Trinidad's Pitch Lake

The edge of Pitch Lake with ponds and swamp plants

The word "pitch" is just an old fashioned name for "tar".   The first Englishman to visit the lake was Sir Walter Raleigh, who used the pitch to seal his ship to prevent leaks.

Pitch Lake is a 95 acre lake of tar on Trinidad's west coast, in the appropriately named "La Brea" district.

The guidebook I have says the lake is often a disappointment for tourists who drive down from Port of Spain, because it looks like a large parking lot.

Personally, I found the trip very worthwhile.   This is, after all, the largest deposit of naturally occurring tar in the world.

guide peeling back the outer skin of the lake

However a lot of credit for the success of my visit has to go to my guide, an aging Rastafarian guy going by the name "Roy".

He was patient, knowledgeable and willing to peel away the outer layers of mystique surrounding the lake!

Actually, that last part's only a joke to go along with this photo of him peeling back the hardened skin of the lake.

wrinkled skin of the lake

If this is a parking lot, then it's not like any I've ever been to.

The surface yields just slightly when walked on, though I was told that a car would sink into it fairly quickly.

The tar is also over 350 feet deep at the center of the lake, which is shaped like an inverted cone.

a hole which has closed in on itself

Unlike a sterile and lifeless parking lot, you soon get a sense that the lake is somehow alive.

The tar has been actively mined for many years, and the asphalt which is collected has been used on roads and airport runways around the world.

Roy said that a forty foot by forty foot hole completely fills itself in within 3 days.

shed being swallowed by the lake

The lake is constantly pulling things into itself, almost like a slow motion black hole.

It's supposed to have "feelers" stretching outward for several miles, additional veins of pitch which stretch out from the main lake.

water-filled hole being enclosed by four huge blobs of tar

The lake seemed to me more than anything to be like a large creature with no face, only arms and guts with which it slowly swallows everything around it.

tree stump emerging from the lake

If it swallows some things, then it also spits others out

leaf litter ejected by the lake

Here is some leaf litter from part of the forest floor which the lake swallowed, chewed around for a few years and then spat out as indigestible.

These leaves were in perfect condition, but as dry as it's possible to imagine.

large lump emerging from the lake

The lake swallows anything it wants, it doesn't have to ask permission, and unhindered by social conditioning or "good manners", it spews up what it doesn't like.

What hidden treasure lies in this blob?   A pirate's treasure chest?   A Tyrannosaurus Rex?   A laggardly and unmissed civil servant?

My flight home departed that evening, so I'll never know and nor will you, dear reader.

coin being turned black by lake gases

If it spews, then it certainly also burps.

Here Roy placed a coin into a small bubbling puddle to demonstrate how the gases coming from the lake turn it black within a couple of minutes.

At times there was a strong smell of sulphur.

Roy washing his face in a mineral water filled ditch on the lake

If it spews and burps, then I don't even want to know what this yellow liquid is.

Roy swore that this water was good for virtually anything which can ail you, but I have my doubts.

Perhaps this is just the lake's little joke on those who trample unbidden on top of it.

soft lake surface

Although it was perfectly safe walking around on the lake, and the lake skin prevented any tar from even sticking on my shoes, one quarter of the lake surface is soft.

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Just to prove it, Roy even pulled a few taffy strings from the lake for me...

Or maybe that should be molasses?

mother and distillates in a waterhole

As well as regular tar, there are also lighter distillates visible on the surface of this waterhole, as well as the soft creamy colored substance at the bottom of the hole, which Roy referred to as "mother".

waterhole with mother at the bottom