Saturday, August 29, 2015

La Tomatina Experience

La Tomatina is a world famous festival in Spain that has throwing tomatoes as its main event. It's not celebration of saint nor thanksgiving to anything, but it has a long history and became an official festival in 1957 according to the La Tomatina info sheet. However,

the first ever fight began in 1945 so this year 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of this crazy festival. I'm ecstatic to be part of this huge event. I've known of it since I was little and have made sure that my first time in Europe includes the La Tomatina festival.


I attended the event with my equally crazy friend Anthony Z. We bought our VIP tickets (30euros) a month and half in advance to ensure our slots in the event which include bus transfers to and from Valencia and a La Tomatina shirt. If you want to DIY, you can take the train and the cost to get in La Tomatina is only 10euros. This is just to limit the number of participants as crowd can get uncontrollable resulting in people getting hurt.  

Dress for Success

We started the day wearing brand new white t-shirts, shorts and pair of shoes we were willing to throw out after. We did not bring any bag that could get lost so we only brought basic items such as camera, phone, and some money. Of course you would want to bring waterproof camera and phone or pouches that protect them. I thought an underwater with zipper would be perfect to keep money safe and close.

Pretty in Pink

I don't know where his shirt went

The Road to La Tomatina

Our day started at 7am getting ourselves to the meeting place in Valencia where we were issued VIP wristbands and official event shirts. The bus ride to Buñol took 40 minutes.

When we first got to Buñol at 9am, nothing is happening but we were starving so we walked around to grab some eats.

Following the crowd, we found ourselves in the center of town.  Here we saw wooden panels and nets, apparent that they're related to what's going to happen soon. People began to fill up on the street and we can feel the excitement.

I think most of the people are first timers like us. While we know what the main event is going to be like, based on videos and photos on the internet, we really had no idea how it's going to commence.

The locals are having fun watching us from their roof top and balcony. They sprayed water and the crowd cheered. An then the first tomato was tossed and the people went wild. A firecracker popped marking the start and soon tomatoes begin to fly from all directions!

The Messier the Better

There were 5 "downloading" areas in town, and here comes along the first truck! The crowd gone ballistic! First tomato hits me on my shoulder, it was cold! The tomatoes must have been sitting in the truck overnight because it was cold last night.  Second one hits me straight on my forehead, bull's eye! It was a new tomato so it hurts!!!  I'm glad that it didn't leave a mark.

Second truck comes along with more tomatoes!!! It began to feel surreal! SO MUCH TOMATOES!!! I've literally never seen so many tomatoes in my life.

Then there's the third, fourth, and fifth truck! We were on the 4th downloading area, meaning the trucks will be 25% full when it comes to us. They'd tilt the truck bed and unload the content on to the people!!! It's like tidal wave of tomatoes falling on you. The street is flooded with ankle deep of tomato soup!

Food Fight!

It doesn't take long for proceedings to become hectic, and every reveller is covered from head to toe in mushed up tomatoes. There are no winners here in La Tomatina, though the consensus is the filthier you are, the more fun you had.

After all the tomatoes are dumped in the street and people are almost swimming in it. We began to pick tomatoes from the flood of tomatoes and throw at each other. The came from all sides and so you stopped ducking and just throw as much as you can at anyone that comes to your view!

Anthony found 2 cups for us and we'd scoop a cup of tomato sauce into their shorts and shirts!!! hahaha

Yummy to Yucky

The first tomato that hits you is delicious (albeit painful)!  I'd licked my lips because the tomatoes were so juicy and fresh. But then you see people swimming in these tomatoes and shoes floating and maybe people even peeing on it! So you remind yourself to stop licking. Yuck!

Ole! Ole! Ole!

There is a feeling of utmost liberation amidst this festival. You can do anything! Run into the tomato flood, smudge someone's face with tomato sauce, scream, shout, dance your heart out. Release all the negativity and inner demon!

We came with googles to protect our eyes, but I can tell you that you should junk this idea as it's a waste of money and effort. The tomatoes will sting, but it's impossible to hang on to your googles.

All it took is One Hour

The La Tomatina event lasted for one hour. I know you may think, that one hour is such a short time for a festival and that you've been waiting all your life and half your life savings to come to this festival for a measly hour?

But believe me when I say, an hour long of tomato fight is enough! Anthony and I have lasted for 40 minutes, which is actually longer than most people.

A firecracker is fired to mark the end of the event.

By this time you will see shoes and shirts everywhere, tomato sauce on walls and street signs, and needles to say, in every single crevices of our bodies.

The tomatoes sting your eye because they are acidic, but the locals prepared water hoses to shower us with water from their balcony. Senor! Senor! Agua por favor, then he pointed the hose to us to wash our faces. 

We walked to a nearby river to clean up more. How cool is it? Then we proudly put on our official La Tomatina tshirt.

