You MUST visit the recently launched Cockpit Country website - it's wonderful and loaded with beautiful photos. :yes: If your Jamaica vacation permits you some free time for exploration in west central Jamaica, or if you love to hike, by all means check it out. Even if you can't make it this time, explore the website and put it on your "to-do" list for another trip!
Cockpit Country is one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. This inland area (mostly in the parish of Trelawny, Jamaica) was a stronghold used by Maroons to protect themselves from the control of Spanish or British colonialists.
If you're wondering about the name, they say it was dubbed this by the British in the 17th century because the terrain's somewhat circular bowl-like depressions reminded them of the then-popular cockfighting dens which were hot, humid and dangerous places where men gathered to watch and bet on the "sport".
The formation of Cockpit Country started about 12 million years ago with a faulted limestone plateau when Jamaica arose from the sea. Erosion over the centuries formed the round-topped hills, ridges and "sinks", or hollows, some of which are up to 390 feet deep. Although the Cockpit Country receives a lot of rain every year, it still seems dry. The limestone acts as a sponge, so the surface water drains vertically and quickly and each cockpit bottom ("sink") is drained by a sinkhole.
The main feature on the north is a long ridge called the "Escarpment". In the southwest, near Quick Step, is the district known as the "Land of Look Behind," so named because Spanish horsemen venturing into this region of hostile runaway slaves were said to have ridden in pairs, with one rider facing backward to keep an eye out for attackers!
The website was developed by the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee, a community-run organization dedicated to the welfare of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. The Jamaican Government has designated a portion of the Cockpit Country as a national forest reserve in an effort to help protect and preserve the hundreds of endemic species of plants and animals.
You will find several communities steeped in culture including historic Accompong, where a treaty was signed between the British and the Accompong Maroons, granting the latter semi-sovereignty over the area (the 1739 treaty still stands & the community is still semi-independent), Flagstaff (named for the British military units who positioned their flags on high points that could be seen by garrisons in neighboring Falmouth), Wait-A-Bit (from the African wait-a-bit thorn), and Sherwood Content (birthplace of the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt!). To give you an idea, Flagstaff can be reached from Montego Bay in about one hour.
The website has great information on things to see and do in the Cockpit Country. There are caves such as Gourie Cave which is the longest cave system (yet discovered) on the island & was a hideout for runaway slaves, and beautiful Quashie’s River Cave with its underground waterfalls, pools & amazing stalactites and stalagmites. There are several great houses to see - the Hampden Estate, built in 1799, is still a working plantation and is open for tours seasonally. Or you can read a short profile on local artists such as wood carver Floyd Palmer of Maroon Town, St. James.
There are many peculiarly named native plants including the Madame Fate or Horse Poison, a poisonous plant, with bright green leaves and a star shaped white flower; the Fresh Cut, which is used to relieve colds; and the Dog Tongue, named because its leaves are shaped like a dog’s tongue.
The town of Flagstaff, the original site of one of the earliest Maroon settlements, is home to the Flagstaff Heritage Tour & Trails. The Cockpit Country website also provides information about other hiking trails/tours. CAUTION: Do not hike without a guide!
So... put down the Red Stripes and go explore... whether you see it in person or take a "virtual vacation"!