Melton West


Note:  Hey I’m John, a new author with Raxa Collective. I am working as a field technician on an expedition studying the Jamaican Golden Swallow with Justin Proctor and Seth Inman.

While traveling in the Jamaican bush, local people would often pleasantly surprise us. While passing us deep in the bush on a donkey with a pack saddle brimming with yellow yams, a local farmer with a ragged hat and torn work shirt told us about how he just spend the last week in Toronto with his Canadian girlfriend. A group of illegal mahogany loggers, upon seeing our camera equipment, enthusiastically asked us to help them film a music video. But by far, our favorite encounter was with Melton Manuel West.

We met Melton as we set up our camp in the late afternoon near BBQ Bottom Rd. He was walking from his home in the bush to go to the market in nearby Campbells. Like most people we met, he asked us about what we were doing. Intrigued by our project, he declared he would take us to the best places in the bush to see swallows. Then he sat down nearby and just hung out near our camp. At first we were suspicious, and it was a little disconcerting. Yet before he left, we agreed that he could guide us into the hills the next day.

In the morning, Melton, wearing camouflage pants and jacket, met us for breakfast and ate an unbelievable amount of Blueberry granola. He then successfully guided us to the fern covered top of a nearby mountain. This was not an easy feat, for the terrain was harsh and Melton had never climbed these summits before. There, as we scanned for swallows foraging over Cockpit Country, he told us he had always wanted to climb this peak, but never had the opportunity. Later, he guided us through BBQ Bottom, a deep valley in the rainforest with some decent potential swallow habitat. After we got back to camp and ate dinner, we offered him compensation for his services, and he looked genuinely surprised and grateful.

Group photo by our campground

A couple of weeks later, we returned to BBQ Bottom Rd., and we had to figure out how to get in touch with Melton again. There was no cell service in the area, and Melton did not regularly pass by the crossroads where we camped. Luckily, a farmer working in a yam field by our camp turned out to be Melton’s uncle. He told us that Melton lived deep in the bush, and drew us a squiggly line on a piece of paper that was supposed to signify the path to his mountain abode. After following the “map” through small farm plots, up a mountain side, down a gully, between two coconut trees, and along a neatly machete-ed path through a fern-covered clearing, I heard Melton demand “Who is there!” After recognizing me, he apologized: “sorry for the harsh tone. I don’t get many visitors.”

Map of the route to Melton’s house

After he finished planting his cabbage, Melton joined us at our camp for dinner, and the next day guided us to the trail head to Ramgoat cave, one of the last places Golden Swallows were seen in Jamaica. Over a lunch of bulla (a dense gingery Jamaican roll) and peanut butter, he told us of his dream to finish building a house deep in the bush, away from all the hubbub of civilization. There, he planned to farm and build wicker furniture to sell. He is off to a good start–he already has completed the house frame and a chicken coop, and has a guard dog, a herd of goats and a small planting of banana, yam, potatoes, and squash. Soon he will bring in some concrete to build a water catchment and finish his house. As we parted later that day, we left a copy of our Jamaican bird guide and a small solar powered lamp as gifts, and wished him the best.

Melton’s Farm

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