Athens, mother of Western civilization, invokes idyllic images of Classical Greek temples, marble statues of gods and goddesses, and neighbourhoods frozen in time. Yet, it is also part of a real world – a world where a dead rat rots on the foot of a building’s marble staircase, where grand public buildings rise against dilapidating concrete blocs, and where a vibrant contemporary scene blossoms in the midst of a troubled economy.
Before there was earth or sky or anything green, there was only the abyss of Ginnungagap. This darkness and silence lay between Muspelheim, the land of fire and Niflheim, the land of ice. Frost from Niflheim and the flames of Muspelheim blew towards each other and when they met at Ginnungagap, the fire melted the ice and the drops formed the giant Ymir. Ymir was a hermaphrodite who could reproduce asexually. More giants were born from his sweat.
As the ice continued to melt, a cow, Audhumbla, emerged from it. She nourished Ymir and nourished herself by licking the ice which uncovered Buri, the first of the Aesir tribe of gods. Buri had a son named Bor who married Bestla, the daughter of a giant. Their half-god, half-giant children were Odin (who became chief of the Aesir gods), Vili, and Ve. Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and created the world from his corpse.
The sons of Bor made the sky from Ymir’s skull, and four dwarves corresponding to the four cardinal points, held Ymir’s skull aloft above the earth. They tossed Ymir’s brains in the sky and they became the clouds. His blood became the oceans, his skin and muscles became the soil, his hair became vegetation, and Bor’s sons placed the sparks and embers that blew out of Muspelheim in Ginnungagap to light the heaven above and the earth beneath. They created the first man and woman, Ask and Embla, from two tree trunks, and built a fence around their dwelling-place, Midgard, to protect them from the giants.
This is the Norse creation myth.
Iceland is a land of legends – a place of extreme geological contrasts, a land of ice and fire. It is home to glaciers and some of the most active volcanoes. Long summer days fade into dark winters. Although reachable with cheap flights from its neighbouring countries on both sides of the Atlantic, the prices in Iceland are enough to deter a lot of tourists. Iceland is expensive. Though the standard of living is high, it remains one of the most sparsely inhabited countries in the world. This isolation and the extreme nature have shaped Icelandic culture through the centuries, creating a resilient nation that values family bonds, tradition, and a strong bond with nature.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to have found a long lost connection – a childhood friend from a summer in Philippines almost 10 years ago. He remembered me and my family quite well and when I asked if he could host me for a couple of nights, he accepted.
Flying to Keflavik on a clear day, it is impossible to miss Mt. Esja (or Esjan as the locals call it). Esjan is actually a mountain range, located 10km north of Reykjavik. Icelanders have a special bond with this mountain, and as a friend said, it is only when they see it that the feeling of ‘home’ finally kicks in.
It was only fitting to spend my first afternoon in Reykjavik hiking up Esjan. There is an extensive network of hiking trails and a bunch of Reykjavíkians go up there everyday. We didn’t get very high up though as the setting sun beat us to it. There was an aurora forecast for that night, and on our descent, we passed by people who were still making their way up.
Around 10pm, we drove to Seltjarnarnes, which, at the western end of Reykjavik is not Reykjavik at all due to some politics. It was so windy and cold. We parked our car by the road and waited for the aurora to be visible, but gave up after half an hour because we were so hungry. We decided to go home and finish the night with Berliner Luft and karaoke, because if there is one thing all Filipinos share no matter where, it is their inherent need to sing.
On my second day we drove the famous tourist route, the Golden Circle. At only 300km and passing through major sites without much walking, you can think of it as a hors d’oeuvre. It is what people who don’t have much time to explore the country will most likely see.
The landscape is incredible. The miles of wasteland will make you feel like you are on a different planet. Sometimes only the vacation homes punctuating the landscape will remind you otherwise.
