Why tomatoes are dead to me

It went too smoothly travelling with Melbourne hipster.

I know because within hours of parting ways I find myself holed up in a crappy hotel in the port town of Algeciras on the Spain/Moroccan coast, the lack of air-con gives me a bad case of not only ‘swamp arse’ but swamp whole-body, bed begs cluster-bomb my ankles and wrists, and the shower hose has so many holes it’s like standing under a sprinkler.

I then miss my expensive bus to Valencia – turns out Morocco and Spain aren’t on the same time zone.

So I spend my day camped out at a mediocre cafe waiting for my now night bus and a large portion of the afternoon ignoring this weird Moroccan guy who takes my cold dead shark eyes to his 1000 questions as playing hard to get.

I finally lost it and snapped – ‘I don’t understand you’ to which he changed tact and started writing me notes such as:

‘My name Bumba, you be me friend?’

‘What be you name?’

And finally – ‘you come nap with me at hotel? I don’t mind.’

I think it goes down as the only time I’ve been pleased to board a 12-hour overnight bus, even if I didn’t sleep a wink.

So I spend my first day in Valencia in bed, though I do wake in time for the Requena Wine and Water festival, handily held on the eve of the whole reason I came to Valencia – the world’s largest food fight La Tomatina.

I’ll start with the wine and water festival.

In a nutshell, to celebrate their wine harvest locals’ gather at the bull arena to watch local lads, and in more recent years, intoxicated kiwi and Australian guys get chased by a young bull.

This is going to sound slightly paganistic … but turns out watching cocky drunk men being smashed by a bull is quite funny.

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And, this is going to sound even more paganistic… but watching a handful of hearty females dressed for the occasion in their party dresses, jandals and handbags get even more nailed was even more funny, but funny in that – I should not be laughing kind of way.

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After the novelty wore off we then followed improvised orchestras through the narrow town streets while locals doused us with water from their balconies, all while sampling wine off the back of lorries.

I got very wet but stayed very sober thanks to accidentally buying 0% cider for the bus trip there and there not being enough free wine to go around.

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But it was a blessing in disguise, given the fact we only managed an hour’s sleep before we were back on the bus for Tomatina – something I’ve been determined to do since it was on one of those ‘priceless’ MasterCard tv ads as a kid.

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Apologises in advance but that’s the only photo I have of Tomatina as we didn’t have a waterproof camera to take into the carnage.

I’d give you a brief history of Tomatina but there’s so many stories as to how it started it’s a bit Chinese whisperish.

In a way who cares, because whoever thought it would be fun to pack the narrow streets of Bunol with around 40,000 people and give them a 125,000 tonne arsenal of tomatoes to throw at each other was a legend.

We decided to stay out of the main square out of fear we’d be stampeded or have all our clothes ripped off us but as a result missed out on seeing people try and climb the greasy pole to retrieve a ham. Why? Again, no-one’s entirely sure.

And I was secretly packing myself, as one of my tomboy friend’s told me after attending last year’s carnage – ‘I seriously thought I was going to drown in tomato.’

Turns out drowning in tomato is a remarkably accurate description, as even the side street we were on was calf deep in the tomato/stale water/piss concoction and when the lorries drove past it literally rained tomatoes on our heads.

And over the next hour tomato managed to go everywhere. Everywhere.

But I’m pleased to report in that time I only got badly nailed twice – once in the ear, once in the eyeball. I’ll come back to the eyeball soon…

Afterwards we staggered out of the streets and managed to get horrifically lost trying to find our bus, though we did manage to find a handful of locals (mainly old men) to hose us down.

Before we got on the bus I threw away absolutely everything I was wearing but even then the hour long ride back was horrific.

Turns out the smell of warm tomato is a lot like stomach bile.

Then ‘it’ happened.

I’ll refer to it as ‘it’ because it was one of the grossest experiences of my life.

It all began when I realised I had what felt like a tomato pip wedged behind my eyeball.

So I asked my usually overly helpful kiwi friend to take a look.

Instead she retracted in her seat in horror.

I didn’t have a mirror so I just went in blind with my finger.

I began I pull.

And ‘it’ kept coming.

Without a word of a lie this tomato-coloured eye bogey would have been five centimetres long.

Remarkably my last pair of contact lenses survived Tomatina, in fairness they had to, I don’t have back-ups thanks to England treating contact lenses like they’re Class A controlled drugs.

Fair to say my shower when we got back to the hotel was one of the best showers of my life, even if it did take me three goes to get the tomato pips out of my hair.

The smell, on the other hand, took days.

As a result tomatoes are temporarily dead to me.

And I can safely say that Tomatina was a once-in-in-a-lifetime experience – as in been there, done that, you couldn’t pay me enough to do it again.

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