El Silbo – the secret language of La Gomera
Are you using Twitter? Then you must be interested in tweeting the original way. Travel back in time with me to see if I manage to connect with locals in the next village using ´El Silbo`, the whistling language used for long-distance communication on La Gomera . The language is listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Where is La Gomera, which belongs to Spain?
First, I would like to bring you to the Canary Islands, an archipelago belonging to Spain but located in the Atlantic Ocean, just about 150 km off North Africa. The 7 main islands offer a variety of landscapes from a snow-peaked volcano to an overseas extension of the Sahara Desert and everything imaginable in-between.
One of those little Canary Islands…
Now, zoom in a bit, and just off the west coast of the biggest island of Tenerife, you can find a tiny island covered in thirty shades of green: La Gomera. The 372 km2 island gives home to about 24.000 people who can tweet an actual language: the syllables are spelled out by whistling. El Silbo is the only, fully developed, whistled language in the world that is practiced by so many people. My mission here is to tweet without a cell phone!
Even Christopher Columbus did a stop on La Gomera
I arrive by ferry in the harbor of San Sebastian, the place where Christopher Columbus took off for his journeys to America in 1492. After a walk across ´Plaza de las Américas´, I enjoy my ´Café con Leche´ with a beautiful view of the ocean and the peak of the Teide, Spain´s highest mountain, on Tenerife. I walk another street up to find my hostel and drop my luggage. Everything goes easy here, like on all Canary Islands I´m backpacking at the moment.
The whistle language got saved by UNESCO
In the Archaeological Museum of La Gomera I immerse myself back in time and discover everything about the first inhabitants, the Guanche people, who first used the whistle language here. Only on La Gomera it got adapted to Spanish by the last Guanches, after the Spanish conquered the Canary Islands during the 16th century. By the end of the 21st century, the language got threatened by extinction but when UNESCO listed it, the government made it a mandatory subject at schools. Nowadays, the average Gomerean is able to speak and whistle in Spanish!
A demonstration of El Silbo at ´Mirador de Abrante´
The next day I discover the island. An amazing green heart in the middle of the island gives home to the unique Laurel forest. I go for lunch at ´Mirador de Abrante´, where they do a demonstration of El Silbo, before I head down to Valle Gran Rey to spend my evening.
The whistle sound of La Gomera can travel up to 3 km!
“With a bit of luck, you can hear a shepherd whistling in the early morning”, says the girl in the supermarket where I stop before going to camp in the mountains, “the whistle can travel up to 3 km!”. Completely convinced that I will hear the shepherd the next morning, I continue my trip.
´The Magic Island´ of the Canary Islands
Unfortunately, my mission fails. El Silbo is rarely used the original way, but respected as a cultural aspect now. Other than the demonstration, I never caught a ´real´ twitter. Nevertheless, I had a great time on la Gomera. With the fairylike Garajonay National Park and fire shows at the beach in Valle Gran Rey, I now know why it´s ´the Magic Island´ of the Canaries.
* Till here this article was written by me for the 2017 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. The application needed to be submitted in English, containing 2500 characters and written around the theme ´Make a Local Connection´.
Find your accommodation for your holiday to La Gomera
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Tip for a great combination of your travels to la Gomera!
La Gomera is not a big island and you might like to combine it with another Canary Island. It’s very easy to combine it with Tenerife since it’s only a ferry ride away. But why not combine your little green hilly forest island, with a great beach destination? It feels like you are traveling to two different continents, but the island of Fuerteventura offers Caribbean style beaches, Hawaii-quality surfing, and much more. Check out my article about all great things you can do on Fuerteventura, by clicking on this link.
Tip for your flight to La Gomera or between the Canary Islands
You can easily fly between La Gomera and Fuerteventura with Binter Canarias or Canary Fly Airlines. Use12go.co to check for all available flights. They scan all airlines for you to find the most economic flight. You can also use this company to find the best deal for your flight from the UK or anywhere in Europe.