We drove counterclockwise from the normal route and our first stop was Kerið crater, just one of the volcanic craters in Iceland’s south. There is an oval lake in it and you can walk around the rim and go down and walk the small circle in it. It’s a short stop where you can stretch your legs a bit. Nothing spectacular, but nice. Like a lot of places in Iceland, they now charge an ‘upkeep fee’ (400 ISK, September 2017).
We drove on to Haukadalur, home to the most famous sights in Iceland: the geysers. I have never seen one before and it really was amazing. The biggest geysers are Strokkur and Geysir (where the word ‘geyser’ comes from). The Great Geysir was the first geyser described on a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. Its eruptions have been infrequent. Only 50m away is the smaller Strokkur, which draws the tourist crowds. It is one of the few natural geysers to erupt frequenty (every 5-10 minutes).
Since we were exploring the area, we missed two eruptions but were lucky to have been standing right by it for the big eruption. Everyone went silent when the pool started getting wavier and then a big bubble formed and in a split second shot up. I was so caught up in the moment, looking up at the steam that rose high up until reality started raining down on us onlookers. Some tried to run away. Luckily I had my rain jacket on and all I could do was crouch down to keep my camera dry. I was drenched, and it was a cold day. J and I had a good laugh and decided we had seen enough geysers for the day.
We drove 10km ahead to Gullfoss ‘Golden Falls’, which got its name from the golden hue on its waters during sunset. It is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, hence the crowd. As you first approach the falls, the edge is obscured and it looks as though the river simply vanishes into the earth.
There are short trails for walking where you can learn a bit more about Gullfoss. Back in the 20th century, there were some people who wanted to use the falls to generate electricity. It was indirectly rented by its owners to foreign investors. Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of one of its owners, though uneducated, sought the help of a lawyer and brought the matter to court. She threatened to throw herself down the waterfall if they didn’t preserve its condition. Eventually, one of her family members sold Gullfoss and the surrounding area to the Icelandic government.
We drove on to Þingvellir National Park, a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian plates diverge 2.5 cm a year. We arrived in what I think is the most beautiful time of the day: just before sunset. Seeing the landscape of Þingvellir basked in golden light was breathtaking. Even J2 who had been to the place countless times could not help take a picture.
A few kilometers away is the Silfra fissure where you can stare in awe at the clarity of glacier water. Overall, the Golden Circle is touristy, but it does cover sights you cannot miss. The most valuable insight I got from this trip is that I would definitely skip the tour bus and explore it at my own pace.
I spent the next two days hiking and exploring more of Iceland’s diverse offerings. I did an easy hike to a hot river where we had to pass a bridge over boiling water, and make our way through the mist to be rewarded with one of the most relaxing hiking bonuses ever.
Since it was not that late yet, we decided to drive further south to Vik where the scenery made for a very exciting roadtrip. We passed by majestic waterfalls and glimpsed distant glaciers. Guest houses, cottages and small wooden churches periodically dotted the landscape. Unfortunately for us, when night completely fell in Vik, there was no cheap place to stay. We briefly contemplated sleeping in the car but the lack of toilet and the fact that I have a pea-sized bladder in that cold and windy night made us drive back to Reykjavik.
It was not for naught as I got to see the Northern Lights and the road was well worth the trip. Returning to Reykjavik meant we were back to mile 0, and so we decided to drive north the next day.
I was up for more hiking and picked Glymurfoss because it was only a 40-minute drive away. J had spent 15 years in Iceland and had not once been to Glymur. We had a change of roles and I guided him through Hvalfjörður. Until 1998, people getting to the town of Borgarnes from Reykjavik had to make a 62-km detour on the fjord. The opening of Hvalfjardargongin tunnel cut travel time by an hour and the Hvalfjörður has become quiet.
The fjord itself is beautiful and the hike up to Glymur was by far the best I had done. There was so much variety of landscape – even rivers to cross. Not counting the part where we got lost on our way down, it was a mighty fun hike.
