Whistles replace words in La Gomera, the true wild side of the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago that sits in the Atlantic, about 100 kilometres off the coast of northern Africa (iStockphoto)

I was sitting on the patio of a small café, enjoying the sun and my lunch, looking out over the vast valley below, when the man across the table from me started to whistle – hard. He put his knuckle in his mouth, cupping it with the other, and in the sing-song sound I could hear tones and inflections that I recognized as unrecognizable words. It was loud enough to carry clear across the valley. Spirited enough to take a message around the entire island in just half an hour.

In times past, shepherds used this language, called Silbo Gomero, to “speak” across the deep ravines of La Gomera, the second smallest of the seven larger Canary Islands. “The sides of the mountains are natural amplifiers, and [sound] can carry as much as three kilometres,” the whistler, Elias Garcia, explains. “When I was a kid, I would hear it. People would use it to help each other locate livestock or find water. Wives would call their husbands in for lunch. My mother used it to call us in at night.”

Unique in the world and enshrined by UNESCO as a cultural treasure, the Silbo replaces vowels and consonants with distinct tones. But when dictator Francisco Franco ruled the island, the whistling nearly stopped. The military ruler and his henchmen didn’t like the fact that Gomerans could communicate in a language they couldn’t understand, and it came close to extinction. But one of the world’s only whistle languages has survived; it’s taught in schools and recognized and practised by most islanders. “The Silbo is better than a mobile phone,” Garcia says. “You’re never out of coverage and the battery never dies. It’s our thing.”

La Gomera is an enchanted, volcanic island straight out of a storybook.(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago that sits in the Atlantic, about 100 kilometres off the coast of northern Africa. While the Canaries have gained a reputation in Europe as a winter haven for septuagenarian Germans and Brits on package tours, they have a quiet side that’s a long way from the masses, both in attitude and pace. Especially on La Gomera: an enchanted, volcanic island straight out of a storybook, where cool cloud forests meet subtropical rain forests and each of its dizzyingly deep valleys seems to end at a hidden beach.

Soon after I landed on the island, I found myself climbing away from the coast in a small, Spanish-made car with Sophie Belt, a local schoolteacher who took a few days off from her classroom duties to serve as my guide for my time on Gomera.

As we passed into Garajonay National Park, Belt explained that the island’s geology and geography have created more than 400 microclimates. UNESCO recognizes Garajonay as a World Heritage Site for its biodiversity, the large number of unique animals and its dramatic, ancient landscape (massive barrancos, or ravines, created from ash and lava fields, as well as volcanic roques, or domes). Turning to me, Belt smiled and said, “Get ready to go back a couple million years.”

Before us, great, strange cones, columns and chimneys rose, some of them leaning perilously to one side, an alien landscape and an environment completely different from the small fishing village we had just left a few minutes earlier. Belt, a Gomeran native of British extraction, explained that these were the remnants of an old volcanic crater, now long gone – the whimsical formations all around were simply the last rocks to erode.

La Gomera’s landscape is punctuated by striking rock outcrops, such as the Roque de Agando, above, huge ravines and cloud forests. (Getty Images)

We took a few minutes to snap some photos, then quickly descended into a dense rain forest, Belt noting that these islands have a long human history, as well – the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians all made stops here and, later, the Canaries were an important way station to the New World. The Romans were here, too – they called the Canaries the Fortunate Islands. “We have the sun and the sea, and a good natural water source,” she said in a cheery English accent.

We got out of the car and hiked along a small trail through lush foliage, Belt pointing out little cabins on the slopes here and there, noting that many German travellers come here and rent small, rural homes for weeks at a time, spending their days exploring the still-wild parts of the island. We had worked up an appetite, and made our next stop at a small restaurant, La Montana, that has been serving up authentic, vegetarian Gomeran cuisine for decades.

Now perhaps the most famous restaurant on the island, La Montana had humble beginnings. Belt translated as the elderly owner, Efigenia Borges, explained that, a few decades back, Gomera had no restaurants – tourism didn’t get its start here until the 1980s. So when workers came to the area building the road that now runs the width of the island, Borges dug into her cache of old family recipes, cooking and serving them the same meals she fed her husband and kids.

