The whistling language and the whistling island? Yes, that is almost the official nickname for La Gomera. We haven’t heard about it before but once we got there we were both blown away! And it’s easy to be impressed by this special way of communication. We will give you tips and insights to make sure that you don’t miss it when you go to La Gomera.
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Whistling language is for real – well almost
When we first heard that there was a whole language made out of whistles, we were sure that someone was making fun of us. And even when we heard an example from our driver Carlos Hdez Chinea. We still thought that someone was yanking our chain. I mean, whistle what you want to say? Come on!
Now let it be said that we had not done our research on La Gomera before going there on a press trip. If we had googled it before, we would have known that it is true and a real thing on the island. It is real enough that it is in the school curriculum and that the children are having lessons in the language that is officially called ”Silbo”. However, at the same time, it is a dying art form that needs to do a comeback!
Silbo is not really a language
Silbo is called a language but really it’s not. This is because you can whistle in any language. Does it sound confusing? Well, easiest way to put it is that even if it’s called a whistling language its more a way of speaking any language but through whistles.
During our visit to La Gomera, we got to hear whistling in both English and Spanish. No, we couldn’t hear the difference between the languages but apparently, there is a difference so we will just have to trust them.
Why do people whistle on La Gomera?
Well, there is not a really simple answer to that question. It depends on who you ask and where you search. I will give you the information that we got while asking around on the island. The whole island of La Gomera consists of high peaks and deep valleys. Before we had cars and cellphones and all of the modern things that we have today, people still needed to communicate with each other. If you were in a deep valley, watching over sheep and you remembered that you wanted to say something to someone that was up on the peak, whistling was the way to go.
Since there is an echo that is created when you shout from a valley or ravine, that was quickly ruled out. Sure, it’s cool to yell something while being in a ravine but chances that people will understand more than just a word here and there are slim to none. So instead, people started to whistle. And the thing is that whistling doesn’t create the same kind of echo so it’s a lot easier to ”understand” and to hear.
Why do people whistle – different thoughts
According to an article I found, the explanation for the whistling comes from the way early immigrants were talking. Apparently they were speaking with a tonal language and that this is the reason why they adapted a whistling language.
On the last day of September 2009, UNESCO decided to give El Silbo (translates to ”the whistle”) or Silbo Gomero, as it is also known as, cultural status to further protect the culture. This is a great thing because the “language” almost got extinct since no one was teaching it to the children anymore.
Where can you hear Silbo – The Whistling language?
You might think that once you come to the island of La Gomera, you will hear the whistling all over but unfortunately, that is not the case. You might also think that there is a special visitor center that is dedicated to the whistling language. Well, let me tell you that there is not at the moment. That is not to say that it won’t be one in the future.
So, to be able to hear the whistling language you will have to know where to go and who to talk to. Here is a list of places where you can try your luck. Some of them are places where you can hear recordings. Well, most of them are. If you want the real deal you need to go to Agulo and visit the restaurant at the Mirador de Abrante.
Mirador de Abrante in Agulo – the restaurant
You need to ask really nicely and also tip the guys if you want them to whistle for you. Oscar and Mario can really provide a show and make you understand that the whistling language is a real thing. During our visit there, they didn’t just whistle, they also showed us that they really understand each other while whistling. If you watch the video, you will understand what I’m talking about.
This is, according to a lot of people, the best place to hear the Silbo live. Just make sure to ask for Oscar and Mario, because those guys work perfectly together and they are super fun. I will not spoil anything but by watching the video that we made – you will see how they convinced us all!
Taxi driver Carlos Hdez Chinea
Carlos will tell you that he can’t whistle but he can! He is not only a great whistler, but he is also a great driver and guide. By taking a ride with him you are bound to see a lot more of the island that you would have otherwise. But Carlos will not only whistle. No, he will give you super interesting anecdotes and information about the island.
Contact Carlos by phone or email to make sure your trip will be awesome! email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 629689080.
PEG Los Telares, La Gomera Ethnographic Park
At the ethnographic park in Los Telares, you can hear a recording of Silbo and learn more about the whistling. The whistle that is “said” is “Welcome to the ethnographical park of La Gomera Los Telares”. Of course, it’s not the same hearing it live but at the same time – better to hear a recording than nothing at all, right?
And you don’t come to the park, only to hear Silbo. No, there is much more to explore here and to check out. This is the place you want to visit to learn more about how life on the island was before. Make sure to try their Gofio with honey. It’s delicious and tastes a bit like Christmas.
The visitor center at Garajonay National Park
This is a place that you need to visit when visiting La Gomera. The national park is incredible and there you will probably not hear any whistling language. However, at its visitor center, there is a station where you can watch a video. Here you will learn more about Silbo in a great way.
Make sure to start your visit at the visitor center. By doing so you will get much more out of your visit since there is a lot of information here. During our visit, there were a lot of people here and it made it hard to record the whistling. It is super interesting to hear it, even if it’s not live.
Do you know more places where you can hear the whistling language? Please get in touch so that we can edit this list!