I spent my last day hunting for kitsch in downtown Reykjavik. The weather had gone absolutely sour, and the rain battered our car as J and J2 drove me back to Keflavik. I had grown quite dear to them in my sojourn. We were strangers when they picked me up only five days before. We said our goodbyes, and I got myself a big bottle of Brennivín for when the winter blues hit.
While many other European cities started blooming at the beginning of March, Warsaw slept under its grey blanket a little longer, and it wasn’t until 2 weeks ago that it finally grew out of the dull winter mood.
Warsaw is an ugly city. It’s a mess of stark contrasting communist blocks and modern steel and glass high-rises. The center is the place to be, and at times it seems like it’s the only place where anything is happening. Despite the sizeable expat community, it is still very homogeneous, and generally, you will get the impression that service is foreign to the Poles.
But come spring, and suddenly the city is so much better. The first greens remind you that it isn’t such a dreary city – there are plenty of green areas – it just really sucks in winter (which is half the year), when all is bare and the communist era buildings stick out of the cityscape. When Warsaw finally wakes up from a winter-induced dullness, it’s beautiful.
April began with the Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibit cheekily called “The Beguiling Siren is Thy Crest”. It’s set on its new pavilion by the Vistula and managed to lure me there because it’s free. It’s a small exhibit and rather lacklustre. It deals with the origins of the siren in Warsaw’s crest (already in use in the 1400s), the mythology surrounding it, sexuality, and the siren’s relevance to the city.
A highlight of the exhibit is “Him” by Danish duet Elmgreen & Dragset which depicts the Copenhagen Little Mermaid as a man. The exhibit runs until June 18 if you are interested. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it, but if you’re at the Copernicus Science Center or the Warsaw University Library which are right across, it’s worth a stop. The museum cafe is decent and there’s an outdoor platform where you can sit on beach chairs and chill.
With the warm days coming up, it’s worth noting that Warsaw is really embracing the Vistula (Wisła in Polish). They’re building hang out spots on the promenade along the river, and by the looks of it, it should be completely ready by summer. If you prefer a wilder side, the untamed beaches of the Praga side of the banks of the Vistula is the perfect place to relax, and it comes with a view of the Royal Castle and the Old Town.
To celebrate the colours of spring, a Holi event took place at Castle Square in the Old Town and being the kid that I am, I eagerly dragged my friend along. It was a small crowd but it was fun, colourful, and messy – a perfect way to enjoy a sunny day.
Warmer days also mean eating out and lazing around in the park which means – food truck season!
April’s first weekend was a busy and awesome one. And look, it’s already the weekend…
Of course all happy days must have a dash of sadness… mine was because I learned the random palm in the middle of an intersection in Warsaw is not real. And I was so impressed by it.
And only two people knew- the girl who had called the morning after, and me…6000 miles away.
A year ago, her recipe was set: the lost of a first love, college pressure, and a dash of depression. She’d gone through the steps: wrote a suicide note, and took the meds. She didn’t need much. She fell asleep with the fifth pill.
Her friends had noticed a change in her, even her mother had suspicions, but no one thought she would actually do it. Most of us have had suicidal thoughts at some point, we just don’t act on it. This girl did. She didn’t just want to die- she could have already died because unlike me, she tried.
There was that one worried friend who had called her the morning after, when she woke up alive and scrambled to hide all evidence of what she had tried to do. I don’t know how that conversation went but I know that she didn’t talk to people about it. ‘Kalain sad oi.’ It’s unusual. She only told me – a year later – because she was suffering bouts of anxiety and she was afraid she had depression.
There is a stigma attached to mental illness in the Philippines – and it is a taboo to talk about mental health. I would know from experience. When depression ceased me, I knew something was very wrong, yet my first reaction was to retreat further into myself and show the world that I was still capable of being happy by laughing when it was appropriate and smiling… when in reality I felt nothing.
The fact is it isn’t as fun in the Philippines as most people think.
