Travel Theme: Smoke And Mirrors

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April 3, 2013 by allsho

[Where’s my backpack – Travel Theme: Smoke and Mirrors]

Smoke and mirrors: illusions and tricks, and in my case the illusionist is our beloved Mother Nature.

I was on a school trip, one I didn’t prepare (the science and the Italian ones were the organizers), and I found myself, to my amazement in a hostile environment. We were breathing rotten eggs, the ground was smoking and hot, and although all around us woods and shrubs testified of Tuscany’s mild climate, the landscape in our immediate surroundings was barren.

Then I realized we had ended up in the largest Italian geothermal park, that not far from us a large power plant whose cooling towers we could see at times was exploiting the Earth’s heat. And that all that seemed lifeless and sterile, was actually not so: some forms of algae and small plants were able to survive and prosper even in these extreme conditions.

Another of Nature’s tricks I had seen a few years before in Trinidad, West Indies. In an area in the southern part of the island you can see telephone and electricity poles slanted, houses built on concrete rafts, deformed roads and pavements. The reason is that the ground is soft. And it’s soft because it’s not an ordinary ground: it’s the borders of a pitch lake. Pitch as in the stuff used to pave roads, or to coat boats, as you like.

You can visit the lake, with a guide to warn you where you can place your feet and where it’s better if you don’t, and some dead birds who got caught in the gluey shining blackness and weren’t able to fly away. And poles, beams, trees swallowed by the lake and then spat back by the constant motions of the oily matter.

Since pitch is impermeable, rain forms ponds over it, and therefore the pitch lake is also a water lake, with a tricky bottom, and waters that are valued as remedies against skin problems.

And if you look at this image, you wouldn’t believe this is not an ordinary swamp. In fact, it is. Just hiding one of Nature’s tricks and traps.


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