COCKPIT COUNTRY (cockpitcountry.com) is without doubt the most bizarre landscape in Jamaica, an uncanny series of improbable lumps and bumps covering roughly eighty square kilometres of Trelawny and St James parishes, south of Montego Bay. It is one of the most intriguing parts of the island, and a visit here is worthwhile not only for its fantastic scenery but also its intriguing history.
Thousands of years of rainwater flowing over porous limestone created this rugged karst topography of impenetrable conical hillocks, dissolved on each side by a drainage system of sinkholes and caves. The area is peppered with bizarre place names throughout: Me No Sen You No Come, Wait-a-Bit (where the police station sign is subject to many a photographer’s lens), Quick Step and Rest and Be Thankful District. It’s also known as the “District of Look Behind”, in reference to the justifiable paranoia of English soldiers who made hot, comfortless and usually ill-fated missions here tracking Maroons, whose superior local knowledge and guerrilla strategy brought most sorties to a bloody end. To this day, the Cockpits are thought by superstitious Jamaicans to be the stamping ground for spirits and duppies. In fact, the Maroons here have been established on the tourist trail for much longer than the more secretive Windward Maroons of the east.
Cockpit Country is largely uninhabited. Feral pig hunters make regular forays into the interior, but otherwise locals congregate at villages like Windsor, Albert Town and Accompong, where the economy is based on small-scale farming, coffee and occasionally – cloaked by thick foliage – ganja. Only a fraction of the area is accessible and you can’t get far independently, but the scarcity of tourists and pristine environment – though currently under threat from bauxite mining – make the area unforgettable. It’s a sanctuary of untouched beauty, particularly in the early mornings when low-lying mists and a silence broken only by bird calls give it an almost primeval feel.