Filipinos are known as highly adaptable people who manage to smile even at the hardest times. Unfortunately, it seems this image also helps make the discussion of mental illnesses a taboo. In addition to this, mental illnesses are often connected to insanity (dangerous, aggressive, violent) and even seeing a mental health professional is perceived negatively. Denial then becomes a big hindrance to receiving treatment, not just for the person but for the family as well. Meanwhile, all we can do is bear the burden in our worn-down minds and try to cope by relying on our inner resources.
Sometimes, suicidal thoughts or profound unhappiness bring forth guilt. There are people who have it so much worse and they’re not chained by their own misery. What then, is wrong with you?
We need to talk about mental illness. We need to get rid of its stigma. We need to acknowledge, as a society, that a person cannot be held responsible for his own psychological health. We need to start to listen without judgement. We need to admit that refusing to acknowledge a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We need to accept that it’s okay to get help, that it’s okay to be unhappy when there is so much to be happy about. Until then, we will continue feeding the ignorance that might ultimately cost us the life of a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child, or our own.
Stop the stigma. Mental health matters.
I started 2016 with so much energy and the impulsiveness I’ve always had. As a response, Berlin gave us a ball of light in an entirely overcast sky for a sunrise on January 1.
It was at the beginning of 2016 that I finally made the change I was always planning on but was always afraid to do. It was painful then, but the pain stayed there. I was free. It was the year that proved what I always say: I’m too many people at once, sometimes I don’t know who I am.
I spent so much time, money, and energy traveling. There were times when I felt physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. I met all sorts of people, engaged in countless conversations that impacted me so much, and collected so many stories. I realised I can talk and that there are people who want to listen, and that the quieter you are, the more you can hear.
I worked on rediscovering what it meant to be ‘family’ –as Jonathan Safran Foer puts it, “One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what means to be family.” I spent my entire Christmas break traveling to meet family. It was a bit of a challenge that they were scattered all over the place.
I learned to do weekend breaks– having spent the previous year with barely any weekend free from work. I traveled to places I’d never heard of before, and learned to make do with whatever was at hand.
I woke one February morning to the news of the Brussels Bombings. I breakfasted in silence with the strangest feeling. By some stroke of fate, my extremely delayed flight left the airport 6 hours before that attack.
In a fit of jealousy, stubbornness, and possessiveness, I started running again. Every initial step was a battle against the voices in my head, against memories of the darkest summer I spent. I signed up for my first half marathon: the Isle of Skye Half Marathon.
I met the dreaded ToiToi – Germany’s portable public toilets, enjoyed work and the diversity of the people I was with. When summer was in full heat, I had my first swim in a Berlin lake, did the Rostock Half Marathon, and enjoyed the outdoors and the endless events that made up Berlin’s summer spirit.
One Sunday I visited a Gurdwara for the first time and received insights on something I knew very little about. I learned that Sikhism is more tradition, a way of life, than religion.
I remembered my roots, realised how much two and a half years can change a person, and caught up on old relations. It was a pleasant surprise that although we all go through so many different experiences and we are constantly changing, some things are fundamentally the same.
I moved to a new city in a new country, made new friends, and lived a new life. I had my fair share of grief and tears, faced my selfishness and learned that I didn’t have to explain all my actions. I shuddered at the indifference I discovered– at how cold and cruel the human heart can be. There are people in your life who are worthy of an explanation– and among them, people who don’t listen. As the saying goes, there are people who can’t see the forest for the trees.
It was the year I first smoked weed, shisha, drank a little too much a few times too many, yet it was the year I was fittest. I felt young. I regressed and did things I had missed out on in my strange childhood.
It was life on the fast lane that on the day I typed the words, it was true.
You know the girl you once thought you knew? Well, she’s not here anymore.
My mom used to say that her best friend lived in the middle of nowhere but that nowhere was about a 40-minute drive from Montreal. So of course, when I landed in Montreal on a bright late summer day, I was fooled by what I’d seen out the airplane window.
