Day 77, 78, 79 & 80
Valencia has been a city unlike any other on this trip so far. It was a completely different experience for us being a city filled with firsts. It was our first apartment, first birthday (well, birthday party), first DVD player and of course first Tomato festival. However after having been through it all, I sincerely hope that this will not be my first and last trip to Valencia.
Upon arriving to Valencia we made out way to our street and began to look for our place. After searching up and down the road for some time, as is tradition for us nowadays, we eventually managed to phone our apartment guy and get directions to the place.
From the minute we stepped in our place we were amazed. We had once again done very well. Amazing kitchen, laundry and bathroom, we were in for a treat. What made it even better was that the place was one of the cheapest we had been in for a while. This place was our home for the next four days and we took full advantage of that. We stocked the fridge with food straight away and kicked back properly for the first time in a while.
Knowing that Gavs birthday was coming up very fast, the four of us thought about what we should do to celebrate it. Working out that Zac and Aid would be in London for the actual date, we thought we would have a celebration a little prematurely in true Gav style. All planning happening behind his back, we organized a full Gav meal, complete with meat pies (home cooked of course), Gatorade, twix and a bit of rum. However when it came to buy the ingredients and he happened to be with us, it became a bit suspicious and we (Aidan) spilt the beans a bit early.
Despite that we had an amazing meal and a fun time cooking it all. We never realized how hard it would be to make meat pies, especially with that stupid puff pastry. Before we ate the pie we even stuck candles in it and sang just like old times. From there we made our way out, having a big night filled with lots of people from home and a lot of rum.
Our accommodation being an apartment meant we had a lot more than just a bed and a bathroom. More specifically, we also had a tv and a DVD player. Craving that sweet sweet television, upon Aidans advice we bought the Planet Earth (amazing documentary with Dave Attenborough) full DVD box set, to see what it was all about. By the end of our third day we had watched about 11 of the 14 hour episodes. It was incredible. On Gavs birthday we even managed to make a drinking game out of it which I'm sure we will play again once back home.
And now on to what you have all be waiting for... La Tomatina. Our La Tomatina experience started the night before as we all got prepared for the big day. Buying shoes, organizing bus tickets and making uniforms were but a few things we did instead of having an early night as anticipated. At this time we even assigned ourselves a team name and attempted to put it on the back of our shirts, which unfortunately proved more difficult than expected. By the time we had all that out of the way, we realized it was already 1am. Straight to bed we went trying to get what little sleep remained before our 5am wake up.
As soon as our alarms (we set as many as 5, we were not sleeping through this) went off the next morning, we were all on the move. Some making breakfast, others preparing things for the day, we had to be out the house by 530. All of us getting dressed in our team shirts, many pre fight photos were taken and that was it, we were off to the Tomato Festival.
Walking to the other side of town for our bus, the streets were anything but quiet. Everyone was up and on their way, easily spotted by their white shirts. We thought we were going to be early arriving there at 10 to 6, we were very wrong. As we rocked up at the buses that the group we were going with had organized, literally 100s of people were lining the streets waiting to get on a bus. The 5 of us, using a portion of our cunning, nay all of our cunning, managed to sneak to the front of the lines to catch the first bus. Little did we know the promised departure time of 6am would become almost 8am due to some unknown and unexplained delay.
We arrived in the fabulous city of Bunol just before 9 and people were everywhere. Stalls were set up along the streets selling everything from Paella to goggles. Our tour group had promised a sangria party on arrival, however knowing how late we arrived we bolted to the centre of town not wanting to miss out on a good spot. The only thing that stopped us on our way in was security checking for hard objects. It was there we were forced to skull our energy drinks making us even more pumped to get in there.
By the time we made our way to the centre of town, which was actually quite a walk away, the crowds were already piling in. We eventually managed to get near the ham but by then it was difficult to move. So we stood and waited for the climbing to start in amongst 1000s of people from all over the world. Funnily enough the majority of the crowd seemed to be Aussies, however there were others mixed in there too. The Japanese were out in force as well as the Spaniards and French. Even a couple of Americans were in there but more on them later.
