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La Tomatina, Buñol (Valencia)

La Tomatina is the world's largest vegetable fight. La Tomatina in Buñol is a celebration fight where people have fun with tomatoes in the East of Spain.

The sunny Mediterranean city of Valencia in Spain is world-renowned for its tasty and succulent oranges. And just thirty miles away is Buñol, another town just as famous for its produce. But its notoriety comes from the locals' habit of wearing the produce as well as tasting it: every year, Buñol hosts La Tomatina, the world's largest vegetable fight. Situated only 30 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Sea, and well-connected by motorway and rail to Madrid and Valencia, this charming town erupts into a fiery blaze of tomato-hurling on the last Wednesday of every August.

The "batalla" takes place during a week-long celebration filled with on-going festivities and with even greater anticipation for the monstrous tomato battle that serves as the culmination of the week's events.

Without question the biggest tomato fight in the world, La Tomatina started with a good laugh. During the forties, in Buñol's main town square, a number of friends started a tomato fight for unknown reasons. It's unclear whether the initial volley was aimed at city officials or simply pedestrians unlucky enough to be in the line of fire. Soon enough, however, with their rowdy hooliganism drawing passers-by into the fray, everyone was having a great time. They had so much fun, in fact, that from that day forward, the fiesta has been celebrated annually and has grown ever bigger each year.

In an effort to draw more tourism (and therefore more targets) into the small town of Buñol, La Tomatina has blossomed into a full-blown fiesta that coincides with the festival for the town's patron saint. For a week leading up to the epic battle, the 20,000-strong town of Buñol, is filled with parades, fireworks, food and street parties. The night before La Tomatina, the narrow streets beneath the town's imposing Medieval bell tower are filled with tomatoes, in a much more palatable form than they will be the next day! Cauldrons of delectable paella cooking, simmered traditionally over wood-burning fires line the Concurso des Paellas, near the Plaza del Pueblo, site of the imminent skirmishes. Wine and food flow around the small town until the wee hours, in a fabulous Dickens-like foreshadowing. After all, who can do battle thirsty and on an empty stomach?

Then, early Wednesday morning, shopkeepers and business owners along the Plaza set about covering windows and doors in preparation for the messy onslaught. Large trucks rumble up the cobblestone streets to arrive in the crowd-filled square and, from the back of the huge trucks, official instigators begin ceremoniously pelting the awaiting throng with their precious cargo: sloppy, squishy tomatoes trucked in from the four corners of Spain.

Dressed in clothing doomed for the rubbish bin, more than 20,000 revelers retaliate against the truckers, each other and anything else that strays within range of their hand-crushed veggie blobs. Soon the streets are awash in seeds, pulp and tomato guts - possibly one of the best starts to a great marinara sauce to be found west of Mont Blanc.

The insanity ensues until more than 90,000 pounds of tomatoes have been hurled at anything with a pulse that ducks, runs, stops, turns about, or fights back. For visiting tourists, be aware that anyone with a camera or a baseball cap will be considered a prime target. Like all good battles, the assault is over in less than half an hour. Everyone then reconciles with their former targets and fellow warriors and heads down to the river to remove the saucy mess from hair and body.

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