Having been so used to European cities that lack proper skylines, especially Berlin that lacks a CBD, I thought 40 minutes away would not be so bad. How wrong I was. Currently I’m in a place called Harwood – a couple of minutes drive from the terminus of Greater Montreal region’s rail system. There are sizeable towns in all directions, but we live in the middle of nowhere, in just one of the many houses along a main road. The supermarket is a 10-minute drive away.
I’m stuck at home, nice and warm with a cup of coffee, watching the greyness of autumn creep in, and waiting for the laundry to dry. The dog has taken my spot after I stood up for a minute. I’ve lots of things to do – and I’m so relieved the internet connection has become more reliable the past two days. I’m still trying to come to terms with the decreased mobility of suburban life.
Suburban life is wasting so much time on public transport, and spending so much on cab fares when no car is at hand. It’s having a huge house and an even larger land because you can. It’s having to drive 20 minutes to a dog park so the hyperactive dog gets to socialise.
It is knowing the people working at your local supermarket- a 10-minute drive away because it also happens to be the mini local expat community. It’s the long days that drag on slowly. It’s knowing the neighbours and trying to maintain a good relationship with them. Even people here have time to drop by and visit their parents on their way to work. Meals provide the daily warmth of people gathered, and dinner is a place for conversations.
I’ve been wandering around for the last two years, understanding that home can be anywhere. It’s in the familiar lands of my childhood. It’s where an impromptu feast is prepared when the family gathers. It’s in the arms of the man I love. It’s in my mother’s company. It’s the flat covered with cat hair in Hamburg. It’s up in Denmark in the Christmas season. It’s in Canada, where so many people who were part of my childhood have ended up living.
Some things worth noting:
- Within these two weeks, I have probably spoken my native tongue more than in the past two years. And damn does it feel good! I’m a completely different person when I speak Cebuano. I enjoyed the sounds so much that I avoided speaking English at all costs or mixing up English words in my sentences.
- I affirmed that rice should always go with meat.
- It’s so easy to bond over shared memories. We try to include as little gossip as possible, but that’s unavoidable…
- I am lucky to have a friend I’ve known since we first got up on our feet. We had so many petty disagreements and stupid fights growing up. We hadn’t seen each other for 4 years and barely chatted, but once we met, it was just like the 4 years never dragged on separately for the both of us.
- A dog gives so much life to a house.
- I am a proud Cebuano. I belong to a large ethnic group predominantly found in the central islands and southern Philippines. Up until 2012, my native tongue, Cebuano, was never formally taught in schools. Even so, with about 20 million speakers, it has the most number of native speakers among the Philippine languages!
It’s easy to get tricked by the glamour of photographs that we find on the internet. They’re the glossed over versions of everyday things.
Like a lot of people out there, I’m very selective of the images I post, and a lot of people see beauty in them without knowing the circumstances behind them.
I have received a lot of ‘you’re so lucky’ or ‘rich girl’ comments, sometimes even the degrading, ‘it’s nice to have a rich boyfriend’. I have paid for all of my trips since I got my first job when I was 18. I work for them, make do with missing out on a few luxuries, and save up for them. Traveling is much cheaper if you know your way around things. As I’ve been dealing with budgeting for trips and planning for trips since I was 16, I’ve picked up on skills to stretch every buck.
So for those of you trying to fit a trip on a budget, here are just a few useful tips.
Way back in 1999, some guy found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland but did not have a place to stay…so he hacked into the database for the University of Iceland and randomly e-mailed 1,500 of its students. He eventually received over 50 offers to accommodate him. On his return flight to Boston, he conceived the idea of Couchsurfing: to ‘surf’ on couches as a guest in somebody’s home, host travellers, meet members, or join events.
It’s a huge community and a great opportunity to meet locals and fellow travellers while saving on accommodation and I have met some great people on it. But it is not without its faults. There have been instances where people have used it as a hook-up site, and the web has quite a collection of couchsurfing horror stories, and I have had some bad experiences myself (but that’s for a different post).
