Jamaica March 2009: 24 – Into the Cockpits

During the course of the previous evening at Ja Jewel, a friend of Bar and Cher’s stopped by. We’d met the year before and I was glad he came, because he is a driver, and I wanted to go somewhere.

For as long as I’ve  been reading about Jamaica, which is longer than I’ve actually been going to Jamaica, I’ve wanted to go into to Cockpit Country. It just sounded so mysterious. Vast limestone cockpits…uncharted…no roads…caves…rivers…endangered and rare animals of all kinds.  The history is so fascinating…this is an area Tainos escaped from Caribs to, African slaves escaped from the British  to, and made their own.. These slaves and their descendants, the Maroons,  made a home in this roughest, wildest part of Jamaica and completely screwed the British soldiers who tried to follow them here and fight them.  It’s the “District of Look Behind”.  On maps of Jamaica it is a big blank spot with a few dots around the edge, with labels like   “Wait a Bit” and “Quick Step” (conflicting advice notwithstanding, those are some cool town names). Who can resist that?

Cockpit Country makes up part of at least 3 parishes, but Trelawny has most of it and that’s where I am. And one time, I saw a picture of a blue hole there that I just had to see for myself.

Now I’ve been to Blue Lagoon, it’s awesome. I’ve seen blue holes in Jamaica before, it’s a pretty common label for a spring or deep spot in a river. Finding new ones is one of my favorite things to do and since i have a day, I am in Trelawny and now I have a friend and driver, I’m in.

Bossa and I set out after breakfast towards Duncans and Clark’s Town. Clark’s Town is as far into these hills as I’ve been, that was last year with Bossa and Cher and Barry, you can read about that in my blog from November ’08.  But we’re going further this time.  This is just outside Clark’s Town.  That rebar dragged along the road behind that truck until we passed it, right after I took this shot.

This is the lake we visited last year – it’s gotten bigger. Which is kind of funny because everywhere I’ve been  this trip, everything has been so dry it’s often burning.

Much sooner than I think we will, we arrive at Windsor. And we are welcomed 🙂

No, not just by the sign. Also by this gentleman who, of course, Bossa knows and greets like his oldest friend in the world. (thanks to Jamaican Caves for this photo – lots of good info there)

I didn’t realize we were going to be at Windsor Cave. I’ve heard of it, it’s a very large cave system and somewhat navigable. In fact Dango, pictured here, is the official  guide.  But I did the cave thing yesterday and am not ready to go deep into the ground in a cave that, I am assured, WILL have water, low ceilings, crawling and all that stuff. But Bossa asks me if I’d like to just peek inside and I would. It’ll make me ready to jump in the water, at least.

So we take a bit of a hike up a trail, beginning at this innocuously flat area:

This is my last photo of the trail going up because from this point on the trail narrowed and got steep and I had to concentrate on my feet. Note to self: do not wear crocs if hiking in the cockpits is even a remote possibility.

The hike was cool, and I am glad I started working out a few months before this, I don’t think I would have had an easy time of it before that. It’s in pretty dense jungle,vines and huge trees all around, and made of rock steps and steep hills with tree roots for footing.

Finally we reach the mouth and step in. MUCH cooler here. These are taken with my flash:

See any faces in there? People say they do.

Probably using a flash in a cave is a no-no, from a “disturbing bats” standpoint. I read that somewhere, later on.

Bossa makes a pretty good guide, actually.

Loch Ness sea monster. (“People” don’t say that, I do. See it?)

I’ve seen all I can see without a torch, so we head back down the trail. I am more confident with my footing this time so take a couple of photos. Isn’t it beautiful? I mean, you can sort of tell, but not really. There’s not a way I know of to capture being completely surrounded by forest, below you, 360 around, way, way above you, no visibly sky. So I took this little snapshot.

It really doesn’t do the experience justice, this video may help…

Coming out of the forest….we are the only souls around, except for Dango. I love that.

No sign of the drought I’ve seen everywhere else this trip. Not up here.

I’m looking pretty sweaty but I DID this hike, and I am proud. And also very ready for a swim…

And man, it was worth coming up here for this:

This is, I found out later, part of the Martha Brae river.  Downstream a ways, people take rides on banana rafts on it. Up here Bossa says people come on Sundays sometimes and cook out and picnic.  The water is very clear and clean. You can see a ledge underwater on the far side if you look.

Across a small bridge, there is a little dam and waterfall.

This bridge, in fact. That’s our car, by the Welcome Center. Which is a shop and home base for Dango.

Bamboo seems to like the river’s edge.

That was one very refreshing swim, moreso because of the hike to the cave. We hung out for about an hour just floating and going under and coming out and jumping in and swimming and floating. Bossa swam too – sometimes drivers, even friend drivers, don’t care to DO stuff with you, but Bossa was great about jumping into the water, into the cave, whatever i wanted to do.

I have to say here too that sometimes men misunderstand my traveling alone. It can be weird sometimes, I have to explain myself. Not to him. Perfect gentleman.

We dried off, said goodbye to Dango and got back in the car.  On the way back down, Bossa asks if I want to stop in Usain Bolt’s hometown of Sherwood Content, apparently we pass close to it if we go back a slightly different way.  You know me…what do you think I said?

We met Usain Bolt’s dad and chatted for awhile over a cold drink in his shop. He ran track too, in school.  I didn’t want to ask him for a photo, so I settled for one of his shop.  In retrospect, I could have asked, he was very forthcoming and probably would have been fine with it..

Here is the booming metropolis known as Sherwood Content, Jamaica. Main drag.

Do however note the astonishing lack of potholes. It’s rumored that Mr. Bolt asked for that, for his community.

As we wind down towards the sea, I think of this day. It was fantastic, one of those I won’t forget.

And sadly, it’s my last day this trip, I have to leave Jamaica tomorrow.

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