San Fernando on the southwest coast is a busy, hot city, as yet not spoilt by tourism but spoilt by just about everything else and not especially attractive. An expressway connects Port of Spain with San Fernando, making it a 30-minute drive (one hour by taxi). In its neighbourhood are the principal industrial-development area of Point Lisas and the Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery.
Within the oil refinery is the 26-hectare Wild Fowl Trust, a conservation area with two lakes and breeding grounds for many endangered species. Many birds bred in captivity are later released into the wild. There is a Learning Centre with a small archaeological exhibition and shell collection. 1000-1700, Sat 1200-1600, Sun 1030-1800, T6375145, Ms Molly Gaskin or Mrs K Shepard on T6624040, call 48 hrs in advance to get permission to enter the compound (there are many entrances, it can be confusing).
A famous phenomenon to visit on the southwest coast near San Fernando is Pitch Lake, about 47 ha of smooth surface resembling caked mud but which really is hot black tar; it is 41 m deep. It has been described by disappointed tourists, expecting something more dramatic, as looking like a parking lot, although others have pointed out that it is parking lots that look like the Pitch Lake. If care is taken it is possible to walk on it, watching out for air holes bubbling up from the pressure under the ooze. In the wet season, however, most of the area is covered with shallow fresh water. The legend is that long ago the gods interred an entire tribe of Chaima Indians for daring to eat sacred hummingbirds containing the souls of their ancestors. In the place where the entire village sank into the ground there erupted a sluggish flow of black pitch gradually becoming an ever-refilling large pool. It provides a healthy, though recently decreasing, item in Trinidad’s export figures. It can be reached by taking a bus from Port of Spain to San Fernando (US$1 by air-conditioned express, by route taxi it costs US$1.75) and then another from there to La Brea (US$0.75). Insist on a professional guide, who should report to the security guard before taking you around, as locals who pose as guides harass tourists for large tips. Agree on a price in advance as there are no fixed rates. Sometimes there are crowds of guides who are difficult to avoid, but on the other hand it is difficult to understand the lake without explanation. Pompei, trained by the Tourist Board, is recommended, he is tall and stout.
East of San Fernando, near Princes Town, is the Devil’s Woodyard, one of 18 mud volcanoes on Trinidad. This one is considered a holy site by some Hindus (it is also a natural landmark). It last erupted in 1852 and the bubbling mud is cool.