2. Google Flights is your best friend.
Searching for airfares has been a lot easier ever since google launched Flights. You can opt for alerts on when the prices for a specific flight drops or starts increasing, see which airport has cheaper flights to your destination (if the distance is not huge, then sometimes it’s cheaper to take a train or bus to that airport and fly from there).
3. Rethink the single journey ticket and the Sightseeing Bus.
Almost all metros in the world will offer day tickets, multi-journey/multi-day tickets, weekend tickets and group tickets. Some already pay off after the second journey, so if you plan to explore the city on your own, consider opting for the multi-journey ones. Most cities also offer City Passes which can be a good deal if you want to visit a lot of museums and sights with entrance fees. They also have the option of including transport in it.
Ditch the Sightseeing Bus. The hop-on/hop-off at major tourist sites may be a lure, but do you really just want to sightsee? You can get a day pass for public transit and get to the same sights for less. Berlin’s bus 100 and 200 for instance, pass through almost all the major tourist points of interest in the city for less than €8,00 – all forms of public transport within zones AB included! They also depart more frequently!
4. Choose where you eat.
Avoid restaurants right at/close to major tourist sights, or restaurants with ‘tourist menus’ a.k.a. those flashy pictures of the dishes served plastered outside their walls. They are almost always tourist traps – absurdly overpriced and won’t really give you the ‘local’ flavours. Walk a few blocks away, and you’re more likely to find a good meal at a lesser price.
The rule of thumb is to eat where the locals eat.
5. Ditch the hotel.
Hotels are great for hassle-free stays but when your budget’s tight, you could still end up in a bad one.
If you’re young and looking to meet people, opt for a hostel. You can still go for a single room if you need a place to cocoon, but the atmosphere will be more social. Most hostels also organise activities or tours that cater to young travellers.
Also, for the uninitiated: AirBnb is awesome. Take my word on this one. It’s an online platform for renting holiday homes – rooms, flats, or entire houses. A lot of the listings have flexible check-in and check-out. Accommodations range from basic to luxurious, and they have the added bonus of a kitchen. Sure the site’s really being used to make money now, but you can still come across hosts who will really make you feel like a guest in their home.
If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s €27 off your first booking. You’re welcome!
6. Exploit your discounts.
Airlines, trains, and buses sometimes offer ‘youth discounts’ or discounted fares to travellers between the ages of 18-25. If you’re in possession of an ISIC (International Student ID Card), you’ll also get reduced admission on a lot of tourist attractions and be eligible for reduced fares. For a minimal yearly fee, becoming a Hostelling International (HI) or Youth Hostel Association (YHA) member will also give you discounts on accommodation and fares.
7. Find the right data pack.
Try not to rely on mobile data when you are charged more for roaming. There are plenty of hotspots around. If you are staying over a week and think you will need a constant connection, check out what data packs they offer for tourists – they might cost you less than your home network’s roaming tariff.
My Vodafone gives me the same tariff anywhere in the EU for just €15/month.
8. Buy water from the supermarket.
The 500mL water that cost €2,70 at Starbucks might sell for €1,20 in the supermarket. The 1,5L might cost as low as €0,30.
9. Timing is key.
Prices can be much lower when you book just at the right time – not too early nor too late. Accommodation websites such as agoda.com and Booking.com will have early bird deals that offer free or flexible cancellations or discounted rates.
Airlines, especially budget ones, provide real bargains if you know when to book. Airfares are most likely to drop real low on Wednesday nights. Weekend flights are usually more expensive, the earliest ones and the latest ones are usually the cheapest. Clearing your search history might sometimes get your search engine to reveal lower prices.
Rail passes go on sale. Trains also sell discount fares if you book early enough.
An overnight bus means you don’t need accommodation for that night. You can find a locker to leave your stuff so you can explore a place while waiting for check-in time.
If you’re not too bothered by the weather, you might also want to consider traveling off-season.
