Every year on the last Wednesday of August, some 20,000 people make their way to the town of Buñol, near Valencia in Spain, for what is perhaps the biggest food fight in the world – La Tomatina. After the traditional scaling of a greased pole to reach a suspended ham, many lorry loads of tomatoes are deposited on the streets, and an hour-long frenzy of tomato-flinging begins. La Tomatina is a festival never to be forgotten, and revellers usually stink of tomato juice for days afterwards – swimming goggles are highly recommended!
As part of our ongoing quest to track down the world’s most exciting experiences, here are six more of the wildest festivals in the world that should be on your bucket lists.
1. Carnival of Ivrea, Italy
This centuries-old celebration is thought to commemorate the city’s rebellion against a tyrant who once tried to have his way with a local miller’s daughter against her will. Red-capped revolutionaries throng the streets on foot, hurling oranges at the despot’s troops who charge around on chariots. Buildings are protected with nets, which is where most spectators wisely take cover for the duration, but if you have the nerve you can watch the action in the streets. Beware though, many unwary people are caught out by a badly-aimed orange which is a lot heavier than a tomato!
2. Songkran, Thailand
The Songkran New Year’s festival is celebrated throughout many Asian countries, but it is in Thailand where things get pretty crazy. It’s a time when many Thai people return to their hometowns to reconnect with elders, make offerings at temples, and wash themselves and statues of the Buddha to represent purification. There is another side to Songkran though, which is an immense, country-wide water fight that travellers and young Thais indulge in, often with little thought to their own safety. Your correspondent has himself witnessed people on scooters shooting super-soakers at each other on the motorway, diving into rivers to fill buckets of water, and emptying their buckets over unsuspecting passers-by in the streets.
3. Halloween, New Orleans
There is nowhere better to celebrate Halloween than in New Orleans. For a week the Big Easy is transfixed with parades, parties, haunted house tours and other special events, all populated by some of the most outlandish fancy dress you’ll ever see. The Krewe of Boo runs the most popular parade, a spine-tingling carnival featuring huge 3D floats, while you might attend a vampire’s ball, a voodoo festival, or simply get your Halloween vibes at a spooktacular jazz night.
4. Burning Man, Nevada, USA
Burning Man is about as far as you could get from a typical festival. Its origins are in artistic self-expression and community cohesion, but today it’s like walking onto the set of Mad Max. Held out in the scorching hot Black Rock Desert, the festival encourages participants to build their own structures, art installations, vehicles and costumes, and the more outlandish the better. There are artistic performance, electronic music sets and many other events before the ritual burning of the eponymous effigy on the final Saturday. There are many strict rules to abide by when attending Burning Man, but stick by them and you can expect to be welcomed into a community like no other.
5. Day of the Dead, Mexico
Coinciding with Halloween, Mexico’s Dia de Muertos is when people come together to honour those who have passed, cleaning their graves, praying at altars and inviting neighbours to visit their homes to share a meal. The elaborate skull costumes are well-known, but participants will also frequently wear shells on their clothing, the noise helping to ‘wake the dead’, while some families will even choose to spend a day picnicking in a cemetery.
6. Rouketopolemos, Greece
Head to Vrontados, on the Greek island of Chios at Easter, and watch one of Europe’s craziest religious festivals take place. There are two churches built on neighbouring hills here, and the congregations fire thousands of homemade rockets at each other, with the first to hit the others’ bell tower declared the winner. But there’s a twist – both sides always choose to have had the first shot on target, so that the rivalry is always perpetuated until the following year.