BUÑOL, Spain (AFP) - Some 20,000 revellers pelted each other with tonnes of squishy tomatoes in Spain's annual "Tomatina" food fight on Wednesday - but this year they had to pay to get sticky.
Drenched in red juice with seeds and pulp in their hair, semi-naked festival-goers hurled fistfuls of tomato gloop at one another and bathed in a deep layer of mush left in the street - 130 tonnes of tomatoes overall.
"I got pushed around, I got thrown around, I got tomatoes in my face in my eyes, everywhere. It was crazy," said Mr Teddy Leonard, 23, from Texas.
Defying sheets of rain and stormy skies, masses from around the world - led by Australians, Japanese and Britons - joined battle in the Plaza Mayor square of Buñol, eastern Spain.
"It was crazy, crazy. Complete chaos," laughed Ms Leanne Stout, a 20-year-old Dutch visitor, her white top stained pink.
"Rivers of tomatoes, everywhere," she said, splashing through a stream of red goo amid the bitter smell of raw tomatoes.
Some people dressed as tomatoes and many wore shower caps and goggles to protect their eyes from the acidic juice of the tomatoes, which are squashed before being hurled at the crowd from the backs of lorries.
"It's my first time at La Tomatina. It was brilliant," said Mr Levi James, 40, from Bristol, England. "I nearly died, in a crush. That would have been the best place to die. It's just mayhem, utter mayhem. I loved it, every minute."
Plastic covers were hung to shield buildings along the 400-metre course during the hour-long frenzy, while unprotected walls got splattered with red globs.
Some people had partied through the night and began Wednesday's festivities singing, clapping and swigging wine and sangria from the bottle.
Some saw the Tomatina as a safer alternative to Spain's other big draw for foreign thrill-seekers - the bull-running festival in Pamplona.
"It is one of the most famous festivals in western Europe and it is safer than running with a bull," said 22-year-old Brad Fisher from Sydney, wearing a mustard-coloured shirt with a ketchup logo.
This year, for the first time, participants paid a minimum of 10 euros (S$17). The price rose to 750 euros to get up on one of the six trucks bringing in the tomatoes and hurl them onto the crowd below.
Organisers this year cut the number of participants by half, citing safety concerns.
Bunol's Mayor Joaquin Masmano Palmer also admitted that the food fight, which has cost 140,000 euros to stage this year, represents a heavy burden for a town with a debt of 4.1 million euros.
For the first time, a private company, SpainTastic, was charged with selling tickets for the Tomatina, sparking concern that recession-hit Spain's beloved town festivals may be on the path to privatisation.
All the 15,000 entry tickets were sold out more than two weeks before the festival, SpainTastic said. A further 5,000 free tickets were set aside for Buñol residents.
Among the top ticket buyers were Australians with 19.2 per cent of the total, Japanese with 17.9 per cent, Britons with 11.2 per cent, Spaniards with 7.8 per cent and United States nationals with 7.5 per cent.
Tomatina T-shirts, caps and coffee mugs were on sale, too.
Though the origins of the event are unclear, it is thought to have its roots in a food fight in the 1940s between young people who seized tomatoes from a grocer's stall.
It has grown in size as international press coverage has brought more and more people to the festival.
After the lorries passed, cleaners sprayed the street with water, washing away the pulp as revellers wrung the juice out of their pinkened t-shirts.