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The oilfields of the South East and ‘pitch lake’ roads

7 August 2015 by Paula

The southeast crew

The southeast crew: (left to right): Keisha, Leo, Imran, Jameel.

Joanna Ostapkowicz, Curator of the Americas collection, continues her rather bumpy journey through Trinidad, we catch up with her for:

Day 4: The oilfields of the South East and ‘pitch lake’ roads

We were joined by forest officers Mr. Imran Mohammed and Mr. Leo Persad for our tour of the South East forest reserves.  This region holds some of the largest forested areas in Trinidad, including the Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. It also has oil reserves running throughout it, and there are many small oil pumps working away.

We had a huge area to cover in a short time, and to make it more challenging, opted for less-travelled routes in a region Lonely Planet’s Trinidad guide calls ‘impenetrable’ (‘…few passable roads, signs are almost non-existent and trying to follow a map is a lesson in frustration…’).

Following the forester’s truck along the roller-coaster roads of Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

Following Imran and leo’s truck along the roller-coaster roads of Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

 

 

When you look at a road map of Trinidad, the roads illustrated in white are usually single lane tracks, rarely used by regular traffic. We were on several of these during the course of the day, and my appreciation of Pitch Lake asphalt – which has covered most of the country’s roads since the late-1800s – was dealt a blow: not only was it full of pot holes (not the small kind, either), but it had warped and twisted to create a roller-coaster track.  I’m sure the deep geological fault lines running through the area have not helped matters either.

Leo’s hard-won Andira sp., sample.

Leo’s hard-won Andira sp. sample.

Turns out that the ‘good stuff’ – the refined Pitch Lake asphalt that is the cream of the products exported for the German autobahns and Japanese highways (and indeed the roadway in front of Buckingham Palace in London!) – is not the same as that used by the Trini councils for their roads.  These are paved with ‘raw’ bitumen, which needs renewal about every 5 years or so – and the roads we were on looked long overdue for an overhaul.

We may have rattled around on tracks that would best serve as amusement park rides, but when it came to sampling, this was one of our most productive days, with 20 specimens harvested – all down to the hard work and perseverance of the crew.  It was a long, but rewarding day.”

 

 

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