This post on the Trinidad Pitch Lake was shared in an email. I felt that it was interesting to share with others who would appreciate the history of one of the wonders of the world. There is still no definite explanation of how it was formed. Enjoy the...
La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad
The La Brea tar pit of southern Iere...People bathing in the minerla pool of La Brea
is believed that the sulphur mineral waters is a good remedy for skin
diseases and has miraculous healing powers for arthritis, pimples,
infections and rashes to name a few.
"Tierra de Brea", the "Land of Tar" was the original name of the area surrounding the La Brea Pitch Lake in southern Trinidad Pitch is just an archaic English word used by
Trinidadians, which simply means tar, or emulsified asphalt to be accurate.
The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks called the black stuff "Piche", and believed that the PitchLake,
formed by the gods as punishment, swallowed an entire a tribe after
they ate humming birds, which were believed to be the souls of their
Sir Walter Raleigh
When Sir Walter Raleigh "discovered" the PitchLake
in 1595, it was already known as the Tierra de Brea, it's Spanish name,
by the Amerindians guides who introduced Sir Walter to the 95-acre lake
of black gold.
Walter Raleigh immediately recognized the potential, even if he did not
discover the lake, and began caulking his ships with the tar;
proclaiming it "most excellent good", far better in fact than the tar
being used at the time in England.
Raleigh Exports Tar
On his second voyage to Trinidad, Sir Walter Raleigh seized the opportunity to take some of the black gold home with him, where it was used to pave WestminsterBridge
for the opening of Parliament. Unfortunately the raw pitch melted in
the sun, as it has a tendency to do, covering horses hooves and gumming
up carriage wheels.
Since that time however, tar from the La Brea Pitch Lake in Trinidad has been used to provide high grade road surfaces
not only in Trinidad, Tobago and the other islands of the Caribbean,
but it has also paved streets in over 50 countries including the United
States of America, England, India, Singapore, Egypt, and even Japan.
La Brea’s PitchLake
The La Brea Pitch Lake, once considered to be the 8th wonder of the world, is the worlds largest natural deposit of emulsified asphalt.
not all areas are completely safe, it is possible to walk across the
lake, which some disappointed visitors described as looking much like a
parking lot. But when you visit you will find that PitchLake is not like any parking lot you've ever walked across...
the surface of the lake is gray and wrinkled like the hide of an
elephant or dinosaur, blood warm to the touch, blistered in places,
yielding slightly when trodden upon like living flesh. So it's more like
treading upon the flank of some immense prone beast, a gigantic mammoth lying prostrate in the sun.
Saturn's Moon Titan
is alive: Not only are the pools at its edges alive with fish, reeds
and pink and purple water lilies, which are surrounded with a profusion
of Cashew, Tonca Bean, Breadfruit, Guava and palm trees...
But during a recent study, connected with The European Space Agency's
exploration of exposed hydrocarbon lakes of Saturn's moon Titan, it was
discovered that microbes live and breed beneath the surface of the tar
in the lake. A discovery that may one day help answer the question
whether or not life exists on other planets.
For more information you can read the transcript of ABC's Science Show on discovering new life in Trinidad's PitchLake.
The Mother of La Brea's PitchLake
Picture the La Brea Pitch Lake in Trinidad like a pot on very slow boil, and the plates you walk on as similar to the tectonic plates of Earth's crust.
These plates are in constant slow motion and where they meet you'll see what local guides call "the mother",
soft petroleum seams that lubricate the shifting plates of semi-solid
asphalt, and supply much of the sulfur to the ribbons of water that
section up the lake.
the wet season, when the water is deeper, locals bathe in these rain
water pools believing, not without some merit, that these sulfur rich waters can cure all manner of skin maladies including rashes, pimples, infections, mosquito bites and even psoriasis.
you visit during the rainy season wear shorts, or travel with a bathing
suite and a towel. Bathing in these sun warmed, sulfur rich waters is
an experience you won't find anywhere else in the world, and doing so
will definitely add to the uniqueness of your visit.
La Brea Tar Pit Origin
This tar pit, the La Brea Pitch Lake, is believed to be the result of 2 phenomena:
first is the intersection of the Barbados Arc, an arm of the Caribbean
Plate, with the Los Bajos fault, and the resulting subduction crushing
oil-bearing rocks beneath, which release petroleum that percolates to
the surface through fissures in the form of emulsified asphalt.
The second phenomenon is related to the volcanic forces that create numerous mud volcanoes in southern Trinidad.
This volcanic activity mixes the oil, seeping through the colliding
plates, with water and fine clay, and gives rise to the Pitch Lake,
which is believed to be some 250 feet deep at it's center. It is
estimated that at current mechanized levels of commercial extraction
there is enough tar to last for 400 years.
For more information about the Geology of the Pitch Lake you can check out the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago's paper on the area.
fissures or fingers of asphalt cause the entire area around the La Brea
Pitch Lake to be unstable, road surfaces to buckle and building
foundations to sink.
a result roads are often roller coaster like, and the predominately
wooden homes of villagers must be propped up regularly as one corner of
the building or the other sinks into the ground.
Stories & Examples
There's much at the PitchLake for active inquiring minds to explore.
both old and new for a good guide to entertain you with during your
45-minute tour. Stories of past and sometimes unhealthy uses like during
the 1920s when tar from the La Brea Pitch Lake was burnt to fumigate
Port-of-Spain after an outbreak of smallpox, not that it did anyone much
Choosing a Guide
weary when choosing guide, while there are many local residents who are
eager to show you around the lake for a fee, we suggest that you drive
into La Brea Pitch Lake Visitor Center and hire an official red-shirted
guide for the very reasonable price of $30TT, approximately $5US, £3UK or €3.50EUR, which includes safe and secure parking.
is also a new Museum Exhibit at the Visitor Center, which pays homage
to the unique topography and prehistoric history of La Brea, explores
the early settlement of Trinidad's first people, the myths of El Dorado
and Sir Walter Raleigh's visits, the La Brea Pitch Lake's connection
with the worlds first oil well, and other interesting facts about the
unique history of the area and the continuing extraction and export of
pitch from the lake.
The La Brea tar pit is a great place to visit when combined with other tours like exploring the East Indian culture of Central Trinidad, a visit to the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, or even a trip to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.