10. Join the free walking tour.
In a number of cities, you’ll find non-profit companies organising free walking tours. These tours are on a donation basis, and you’re absolutely free to give whatever you want. I usually find myself giving more than I thought I’d be saving – but that’s because most tour guides I’ve met had so much passion that it was hard not to fall in love with a place.
Picture yourself standing on a narrow street lined with white-walled houses, in a small Spanish town in the middle of nowhere. Now add 45,000 people from all around the world, high-pressure hoses shooting out water at random intervals, and over 145,000kg of tomato. The product is an enormous mess called La Tomatina.
On the last Wednesday of August every year, the small town of Buñol, 40km from Valencia, becomes overrun with tourists seeking to partake in its enormous tomato fight.
No one is really sure how this Buñol tradition started- a popular theory is that in 1944 or 1945, angry townspeople rioted and threw tomatoes at members of the city council during a town celebration. Whatever did happen, people enjoyed it so much that it was repeated yearly after that.
As word of La Tomatina came out (thanks especially to the Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), the event got bigger and bigger that in 2013, the city council decided to charge entrance fees and to limit the number of participants.
Who wouldn’t put participating in a massive tomato fight in their bucket list?
Traditionally, the tomato fight officially starts when someone retrieves the chunk of ham at the top of a greased pole. While this is happening, they’ll start prepping you up and hosing the crowd with cold water.
The La Tomatina crowd is a wild bunch from all around the world and you’ll find people in the quirkiest outifits. There are men dressed in religious habits, a whole Just Married entourage, crossdressers complete with blonde wigs, #DicksOutForHarambe, and of course the crazy Japanese bunch.
We all know Japanese people don’t go for ‘moderate’. As far as these folks are concerned, it is either all out or none at all. There were men dressed in sumo clothes, a man with a lab gown get-up that was completely tomato-proof, ladies in tomato mascots, a group in karate outfits, and people in wetsuits.
As fun as it sounds, the absence of teamwork and strategy and the presence of drunk people mean that the chances of someone retrieving the ham are next to none. So, whether or not the ham is retrieved, the tomato fight officially starts at 11am on the dot with a canon fired to signal the coming of the first of six delivery trucks carrying the tomatoes.
The mayhem begins when people submerged in waste-deep tomatoes start throwing them out to the crowd. The trucks then stop a minute or two at its designated unloading point to dump its entire load on the street. Caught too close to the water hoses as I was, the tomato fight ensued in a blur of plops and poofs and desperate attempts to hide behind the palm and avoid the water. My goggles came in handy after all.
The fight lasts exactly an hour and another canon is fired to mark its end. It was only at the end, when the crowd had loosened a little that I realised the full extent of La Tomatina. There are some events look exactly like in the photo, and post tomato-fight La Tomatina is one of them.
With a little more space and no more risk of getting hit on the nose by a tomato projectile, the cameras start coming out to capture the tomato sauce lake the people are all on. I have never seen that much tomato in my life and I doubt anyone ever will. In some areas, it was ankle-deep flowing rivers of tomato sauce! The locals had installed tarpaulins up to the third storey of their homes for easier cleanup, and looking up, you’d find yourself wondering how the tomatoes managed to end up so high.
I got an awful tan line, got dirty, stinky, and spent. The march back up from the town plaza to the parking lot felt like a mass exodus of zombies covered in tomatoes, and with the sun shining- we became sundried tomatoes desperately trying to somewhat clean ourselves up. It’s a smell I will never forget. At one point, I wanted to cry because I just wanted to shower and be clean, and with thousands of people wanting a shower, there were not enough hoses around.
It was an exhilarating experience that would awaken the inner child in anyone.
I was so exhausted that when I got back in the bus, I quickly fell asleep and didn’t even realise when the bus left and only woke up when we were already in Valencia. It was certainly one heck of a day and an experience for me and so many others.
And to those worried about food waste: the tomatoes for La Tomatina are actually grown for the purpose of the festival- they are of inferior taste and come extremely cheap from Extremadura.