And it’s what she served me, out on the restaurant’s sunny patio. I tucked into an island favourite called gofio, a milled grain flour passed down by Gomera’s indigenous residents, served here as a pudding paired with red mojo sauce, plus vegetable soup, a fresh salad and almogrote, a delicious mixture of cured goat cheese, red peppers, olive oil and garlic spread on fresh bread. Giving me a tour of the small restaurant, she gestured at her vegetable garden, which still supplies much of what she serves here. “It is totally natural. I’ve raised it, nurtured it, helped it to grow,” she said in Spanish, with Belt translating for me. “You use what the land gives.”

And on Gomera, you use what the sea gives, too. On my last full day on the island, I boarded a small boat to get a look at things from sea level. As we rolled out onto the aquamarine, a naturalist explained that the channel that separates La Gomera from the neighbour island of Tenerife is a magnet for marine life. The currents carry fish here, and the waters are rich in minerals from the volcanic rock, which provides an excellent breeding ground for plankton. It has long been a prime place for calving, and is home to five species of whale, five species of dolphin, sea turtles and a kaleidoscope of crustaceans.

We passed little villages with pretty white buildings tucked into the end of the massive ravines, as well as a couple of former canneries, now just ruins – memories of the hard life that used to be the norm on Gomera. “Before tourism, everyone worked at a fish factory,” Belt explained.

Navigating deeper into the channel, a group of spotted dolphins – small, fast and adorable – whooshed up next to us, swimming and frolicking in the flow of water cast off by the bow as we plunged forward into the waves. Off our starboard side, a seagull kept trying to land on the back of a loggerhead turtle floating at the surface, which it took to be a rock. I couldn’t hear the Silbo, but I still felt a long, long way from the package-tour beaches, teeming with northern sun-seekers, just around the corner on Tenerife.

If you go British Airways, in partnership with Iberia airlines, provides the most direct connection from Canada to either Tenerife or Gran Canaria, via London. From there, you can either take a ferry from Tenerife, or take one of several available domestic flights from either island.

What to do Each of the Canary Islands has its own look, feel and personality. The two largest, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, welcome the vast majority of travellers, and even those headed to the smaller spots usually spend a few nights on one of these two islands. Gran Canaria offers a number of quiet areas, including fincas (farms) where you can drink coffee and wine from beans and grapes grown on site, plus the Barranco de Guayadeque, an arid valley where you can eat and sleep in one of a series of natural caves.


Where to stay Most of the hotels on Gomera are unpretentious, family-run establishments. Hotel Gran Rey, near the ocean at the mouth of spectacular Valle Gran Rey, is within walking distance of several good restaurants and charming shops. Rooms start at $145 per night. hotelgranrey.es

The writer travelled as a guest of the Canary Islands Tourism Board. It did not review or approve the story. Which was first published in The Globe and Mail

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Weather 6th October 2015 – Los Cristianos/Las Americas

Waking up this morning it looks as if the calima has passed, well almost, a little misty but nothing like we have had the past couple of days. Temperatures are still high  but a more comfortable 25°C and there is no breeze.


Yesterday was extremely hot 32°C in the shade and felt at least 40°C – the whole day was stifling. This is the first year when I’m not sure I can stand the sweltering heat much longer.  I even posted on facebook that it was uncomfortably hot and had people agreeing, so when I read on Tripadvisor that someone had arrived in Las Americas yesterday and it was raining I was gobsmacked.  I didn´t hear anyone else in the south make that comment so was it just tourists reaction to overcast skies or did it really rain?


The following images are taken from the webcam yesterday at 12.00, 3.00 and 5.00 these times are approximate and are at whatever is the nearest before or after the hour. You can check the previous 72 hours to see what has been/is happening on these webcams so particularly useful.

Las Vistas Beach, Los Cristianos

Puerto de la Cruz

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Valley of the Guanches

“The very existence of a white people perpetuating an advanced Neolithic Culture in the 14th Century of our era in the extreme SW of the Old World was such an unaccountable oddity that the association of the Canary Islands with Atlantis became quite a logical presumption since the problem entered the field of erudite inquiry.”- Anthropologist, Dr Rene Vernau.

For centuries, the early tribes of the Canaries and indeed the islands themselves have been romantically linked to the legendary city of Atlantis. Are these islands the mountain peaks of an ancient civilisation, forever lost to the ocean depths and are their early inhabitants Atlantean refugees?

Or if that seems far-fetched then who are they and where did these ancient people come from?

