As a group of topless Spanish guys sneak up through the crowd behind me and rip the shirt from my body, I silently commend my foresight earlier today to wear the shittest clothes in my exceptionally tiny backpacker wardrobe. Definitely a good decision. Someone else’s t-shirt, tied into a tight ball of knots, zings past my head and hits an attractive, scantily clad girl in the back of the head.
We are at the annual La Tomatina Tomato fight. Basically it’s a food fight. A REALLY BIG food fight. We’re talking multiple trucks full of tomatoes dumped onto the street followed by complete pandemonium. But the trucks have not arrived yet. Everyone is so trigger happy that a t-shirt fight has broken out. Obviously it goes without saying that it is a REALLY BIG t-shirt fight.
There are a lot of people here crammed into the narrow Spanish streets. It’s an ocean of topless sweaty bodies sliding past each other but not in a sexual kind of way. Its so cramped that it feels like a heavy metal concert mosh pit. But there’s no music. Just the sound of damp material slapping against bare flesh and hundreds of people yelping in pain. And right in the middle of it all are our posse of intrepid adventurers (now in the double figures) ready to take a few hundred tomatoes for the team. But there are so many people that it is impossible for all of us to stay together so before I know it, its just Mick, Chef Robin and I.
Our experience at La Tomatina was very different to anyone else there. In addition to getting amongst the action and throwing copious amounts of clothing and fruit at complete strangers we also had the arduous task of trying to film the days events without damaging any of our equipment. As you can imagine, video cameras don’t particularly handle being saturated with the juice of a billion tomatoes all that well so we needed a solution. At any self respecting camera store you can purchase an underwater housing which is basically a clear plastic case that protects the camera from any moisture but at around 600 euro a pop it was a little out of our budget so we needed another answer. Mick, being the improvising little blighter that he is, designed and constructed three makeshift housings using some Tupperware containers, CD cases, Styrofoam and silicone. But there was no way to test these housings. After all, its pretty damn hard to simulate what we were about to experience so it was going to be a matter of fingers crossed, hope for the best.
What we were not counting on was the unexpected climate. Spain is pretty hot, but when your completely surrounded by sweaty bodies, it tends to bump up the temperature quite a few degrees. So during the t-shirt fight, before a single tomato had even been thrown, all three of our camera cases started to fog up and we couldn’t see a thing. Needless to say, we started to panic. We knew we would have to open up the housings and try to find a solution but there was no where we could do this that was safe. And it’s not just the t-shirts we had to worry about. Stand in the wrong spot and the camera would be drenched by one of the locals pouring water from the balconies onto the overheated crowds below. Ironically, we found the place that was most out of harm’s way was against a wall right in the middle of a particularly aggressive shirt battle between two self appointed teams. We hugged the wall next to a roller door and cut open our housings quickly trying to find a way to provide some ventilation. Thankfully, most people resisted the temptation to hit an easy target and let us be. But every now and then a t-shirt would fly centimeters away from one of our heads and thunder into the metal door, scaring the living shit out of us.
After what seemed like an eternity, we had managed to carve some air-holes into the bottom of the casings and the fog finally cleared. But the heat was still too much and after a while the problem reappeared. There was only one solution. We had to ditch the housing and get some shots the old fashioned way. Not wanting to put all three cameras at risk, Mick removed his camera from its snap fresh protection, wrapped it in a plastic bag and braved the battlefield. The tomatoes came, got thrown around, and then it was all over. This logistical nightmare was by far the hardest thing we have had to film so far but thankfully we survived and through Mick’s improv camera work, we managed to document the whole thing on 16:9 widescreen for your viewing pleasure.