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Trinidad’s Pitch Lake with a side of Debe Doubles …

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It’s been about 20 years since I last went to the Pitch Lake in La Brea. One might ask why I haven’t been back to this geological phenomenon located right in my “backyard” in Trinidad in so long … well it’s simple really … it’s always been there and will always be there.

As for the facts

  • The Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, located at La Brea in southwest Trinidad.
  • “Discovered” by Sir Walter Raleigh in the year 1595 … never mind the local people knew about it before time.
  • Can be used to pave roads … except that the roads leading the Pitch Lake are amongst the worst in Trinidad.

There are various legends associated with the lake. Local tribed believed that it was the wrath of their Gods that was inflicted on them after killing a Hummingbird – to punish them, the Gods sank their village into the pits of hell and what bubbles up are their spirits and remains.
Getting to the Pitch Lake is easy trip from Chaguanas, but when hunger strikes, it calls for a sidetrip to Debe – the capital of all things fried – Indo-Trinidadian style.

First on the menu was Saheenas. Look at them .. so sad … being trapped in their oily prisons … we had to release them … in our bellies 😀

Next on the hit list was the various other friends and family of the Saheena

  • Aloo pies (Fried dough stuffed with seasoned potatoes, curried chick peas (Channa), mango pickles (Kutchela) and two types of mango chutneys)
  • Baiganie (Fried dough stuffed with strips of whole eggplant, curried chick peas (Channa), mango pickles (Kutchela) and hot sauce – like an eggplant fritter)
  • Multiple doubles … no explanation required

For those uninitiated in the Trini protocol of anything

  • Nothing – Plain, boring and the mark of the utter tourist
  • Slight – a touch of pepper and sweet chutney – typical tourist order
  • Regular – Typical Trini order – a little bit of all chutneys and pepper sauce
  • Heavy/Plenty – Venturing into no man’s land, unless you the know “Doubles man” chutneys well and know that he doesn’t have a really hot pepper sauce.
  • Kill It – The mark of the expert white rum drinker aka Alcoholic (no more taste buds), the mark of the “Iron Stomach and Rectum” or a “Doubles man” with the hottest hot pepper sauce possible. The “Doubles man” will give you a slight nod of recognition.

Then it was time for a sweet or two …

Starting from the top

  • Above the glasscase (from the left)
    • Rice cake : Rice Krispy squares with Cinnamon
    • Jalebi :  It is made by deep-frying batter in a kind of pretzel or circular shape, then soaked in syrup. Sometimes rosewater or lime juice is also drizzled over it.
  • First shelf of glasscase (from the left)
    • Chocolate Barfi : Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar, chocolate and nuts
    • Jam Cookies
    • Kurma : Muslim sweet that has now become ubiquitous all year around in Trinidad
    • Regular Barfi : Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar and sprinkles
  • Bottom shelf of glasscase (from the left)
    • Coconut sugar cake: Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar, chocolate and nuts
    • Almond Fudge
    • Nut cake
    • Some unknown thing at time …

So after our early lunch, it was on the Pitch Lake. A tour of the Pitch Lake can be as long or short as you want it. Our tour guide Jonnie was an affable fellow with a big toothless smile … well his first two teeth were missing … we assumed that it was to pay the pimp of the lake. However, he took his time and showed us all around and took us on the paths safely.

So the first pass around is to see the machinery used to harvest the Pitch from the lake. The story is that the labourers would have to fill 24 of these trolleys in a given day for the work to be completed.

After the trolley was filled, it would hauled up to the refinery to be processed. Again was a semi-manual process with hitches having to be attached to each trolley.

The top layer of the lake looks like an old parking lot. However, unlike any regular parking lot, the surface yields very easily. On hot days, it can be quite unsafe to walk on certain areas and of course driving on the top is forbidden, as a car or even a cow would sink into it fairly quickly.

The top layer of the lake is known as the skin. It can be easily peeled off and is quite dry and flaky.

The tar is also over 350 feet deep at the center of the lake, which is shaped like an inverted cone. The Trinidad Geological Society has a nice amateur rending of what it looks like.

So continuing on, we went to the most famous part of the Pitch Lake. 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 is known at the “Mother of the Lake”.

After walking around the rest of the lake, then it was time to wade through the sulfurous waters in and around the lake. The gas action and methane bubbling through the lake is always evident.

The waters themselves are quite clean and are supposed to be very good for the skin.

And of course, you can pick up a water lily or two.

And you can always grab a 6 pack of Carib, park your car and head back into the pools for a relaxing bath.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]

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