Published: May 20th 2011May 19th 2011
Suddenly I am that young man of 21 again, who travels on the cruiseship 'Oranje' from Amsterdam to Paramaribo. The humid flavors of the Caribbean Sea, the flat water, orange coloured by the sun, disappearing behind the green mountains and the soft cool wind evoke strong feelings from 42 years ago. It is one of those rare moments in life that you submerge in time, meanwhile knowing what is still to come: the lucky moments but also the disappointments. But I am not on the Oranje and I am not on my way to Suriname. I am on the boat of Pier 1 Cruises, which cruises the sea from Guiria in Venezuela to Chaguaramos on Trinidad. The land we see is not the coast of Suriname, but the most western part of Venezuela, the peninsula of Paria. And I am not with my mates, Dutch soldiers, but with Linda, my wife. We sit close together at the prow of the ship, a soft wind in our faces. In the darkening evening we see in the far end the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. We hear calypso music. The moon is coming up and there are still some fregatebirds high in the
air. We feel lucky.
Port of Spain
It is dark when we arrive at the port of Chaguaramos in Trinidad. We stand in line on the pier next to our luggage together with the 30 or so other passengers. The policemen around us are heavily weaponed. It is not a normal border, but a temporary one. Only once a week at wednesday the customers come to check in the passengers of this special boat. Suddenly a dog jumps out of the dark and begins to snuffle at our luggage. Some people are clearly sweating, specially when the dog decides to spend some more time at their luggage. I have to empty my whole backpack. Afterwards it is all straightforward. A taxi brings us to our guesthouse Two Seasons in Port of Spain. We are welcomed by Adam and his wife Nakellia and we feel immediately at home. What a difference with Venezuela. Both countries have their oil and do not need tourists, but here in Trinidad you feel welcome.
Trinidad is the country of the Steelpan. I remember how people used to dance the Limbo. Whipped up by the rhythm of a Steelpanband they shuffled under a evermore
lower rope. 'Limbo lower now. How low can you go?' Trinidad claims that the steelpan is developed in Trinidad in the 1930s. It is the only acustic musical instrument developed in the 20th century. So it was quite logic, that we agreed when a man called Marcus offered us to show the home of some steelbands. It was absolutely nice, specially when I could play myself. Later it turned out that we had been in one of the most dangerous parts of Port of Spain and that mister Marcus Lee, as he called himself, was a big swindler, who was just after our money. We had met eachother in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Probably he was praying for forgiveness for his sins, meanwhile looking out for new victims.
The Maracas beach is about 1 hour from Port of Spain. Wendell brought us there together with Ann from England and Kaylee from Canada. (If you need a trustworthy taxidriver on Trinidad, take Wendell Wendelldurant@hotmail.com; 462-0614 or 316-2756). We lay down in the sand under a coconuttree. Now and then we play in the crystalclear warm sea. In the afternoon we eat shark with exotic sauces. It is
The Pitch lake
"At this point, called Tierra de Brea or Piche, there is that abundance
of stone pitch that all the ships of the world may be therewith laden
from thence; and we made trial of it in trimming our ships to be most
excellent good, and melteth not with the sun as the pitch of Norway, and
therefore for ships trading the south parts very profitable," writes Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595.
Raleigh was looking for El Dorado, but instead he discovered the Pitchlake near Brea on Trinidad. There are only three pitchelakes in the world and this is the biggest one. Geologists think it is oil which evaporates when it reaches the surface of the earth, leaving a sticky black substance behind. Raleigh's ship was not waterproof, so he caulked his ship with it. From that time on pitch became an important substance. Not only for caulking ships, but also for tarring roads. Streets in New York City are tarred with asphalt coming from the pitch of Brea in Trinidad. ' The pitch of Brea is exported to all countries of the world', tells Cyril Bills our guide, 'nowadays we produce about 40
ton a day, most of it goes to China'.
Together we walk across the pitchlake. We have to look out not to step in the sticky substance. 'Once a man thought he could walk here alone', tells Cyril. ' He was almost swallowed by the lake . In the center the lake is 75 meter deep. We were just in time to save him.' We walk in between the little ponds of the lake. They are filled with several kinds of water: freshwater, salt water and sulphur water. All kinds of minerals are inside. 'Copper and sulphur are good for smoothing the skin', tells Cyril, 'while Iron is good when you have skin problems'.There is a lot of methane inside. 'In the dry season the whole lake is in fire', tells Cyril. He demonstrates the methane by putting it in fire with a lighter. Several organisms live in these extreme circumstances. We see the rests of trees. 'The pitch is good for plants', says Cyril. 'It contains all kinds of minerals'. We see Grasses, Birdseedplants, Waterlillies and Cashewnuttrees. In the lakes are algae and fishes. It is an unique ecosystem. Sandpipers eat the fishes. 'There are even Caymans here',
The lake is continously moving. That is why the road to the lake is so hilly. 'You see that building there?', asks Cyril. 'Some years ago the building stood a couple of meters higher.' According to a legend once the complete village of the Yamarindian was swallowed by the pitchlake. It was a punishment of God, because they ate hummingbirds, which are holy.
'How old is the Pitchlake?', we ask.
'About 5000 years, from the beginning of the Bible', says Cyril. 'Did you know that Noah already caulked his boat with the pitch of this lake? Even the basket Mozes was found in, was caulked with this pitch.
'But Mozes and Noah lived somewhere else', we say. 'Turkey claims that the rests of Noah's ship are found on Mount Ararat.'
'Never heard of Continental Drift?' argues Cyril. 'These continents were close together in the past. God splitted them.' It is a wonderfull story.
It is a dark moonless night and we stand together with Ann, Kaylee, Adam, Nakyllia and 30 other people on the beach of Maltura. We could join in an excursion of the school of the kids of Adam and Nakyllia. One
by one the huge leatherback turtles come out of the sea like amphibious vehicles on D-day in Normandie. They have a size of about one and a half meter. It took us two hours to come here. For the turtles the trip lasted a bit longer. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Central Africa. Once ashore they begin to dig a hole, first with their forelegs and then also their hindlegs join in to dig as deep as 70 cm. It is not allowed to make pictures or to use torches. It must be dark. That is the reason why they come only at moonless nights ashore. But when they lay their eggs we may take pictures, we can even touch them. According to our guide they are in trance when they lay their eggs. They do not see anything. Some turtles cry. In sea they excrete salt with their tears, but here they keep their eyes wet. In the nest we see about 100 ping pong balls. After laying their eggs they cover the spot with sand again and they return to sea. The whole event lasts about one hour. Within two months the eggs will
hatch. It is a phantastic happening.
Next day Adam brings us to the airport. With Caribbean Airlines we fly to Suriname. Trinidad was great!
There are more photos below