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La Tomatina: Spain's Fun Festival

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If you're visiting Valencia towards the end of August, and if flinging tomatoes is your idea of a great time, you're in for a fun holiday!This zany festival has been around for more than half a century and has its origins in a street brawl in the Valencian town of Bunol, between rival groups during a religious festival. Someone found a vegetable stall handy and grabbed a few tomatoes to pelt at their opponents and the rest is pulpy history.

In the fifties, the festival was banned but it soon reared its naughty head again and finally in 1975, the city fathers of Bunol made it official and La Tomatina was given official sanction. Today it is organized, promoted and is the responsibility of the city of Bunol and attracts thousands of visitors locally and internationally.

The event is so popular that today this little town is flooded with visitors who have to book in advance to gain entry into the main square where the event is held. This year, in 2013, for the first time, the city council is limiting the tickets to 20,000 with no last minute entries as the event is putting a huge strain on the municipal resources. However, if you've booked in advance with a reputed tour operator, you should get a ringside seat in the world's biggest food fight. If you don't get accommodation in Bunol, staying in Valencia is a good option.

Balconies, homes, terraces and verandahs all round the square or the Plaza del Pueblo in the Old Town area of Bunol are booked well ahead of time. Those who don't wish to give themselves a tomato bath can view the festivities from the safety of these strategic locations and stay out of the way of nearly 150 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes that have come in from the Extramadura region. Houses, shops and public places in the area take precautions to cover their facades with huge sheets of tarpaulin or plastic to protect them from the squishy, flying missiles.

The festivities begin with climbing a greasy pole and once the ham placed atop is dislodged, the fun begins, with people grabbing handfuls of mushy fruit and pelting it at the nearest target. Water cannons come into play, washing down the combatants and clearing the street of the sludgy mess. Protective goggles and gloves are worn and participants have to follow the rules: No missiles other than tomatoes, and they have to be pulped before you throw.

La Tomatina ends in exactly one hour and friendly locals will offer to hose you down if you haven't managed to clean yourself off. They say the streets of Bunol are squeaky-clean simply because the acidity of the tomatoes provides a natural cleanser! The festivities continue throughout the week with other events, dancing and music. So if you're game for this crazy celebration, head for Bunol in the third week of August!

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