Day 4: Pitch Lake
- November 14, 2016
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I predicted the cricket match would eventually get cancelled so I slept in until it was official. So it was time to explore more of Trinidad. South Trinidad and Pitch Lake, world’s largest asphalt deposit, was on the agenda for the day. Since we had such a great experience with Nanan Tours, I called them again. Luckily, we got to spend the day with the Wendell Griffith, the same guy who drove us to Caroni Swamp. I had spent an hour or so reading about Pitch Lake and learned that there are many people near the lake offering “tours” for a very high price but didn’t really do or know anything. If you go there on your own, I suggest going inside the visitor’s center and hiring an official tour guide. It’s not expensive and very much worth it.
The drive from Port of Spain to Pitch Lake is long but beautiful. During the drive, Wendell told us Trinidad’s fascinating history which made the drive even more interesting and fun. As we approach Pitch Lake, the roads became very bumpy and uneven because the tar keeps rising up from earth’s core, constantly changing the topology. The houses have to be evened out every few months. It’s ironic that the place where most developed world’s asphalt comes from has such uneven roads because the topology keeps changing.
At first glance, Pitch Lake doesn’t look very impressive but you know what they say: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The world’s largest asphalt deposit was anything but disappointing. As you walk past the cashew tree, you notice the papyrus grass surrounding the lake and many different kinds of birds including yellow-hooded blackbird, wattled jacana, skimmers, yellow-billed magpie, and a few others I didn’t recognize. Because asphalt and other gases are constantly being released from earth’s core, the topology is constantly changing. Plus, there are parts of the lake where the ground is soft and you can actually sink in. I didn’t feel brave enough to go walking around on my own, without a guide walking in front of me. In some parts the ground is so soft you can actually remove liquid asphalt from the ground using a stick.
Here’s a story the tour guide told me that’s worth sharing. A guy wanted to pick the flower from a cashew tree for his girlfriend. He took a little too long trying to get to the flower, he stepped into a soft part of the lake and sank into the asphalt. He couldn’t get out on his own. They had to get a bulldozer to pull him out. By the time they took him to the hospital and cleaned him off, the asphalt had clogged every single pore on his skin. He had severe burns all over his body and his intestines had clogged up. He spent a few months in the hospital recovering. The moral of the story: get a knowledgeable tour guide to walk in front of you so you don’t sink.
As I walked a little further, I saw that people were swimming in the lake. People visit the lake with family and friends on weekends. It is believed that the lake water can heal all kinds of skin ailments like eczema and psoriasis. Some also believe the lake water can help avoid premature aging. I’m not sure how true those claims are but the few dozen bug bites I had on my legs did feel a lot better after walking around the lake. As I walked even further into the lake, I started to smell sulfur more and more strongly. Soon after, I saw gases bubbling up from earth’s core. There were also old tree trunks emerging from the lake. Since the topology is always chaning, objects often sink into the lake and emerge hundreds of years later. I was also surprised to see many guppy fishes swimming around the lake. It goes to show that life can exist in any and all kind of environments. Pitch lake is such a unique location and a definite must-visit in Trinidad and I’m so glad I went there!
Surprisingly, Pitch Lake only gets about 20,000 tourists a year (about 385 per week). I loved every minute spent there and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Trinidad.
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