Deep in the heart of the Penal/Debe region is the village of Digity, a picturesque spot where two decades ago, the chugging sugarcane locomotive lumbered along the undulating hills and valleys transporting sugar cane to the Usine Ste Madeliene sugar factory.
The colonial bridge and the old train tracks have long gone but there is one aspect of the village that has remained the same.
It is the Digity mud volcano which juts out into the horizon amidst the agricultural estates of the Picton Estate Road. Its clay is said to be over 11 million years old.
Unlike all the other volcanoes in the country, the Digity volcano has the single largest cone that is known in all of Trinidad. It measures over 20 feet above the ground and is 63 feet above sea level. It spews very little mud and is visible from the road. In fact, geologists believe the mud ejections were connected to rainfall as during the dry season there are very little mud expulsions. Like other mud volcanoes, the clay is said to have therapeutic properties.
Named as a heritage site in the National Trust, there have been attempts by the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation to make this a thriving tourist site. However, this has failed miserably with people destroying the picnic huts and camping grounds on the outskirts of the volcano.
Villager Karishma Jhulai said even though the area is serene, there is very little information available on the volcano.
She said the volcano's magnificence should be proudly featured as part of the Penal/Debe heritage.
"This is an area which is rich in the history of our sugarcane and oil fortunes. We have the infrastructure here that should be preserved. The cross ties of the old railway lines as well as the concrete structures of the bridge, are still here. This should be made into a tourist site and the volcano could generate income as part of community tourism," Jhulai said.
Chairman of the Corporation Dr Allen Sammy said he remembers a story of an oil rig which disappeared one night near to the Digity mud volcano.
"I have often tried to find the exact spot where it disappeared but we have never been able to," he said.
In an article written by the late historian, Louis B Homer titled, "A brief history of Penal/ Debe", Homer documented the 1938 disappearance of Well 306 Spectacular which was "sucked into the ground and never recovered".
Homer said when oil drilling began in 1921, some 171 wells were drilled in the Barrackpore region. Much of this old oil infrastructure still stands in the village, along with vestiges of old weighing scales and railways used when sugar was king.
Sammy said he too was disappointed that the people of T&T had no concern for the valuable treasures of Digity Village, including its mud volcano.
Saying the Corporation does not have the jurisdiction over the volcano, Sammy said the lands are not vested in the Corporation. Even though the Corporation has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to upgrade the site, people who visit the volcano continue to demolish its fixtures.
"Money is already tight and we have spent a lot to fix the roads, put up signs and erect picnic huts. We have also put in a toilet facility but there is no water to fill the tank. We have erected six picnic sheds but people have been ripping off the wood from the sheds to cook. They are mashing up the toilets," he said.
Sammy said the PDRC has earned no income from this tourism venture, unlike the Princes Town Regional Corporation which earns $60,000 per year from tourism initiatives at the Devil's Woodyard mud volcano.
He said the PDRC wanted to set up a system where the community can have control over the facility.
"We will provide historical information, a tourism hut and the community can provide meals and drinks. They will have to maintain the facility, clean the toilets and beautify the area," Sammy said. He explained that the volcano is bounded by a train line and a little bridge that the train used to go over. There is the old story about a disappearing oil well which can be explored. This volcano has tremendous scope for tourism and it should be marketed as one of T&T's wonders," Sammy said.
Volcanic clay is 11 million years old
Senior geoscientist at Touchstone Exploration Xavier Moonan said the Digity mud volcano achieves a cone height of approximately 20ft and stands as the sole vent at this site.
"The Digity Mud volcano occurs along the axis of the WSW-ENE trending Penal Barrackpore anticline, at the juncture with an NW-SE trending tear fault. The mud slurry comprises primarily Mid Miicene (11 million years old) Lengua deepwater clays," he said.
Moonan also called for the volcano to be marketed internationally. He said T&T's mud volcanoes were distinctive and unique, adding that the Digity volcano is even more unique because of its conical shape.
During the eruption of the Devil's Woodyard volcano, Moonan and his team did research to find out whether the Digity volcano was showing any signs of activity. They found none.
Moonan said the Digity Mud Volcano was one of two mud volcanoes which occur atop the Penal Barrakpore Anticlinal trend. The other is volcano is Devil's Woodyard.
"Digity mud volcano has one distinct tall cone, making it one of the tallest mud volcanoes on the island. However more recently fields adjacent to the mud volcano show signs of activity as well with small cones forming, lots of gas and mud bubbling and traces of light oil escaping with the mud," Moonan said.
"The main cone has stayed quiet for quite some time and one wonders if the smaller cones in the adjacent field will persist from now onwards as the main releases for the subsurface pressures."
He said Digity mud volcano occurs in the heart of the Penal Barrackpore oilfield.
"This is a field that has produced just over 200 million barrels of oil from approx 1,500 wells, providing a fair amount of subsurface information to understand the nature and behaviour of this mud volcano.
"The mud volcano occurs along an active northwest to southeast trending tear fault which provides a conduit for pressurized fluid in rocks as old as 11 million years old to escape to surface."
Moonan said in the 1970s an oil rig was drilling a well adjacent to the volcano. He said it was customary at that time for workers to be off duty on weekends, however, when they returned to work on Monday the rig had disappeared.
How to get to Digity volcano?
One of the easiest routes to get to the volcano is through the San Fernando/Siparia (SS) Erin Road. At Debe, you turn onto Lalbeharry Trace (the Police Post is at the intersection) and drive for 1.8 kilometres. You then reach a four-way intersection with a cell tower on the left and you turn right on to the road opposite the cell tower. You drive for 2.8 kilometres and will reach Digity village where the volcano is visible from the road.