When I was a child I remember singing a song in Sunday school. The
words were, "The wise man built his house upon a rock, but the foolish man
built his house upon the sand." The song goes on to say that the rains
came down and the floods came up and washed away the house built on the
sand. The moral of the song was clear. If you want your house to
endure the trials of life, it must be built on a strong foundation. It
convinced me. Not in a thousand years would I build my house upon
The people who built their house on La Brea pitch lake in Trinidad would
have done well to attend Sunday school and learn the value of building on a
The pitch lake makes a terrible foundation for a house. This
ramshackle house used to be a first class dwelling until the pitch
foundation began to shift. The concrete front steps are no longer
attached to the house because they are sinking in the black pitch. The
vertical timbers under the house are sinking and the wooden structure is
slowly and relentlessly being ripped apart by the lack of support.
There's no doubt about it, building your house on a foundation of pitch is a
Pitch does have it's benefits. You can mine it and export it around
the world. That's exactly what happens to the pitch from La Brea
pitch lake. They dig up the pitch, put it in small rail cars,
transport it to their processing plant, and then ship it around the world
where they use it to build roads. China is buying hundreds of tons of
pitch that they will use to build roads for the Olympics in Bejing.
They mine pitch by digging eight foot deep holes in the pitch lake.
The holes doesn't remain for long because they quickly fill in with new
pitch that has a soupy consistency. The soupy pitch doesn't last long
either. Within a week, it solidifies enough that you can safely walk
Fresh pitch pits are dangerous because they can swallow you up. If you
fall into one, you are probably history. In recent times, two people
have fallen into the pitch pits at night, and one of them died. The
survivor had to be cleaned up by washing him off with kerosene. It's
also forbidden to ride a bicycle across the lake because of the risk of
breaking through the surface of freshly reformed pitch.
The pitch in this area was mined several weeks previously, and the new pitch
replacing it is still slightly soft. My Teva sandals leave a temporary
impression on its surface.
Vehicles can't stay on the surface of the lake for more than a few minutes
without their tires sinking into the pitch.
Building houses on pitch lakes is a bad idea, and putting a taxi stand there
is less than brilliant as well. That song I learned in Sunday school
was right. The wise man built his house upon the rock.