Since anthropologists discovered remains indicating that ancient Canarians were similar to Cro-Magnon man, “tall to very tall in stature (some were over 6 feet in height), with the white-and-pink complexion of an Englishmen and a long head (dolichocephalic) with a broad face and a typical triangle shaped chin. They had big and low orbits with strong eyebrows. The body was strongly built. Their hair ranged from fair to medium brown.”

So where did these white skinned giants – so different from the dark, African tribes, really come from?

It now seems that the answer lies in the Sahara desert, once a green and fertile land and the centre of a widespread popular culture that predates the ancient Egyptians.

This was proven primarily by the discovery of ancient cave paintings, detailed enough to identify fair-skinned, blond hunters. As the region is now a dry, barren desert, it’s safe to presume at some point the climate changed dramatically, forcing the people to emigrate -which eventually led some of them here. Others would have been integrated into other, darker skinned tribes, but the isolation of these islands would have kept the bloodlines pure and from as early as 500BC through to the fall of the Roman Empire, the islands were visited but never settled on.

/ Alejandro Rodriguez Buenafuente

/ Alejandro Rodriguez Buenafuente

Of course nothing lasts forever and in the 13th century the islands were rediscovered, then in 1476, the islands came under the control of Spain with fierce resistance from the native tribes who refused to accept their rule or religion.

A long struggle against their new rulers led to the extermination and absorption of the Guanche by the conquerors and through this, the culture and language of the ancients was eventually lost.

So, the last survivors of Atlantis, or ancient immigrants from a Saharan paradise? Either way, next time I look at one of the many statues of the Guanche scattered throughout the island, it will be with respectful eyes.

The above was written by and published courtesy of Marc Craig

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Free – ​Professional Diving Course on Offer

Down down deeper and down with Umberto Pelizzari


The Adeje municipal school of aquatic activities, base for the Apnea Academy West Europre Centre in la Caleta, will host a free diving course for professionals led by Umberto Pelizzari.

This is the third consecutive year that the Italian diver, widely considered among the best of all times in the discipline, with world records in all branches of free-diving, will lead the course which is running until October 11th.  According to the Adeje sports councillor Adolfo Alonso Ferrera “with this course we are hoping to strengthen the Canarias and in particular Costa Adeje’s standing as the best place in the world for top level underwater activities.

Since its inauguration this municipal school has hosted many diverse high level aquatic activities with over 500 people from all over the world travelling to Adeje for courses  during 2014/2015. With the protected bay in La Caleta, the waters maintain an average temperature of 23º throughout the year making it an ideal location for these kinds of sports.

The school’s director Francisco González Castro, describes Umberto Pelizzari as “the best and best known person in the history of the sport of free-diving, who furthermore has chosen the Canaries and in particular Costa Adeje in Tenerife to pursue his training programmes”.

Alongside the course a number of talks are taking place with youth and other local bodies, contributing to the promotion of Costa Adeje as a sporting destination.  On October 9th Pelizzari will join photographer Sergio Hanquet in presenting a conference (in Spanish) ‘A life united with the sea”.

Umberto Pelizzari was born in 1965 in the province of Varese and by the age of 17 had taken part in 11 major diving championships.  In 1984 he began to concentrate on free-diving and in 1990 recorded his first world record of a time of 6’ 03”. In the same year he also broke his first depth record in the sport.  He has continued to make and break world records and is the only athlete in the sport to have held world records in all the related disciplines.​

umberto 2

Source: Screenshot

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Weather 5th October 2015 – Los Cristianos/Las Americas

What a very uncomfortable night!  Still this morning although the calima is still with us and temperatures are high, 27°C there is quite a strong breeze which is wonderfully cooling.  As long as it lasts I intend to make the most of it and try to breath as this thick air is playing havoc with my sinuses.   ;-)

1-DSC07247Yesterday was just plain horrible, 36°C in the shade and I’ve no idea what out of the shade, except the air was so thick and muggy I guess everywhere was shaded.

The forecast for the week has changed little, still showers towards the end of the week but the percentages have dropped, which probably means by the time Thursday arrives they will be non-existent.

The following images are taken from the webcam yesterday at 12.00, 3.00 and 5.00 these times are approximate and are at whatever is the nearest before or after the hour. You can check the previous 72 hours to see what has been/is happening on these webcams so particularly useful.