Finally, at about 9:30 the climbing of the pole could begin. For those of you who have no idea what I'm on about, let me explain a bit. Every year before the tomato festival begins a ham is tied to a 10m pole in the centre of town. (dont ask me why) Then the pole is covered in pig fat from top to bottom and people from everywhere fight for the chance to climb and get it.
Now by fight, I don't exactly mean a full on brawl right next the pole. It's more of a, I climb on his face/ I pull you down to get up/ fall into a crowd of people kind of fight. Nevertheless dozens of people every year attempt to climb this pole, take the ham and the glory with it. However in the past 7/12 years (depends who you ask) not one ham has been taken down. That was about to change.
For over an hour people were climbing over each other just to get to the pole. Some working together, others going the solo effort, all in hope of getting just that bit higher and wiping that little bit extra of grease off the pole. We even gave it a shot, all attempting to climb the pole ourselves. However we made little progress as I fell getting close to the pole (standing on several people's heads in the process), Gav chipped his tooth climbing up and the other boys got there but didn't make it too high either.
You could really tell you were in an Aussie heavy crowd as chant after chant from back home were being sung for those climbing. Yet despite the crowds encouragement, at this stage in the day no one had gotten even half way up the pole, making all hopes of getting it very low.
Enter Monkeyboy or as we would later find out from his sister, Victor Sanchez. When all faith was almost lost, this young man from the US stepped in and by himself got 3/4 up the pole. The crowds were going mad. That was until some other guy began to climb, pulling Victor down in the process. People were outraged, with boos and taunts being yelled at him.
But Monkeyboy wasn't out yet. He tried again and again getting closer and closer each time, renewing all out beliefs that this could be done. With many others now helping him, Victor tried one last time to get to the top. He climbed and wiped, climbed and wiped and as he was about to fall, he stretched out his hand and grabbed onto the ham.
It is hard to describe how incredible the next 5 minutes of our lives were. 20000 people were going absolutely nuts, shocked that after 7/12 years someone had finally gotten the ham. It was amazing! As Vic descended the pole, he crowd surfed for ages, everybody wanting a piece of the "El Hombre de Jambon", The Friend of Ham.
Once the excitement had calmed down, people then realized, we hadn't even had the tomato fight yet. And so we waited some more, counting down the minutes till the 11am start. During the time we ran into heaps of people we had met along the trip and from back home. But as it got close to start time we wished them good luck and got ready for battle.
Bang! went the firing gun, signaling the start of the fight. The trucks (which we would later find out to be 5 of) began rolling into town, with stacks of people on top throwing tomatoes everywhere. As they drove past us, we were all pushed off the road, squishing up against one another, getting to know a whole range of people. We were pelted with tomatoes from on the truck and then once they passed our own fight could begin. Whilst we were having fun, once truck number 1 had passed, we found ourselves quite clean and asking ourselves is that it. Then came truck number 2....
As we once again squished up, defending ourselves from those on the truck like a bunch of penguins, the truck suddenly stopped. It was then and there we saw the most beautiful sight of the day. The truck began to open at the back and tilt upwards. Thousands of tomatoes rolled out the back, filling the street up to our knees. As the truck moved on, people dived for the tomatoes pushing everyone that was in the way (including us) into this pile. Now we were talking.
As the rest of the trucks made their way past, tomato angels were made, photos were taken and tomatoes were shoved everywhere from ears to down the pants. It was intense. Every time you tried to wipe your eyes or clean your mouth, you got a fresh tomato right in the face. All those who had attempted to use goggles, had quickly abandoned them and it was everyone for themselves.
As quickly as it had started, it was all over. The second bang was fired and all the trucks were but a memory. We washed off (attempted to) in the hoses being fired into the air and began our walk with about 20000 other people back up the hill and into town.
We eventually got to our bus and almost passed out waiting for it. As we hung around for the driver, we surveyed the damage, throwing all the clothes and shoes we will never wear again. By the time he arrived we were tired and hungry, eager to get home. But we knew it was all worth it. It was a day we will never forget.
To anyone who is interested, I did take
a disposable camera with on the day. I will attempt to get them developed soon and chuck them up on Facebook.
Next Stop Madrid.