The next part of the ordeal was getting the tomato chunks our of my hair.  No wonder other people had shower caps on, but then again, even if I knew that my hair would look like someone vomited on it, I still wouldn't have put on a cap because the more you're conscious the less fun you'll have!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Being a Filipino and a Chinese in Madrid

I have been in Madrid for exactly 2 hours and 4 minutes and yet I have been overwhelmed with so much thoughts and emotions.  My flight arrived at 11PM and baggage did not come out 30 minutes later, thankfully there is always free wifi in the airports,  so I google mapped how to get to my hostel, which is in the city center.

I go to the ticket booth, and as usual, even if the menu is in English, you can never understand it the first time you use it.  I eventually managed to get a ticket and tried to use my never-been-used Spanish on a man who was working at the train, asking whether or not the directions I got from the internet was correct.  After 4 unsuccessful sentences, he referred me to a woman who spoke English that eventually pointed me to the right way.

I understand train station maps and do not have a hard time navigating the subways.  As I reached my second train, knowing that I need to change to another train, a man who was trying to be "helpful" told me that the train ends at that station where it stopped.  He was assuming, that I was Chinese holding a metro map and fresh off the airport, that I did not speak any Spanish.  He said I have to get down at this station because it is the last stop and that I can walk to my destination.  I instantly felt and knew he was lying when I saw other passengers did not get off the train (not to mention I did not hear any advisory).  So I got back to the train and moved on with my journey.

It's so unbelievable I thought, is this how dangerous my travel around Spain is going to be?  That within an hour outside the airport, someone was already trying to scam me?  As I changed to the next train, I spot 2 Filipinos seated and speaking in Tagalog and I immediately felt safer, knowing that once I spoke in Tagalog, any Filipino will come and help me if I were in trouble. I was trying to make eye contact, hoping that they would talk to me but they will never recognize and see me as a Filipino.  I thought it was kinda sad when you feel this "connection" and the other party does not realize it.  I was half expecting a "Pinay?" or "kababayan?" but of course, my Chinese features get in the way haha.

So I get off the train, not 100% positive that the woman from the station sent me to the right place but I wasn't worried or scared because when I came out of the train station, there were even more Filipino people, and I could immediately spot them with the kind of clothes they wear, the type of shoes, etc. (and of course, overhearing conversations).  It could be a talent, because I can tell the difference between Koreans, Japanese and Chinese people too, just by looking at their clothes and shoes.  Anyway, I eneded up asking a train personnel who confirmed that I was where I wanted to be.

The walk from the station to my hostel is about 250m or 5-minute walk.  I came out and heard people cheering at a street performer, as I walked closer to check it out, I heard Oppa Gangnam Style!  I was so excited haha and I peeked and saw that the dancer asked 5 random Asian men they could pull from the crowd to dance Oppa Gangnam Style haha so funny.

As I walked further down, I saw Japanese restaurants and I felt some feeling of "home" to be seeing a little bit more familiar food to me.  Although I've enjoyed everything that I have eaten in Europe so far, you can't help but miss the food you eat back home; be it Filipino adobo, Chinese hakaw shrimp dumpling, Japanese Ramen or Korean bibimbap!  Yum.

Tired, I realized I haven't drank a single drop of water for almost 3 hours and so I headed into a 24 hour store. I saw a bunch of teenagers that were being ushered out by a Chinese woman (owner). I got a bottle of water and went to pay.  The woman spoke to me in her Chinese Spanish, telling me that she saw the kid was putting a can of beer into his pocket and so she just asked them to leave because they were trouble. I continued to reply to her in Spanish until I finally asked her "eres China?" (are you Chinese?) and she said, "si, soy China" (yes, I'm Chinese), and I said "yo tambien, China" (I am Chinese too) haha. and she said to me in Chinese, 你是中國人? (you're Chinese!) and I said, 我是菲律賓華僑 (I am Filipino-Chinese!) OHHH! and the conversation went on in Chinese and telling me again how kids were trying to steal beer and causing trouble and that someone took a plate of sushi and ate it then just left without paying. We did some small talk she asked me if I were traveling and I asked about safety in Madrid and she said it's not that bad. She then recommended me to try the sushi, she said it's really good. So I got a pack of California Maki (yum! with avocados instead of mangoes) for €6.50 and she told me, ok, I give discount for you Chinese, only €5 hahaha! So cool.  Side note, when I was in Tomar, Portugal, I went into a store and saw a sweater that I liked, it was €12.  When I was about to pay, I saw a Chinese woman sitting at the counter, watching a Chinese soap opera, and when she told me "doce euros," I said 可以 €10嗎? haha she agreed.

So I was so happy, walking, just a few steps away from the hostel, with Cali Maki in my bag as I checked in the hotel I smell the fresh sheets and towels, I was so excited to rest.  I am so happy that I didn't mind that the room was a bit hot and did not have an electric fan around.  I was so excited to write my emotions down into this blog that it didn't matter and I opened the window.  As I took out my laptop, and plugging it in, guess what I saw??!!  AN AIRCON REMOTE CONTROL!!! OMG!!!  I totally forgot that I booked an airconditioned room, and when I looked up, I HAVE A TV TOO!! hahaha I almost cried hahaha.

Just a few hours in and Madrid has already given me so much emotions, I can't wait for the next few days! :D