Las Vistas Beach, Los Cristianos

Puerto de la Cruz

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The Most Popular One-Day Excursions in Tenerife for Canary Island Cruisers

If you’re lucky enough to be taking a cruise around the Canary Islands, there are lots of sights to see and activities to get involved in, whether you’re looking for family fun or unique experiences. From whale and dolphin spotting, to exploring centuries old pyramids there’s a lot more to this picturesque volcanic region than first meets the eye…

Pilot Whales

Whale and dolphin watching – you may have thought that you would need to travel to more exotic climes to see whales and dolphins, but one third of all whale and dolphin species pass through the waters of the Canaries, which means that this is a prime spot for seeing plenty of fine specimens. Bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and risso dolphins are just some of the species that can be viewed on a whale and dolphin watching boat trip in the warm waters around Tenerife.


Theme parks – Tenerife is a hugely popular holiday destination with tourists of all sorts and so the amenities for entertainment here are numerous and exciting, including some fantastic theme parks. Aqualand was Tenerife’s first water park and has a resident dolphin show as well as plenty of rides and slides; Siam Park is Tenerife’s new water kingdom and has a huge range of facilities, from rapids and rides to a floating market; Rebu Park is aimed at keeping the kids entertained with all sorts of games and activities; and Jungle Park and Monkey Park offer the opportunity to encounter all sorts of exotic animals whilst adventuring on rope bridges and through waterfalls and lagoons.

Guimar PyramidsThe Pyramids of Guimar  – the 60,000 square meter Black Pyramid Park comes as quite a shock to anyone who thought that the pyramids were a uniquely Egyptian creation. The Canaries pyramids are located around 26km from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and make for a fascinating day trip to see one of the area’s most unique historical sights. These constructions are thought to have been built for the winter and summer solstices and have been compared to those built by the Maya and Aztec civilisations in Mexico.

El Teide National Park

Teide National Park – this glorious national park contains the Teide-Pico Viejo stratovolcano, the highest point in Spain at more than 7,500m above sea level. Here, there are incredible views out over the island and Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, as well as plenty of fantastic hiking and walking routes, complete with wonderful scenery. Las Cañadas Natural Park, within Teide, is a UNESCO protected zone and has some breathtaking landscapes with imposing sheer cliffs and otherworldly lava formations.

Plaza de EspanaSanta Cruz – this vibrant city is the capital of this Canary Island and a bustling port that is home to the regional Canarian parliament, as well as a broad spectrum of entertainment and activities. Sightseeing spots here include exploring the Garcia Sanabria Park, soaking up the sun on the glorious beach of Playa de las Teresitas, shopping for bargains at the Africa city market and strolling around the Plaza de Espana, the largest square in the Canaries. There are also numerous fabulous eateries and bars, and nightlife to rival the best that this area has to offer.

These are just some of the most popular one day excursions for those who are cruising around these warm waters. Whether you’re looking for culture, food, entertainment or history, there’s plenty to keep everyone occupied on the fascinating island of Tenerife.

Amy Sawyer is a freelance travel journalist working with Celebrity Cruises who offer a range of cruises which let you explore some the best of Tenerife in a one-day or overnight shore excursion.

The above article is reprinted courtesy of Tenerife Forum.Org.Es

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Traditional Wooden Balconies of Tenerife

Tenerife, and indeed all the Canary Islands, has a long tradition of wood carving which is shown clearly in the islands churches of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Wood from the Canarian Pine was used in the construction of intricately carved balconies on the mansions of the islands wealthy in the 17th Century, particularly in the old towns of La Laguna and La Orotava. The native Canarian pine is very durable and it was inevitable the wood would be used in domestic architecture.

One of the best examples of these balconies is in the old town of La Orotava in the hills above Puerto de la Cruz on the north of Tenerife, at Las Casa de los Balcones (The House of the Balconies). Remarkably the pine used for these balconies has never been treated and has lasted over 400 years.


Casa del Balcones

This building was originally two separate houses built in the 17th Century by a wealthy local family and has since joined together to from one house.

These grand old houses have inner courtyards protected from the sun and therefore cool, with balconies made from the islands palm trees, creating covered walk ways on the ground floor.

The style of these balconies is Plateresque, named after the work of silversmiths, and inspired by the traditional architecture of Andalucía and Portugal.

As Tenerife has a mild climate and has not suffered any destructive wars, the islands architecture dates back to the Spanish conquest, and largely remain in a good condition.

Canarian Pine Balcony

The above article is by Peter Allen and originally published by e tenerife holidays

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