It all started in 1986 on an otherwise normal day along a stretch of highway between Caracas, Venezuela and its airport. On this day workers were out maintaining and patching up the pothole-strewn, pockmarked road when they noticed something rather odd. There were found patches of a mysterious black sludge reaching out across the road, very thick in consistency to the point that it was almost like half-liquified chewing gum, and which seemed to be oozing up out of the ground in places, but no one had the slightest clue as to where it actually came from. At first it was just a few patches over a length of road not longer than 50 yards, so the construction workers just sort of shrugged their shoulders and moved on. It was here that the legend of the mysterious black goop of Venezuela would take off, a strange oddity which has managed to elude explanation to this day.
Whatever this black goop was, it would soon prove to be inexorably spreading, as before long it covered more and more of the road, until a full 8-mile stretch of the 30-mile-long road was being sporadically covered with the ooze. It seemed to come and go randomly, most pronounced during hot, wet weather and shrinking away from the cold, and seeming to be more likely to occur in tunnels and on uphill slopes rather than on flat, open terrain. It never appeared in the surrounding wilderness, only up through the cracks of that one stretch of road, and it puzzled everyone. Whatever it was, it soon became the bane of drivers along the stretch of highway, as it proved to be very slippery, as slick as ice despite its gooey composition, and hazardous for vehicles, to the tune of scores of accidents and deaths, until by 1992 it had purportedly been responsible for 1,800 deaths. Scared locals called the mysterious substance La Mancha Negra, meaning “the black stain,” and one taxi driver would say of it:
Driving with La Mancha Negra is like driving in a grand prix. You’ve got to be careful, or you’ll die. They can offer me double the fare, but if La Mancha Negra is bad I won’t drive. It’s not worth dying for.
In the meantime, La Mancha Negra seemed to be spreading to other areas of Caracas and beyond, and with such a record of danger the government was compelled to do something about it. At first, officials went in thinking that it had to be merely the result of badly done, cheap road work, with the black slime being nothing more than excess oil from hot asphalt, but it was soon to prove to be much stranger than that. The Venezuelan Ministry of Transport and Communications first spent an estimated millions of dollars in a concerted attempt to simply wash the stuff away, but just when they though it was gone the sludge reappeared again. Several times they re-cleared the roads using every method at their disposal, including pressurized hoses, various detergents and chemicals, and even physically scraping it off, but none of this did any good as it would just later ooze up from the bowels of the earth once again. Pulverized limestone was then poured all over the blob at great expense, in the hopes that this would permanently dry it up, but this did not work either, leaving experts stumped. It was only in 1996 that advanced cleaning equipment imported from Germany had any semi-permanent effect, but even then La Mancha Negra reappeared once again in 2001. Preliminary tests showed that it was composed of “dust, oil, and various organic and synthetic materials,” but what does that mean? What in the world is going on here? What is this stuff?
One idea is that La Mancha Negra is exactly what it was first thought to be; the result of shoddy road work and improperly mixed, melted asphalt, perhaps combined with other things in the ground. Another idea is that it is the result of engine oil, brake fluid, and other junk from all of the passing cars seeping into the ground only to be regurgitated forth later to mix with the copious dust of the area, but if that is the case why is this not happening on other roads of the world or even in Venezuela? Why is it so localized to the Caracas area? It might also have been raw sewage seeping through the ground from the slums of Caracas or even oil from the vast nearby petroleum deposits of the Orinoco Belt. A more skeptical and suspicious take is based on the fact that a lot of the clean-up crews were making a profit off of all of this, meaning they might have been the ones who were putting it there to begin with. Maybe it was all just the result of good old fashioned corruption or as a political tool by the enemies of the governor of Caracas getting in a jab, or even from those objecting to the presidency of then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Of course there are the theories that this is the work of aliens or some other paranormal phenomenon, so throw that into the mix as well.
In the end no one really seems to know what La Mancha Negra is, or where it comes from, and it is sort of a forgotten little phenomenon that not many people outside of Venezuela even really know about. Indeed, the whole case remains cloaked in mystery, and it is not even clear if it is still going on or has been fixed. What does seem clear, though, is that for a time this stretch of road in this faraway land was plagued by some sort of mysterious and deadly black goop that sprung from an enigmatic source and supposedly killed many. Was it oil, cheaply made asphalt, gasoline, petroleum, sewage, or something else altogether? We may never know for sure, and the Black Stain of Venezuela remains an odd curiosity.