Cockpit Country, the first of the two regions we’ll be traveling through during our pair of expeditions, is an area of roughly 500mi² in northwestern Jamaica. The country is divided into parishes, which are like the counties or provinces of other countries; Cockpit Country is in the southern section of Trelawny Parish, which at one point had the most sugar plantations on the island. The sugar factories were closer to the coastal ports, but Cockpit Country, full of forest and strange limestone terrain, was (and still largely is) uninhabited and difficult to traverse.
As a result, Maroons, or escaped slaves, found refuge in the region. They established communities like Maroon Town, a settlement that is still found west of what remains of the dense pocket of forest that comprises Cockpit Country. This area is so named because of the aforementioned limestone topography, also known as karst, which has dissolved in pockets that drain into sinkholes, creating little hills and ridges all over the landscape. This gives the bird’s eye view of the area a sense of corrugation that is often likened to an upside-down egg carton.
Or a bunch of cockpits. I had never wondered about the etymology of the word cockpit for airplanes, but it turns out the origin is cock-fighting rings. Today, Cockpit Country is Jamaica’s largest contiguous area of rainforest, and there are few marked trails that pass from one side to the other, so the region has not recently been comprehensively traveled by ornithologists keeping an eye out for the Golden Swallow. That’s why Justin, John and I are sharpening our machetes and heading down there in just three days!