolate croissant? The hardest decision will be to decide if you want to have coffee to stay awake or to pass and pass out. You find out that they’re playing Borat on the bus. You take the coffee. Double shot. Tip: Steal some toilet paper and stuff it into whatever space is available on your person, you won’t find any in the La Tom portaloos.
Bunol! Hooray! You all pile off the bus. Ensure you’re wearing clothes you don’t like (cos if you like ‘em now, you soon won’t). You follow your guides down the road until you come to the Stoke “pop-up sangria bar”. This is essentially a van where the one-litre cartons of sangria are distributed. If you’re looking a little too clean, the Stokies will be more than willing to generously douse you with sangria. One of us, one of us.
Someone, somewhere in the town is scaling a greasy pole to obtain the elusive Tomatina ham. You’ve almost drunk enough to think that you could probably do it. Just as you down the last of your sangria and let out an almighty belch, a second bang sounds. The ham has been captured and it’s time to pound some flesh (with tomatoes). Nothing like watching people animalistically fight over a piece of meat to really get the liquids flowing.
A bang signals the beginning of the fight. The crowd is pulsating with the pent-up desire to let the juices run. People are craning to see the tomatoes, someone starts that weird Spanish chant that sounds like the riff from Seven Nation Army. Locals on the balconies above intermittently help moisten the tension with buckets and hoses and you’re begging for it. The distant sound of horns and cheering can mean only that the trucks filled with tomatoes are approaching. You suddenly wonder how a truck could possibly fit through the narrow street packed with people and realise too late that you’re about to be crushed like a pinger in Ibiza. Forget trying to throw the ammunition, for now you’re a slave to the tomato mosh pit. You fall and are righted. You watch a guy take a tomato to the face. The stuff is in your ears, eyes, mouth…and it keeps coming, each truck another wave. You’re laughing and screaming at once, a difficult feat when trying to prevent yourself from swallowing a mouthful of flying ‘mato.
The fight quickly steers away from from whole tomatoes seemingly falling from the sky and moves towards all out anarchy with the tomatoey slop that is slowly filling the streets. You’re using anything you can find to dump as much of the stuff on anyone near you: busted pluggers, sunglasses, ripped clothing, crushed Don Simon bottles, limbs, the last of shred of your humanity. Just as soon you’re certain that you have swallowed more seed than a porn star, you hear another bang and the chaos subsides. You did it. You survived. But you can’t say as much for the guy who won the ham, who is passed out and spooning his treasure in the gutter.
You’re wandering the streets of Bunol frantically, as the tomato on every inch of your clothing begins to dry and you smell like that crusty, half-empty jar of pasta sauce that has been in your fridge for two years. You look like you just left your mother’s womb. A Spanish man is lapping up the attention his garden hose is bringing him from semi-naked, tomatoey girls on the street. You see him sneak in a kiss as they’re struggling to wash the tomato acid out of their eyes. You wonder if this is the first time his hose has ever received any female attention. You use his hose anyway. You figure a sly, wet kiss is a small price to pay to be less like a vine fruit and more like a human. You make your way back to the Stoke bus, and get naked in the carpark. You need to change into your clean clothes or the bus driver will leave you in the carpark to dry out just like Stacey did when she found the U2 album living in her new iPhone. Stacey really dislikes U2.
You find yourself back where it all began, safely on the other side of a red whirlwind even more traumatic