I want community tourism!
One of the destinations in Jamaica I had always had an interest in is the Cockpit Country. Cockpit Country is large rugged, fairly inaccessible area of inland Jamaica. It is an island within an island of specially adapted biodiversity found nowhere else in the world and is a last refuge for some species driven from the rest of Jamaica by humans. It is a nature lover's paradise. Rich in history and culture, the region is riddled with towering cliffs, limestone caves, underground rivers and flowing waterfalls. It was also a place where a population of Maroons was able to force the British into signing a peace treaty in 1738. I did some research and found an NGO called the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (www.stea.net) which runs tours in the Cockpit Country and are based out of Albert Town Trelawny. I pre arranged a 3 night B&B tour of the Cockpit Country with STEA and off I went.
I was picked up at the Montego Bay airport by 2 employees of STEA, Ainsworth my guide and Andrew our driver. The drive was not as long as I had expected and after 1.5 hours of winding up the mountain on narrow but good roads we arrived at Rock Spring and my accommodations called Pingue's B&B. Mr. and Mrs. Pingue are wonderful hosts and had lunch waiting for me when I arrived. The accommodations were good, basic, but it is all that I needed. The food was great and you can't get any fresher food than theirs. Mr. Pingue is a farmer and grows the local crop, yam, but also grows bananas, plantain, potato, they also have chickens and pigs....farm fresh eggs and meat!
After settling in Ainsworth came to get me and took me to the one of the local hang outs which was almost next door to the B&B. The country stores become local hang outs where mostly the men from the community hang out drink beer, rum and play dominos or cards. After meeting the local youths and having a few Dragon Stouts (careful they are 7.5%) I had to take a nap! That night there was a dance so I needed my energy. The Dance really got going around midnight and it was packed with locals from the surrounding communities. In Jamaica music and dances are as important as breathing, especially music. Music is everywhere in Jamaica blaring out of cars, homes, stores, and bars. Being the Easter weekend, music happened to be coming from all angles of the communities which was great for me since I can't get enough reggae!
So after getting back from the dance in the wee hours of the morning I got some rest and then was off to the Rock Spring Caves for my caving adventure. The Rock Spring area offers two of the best caving experiences in Jamaica, with mazes, secret chambers and waterfalls. The caves are a network of river caves. Separate from the river caves are several other sites that are high and dry, but the majority of the sites in the district are very wet labyrinths that have multiple entrances. My guide Ainsworth was full of knowledge about the caves and the rock formations and was happy to share all his knowledge, he is a fantastic guide.
The next day Ainsworth and I went on another adventure, the Burnt Hill Nature Walk. Burnt Hill was once a road built by the Canadians in the mid-1900’s but due to the small amount of traffic that uses the road it is slowly finding its way back to nature. Cockpit Country is truly a bird-watchers paradise, as dozens of species endemic to Jamaica pass overhead. Birders will notice wild yellow and black-billed parrots, yellow-billed amazons and flocks of "doctor birds", a species of hummingbird indigenous to Jamaica. We hiked for about 3 hours and ended up in Clark's Town. During the hike we saw many birds and plants and local farmers tending to their crops. We ended up seeking shelter in a farmers hut while it poured rain. After our hike Andrew the driver picked us up took us to a local bar where we doused ourselves with white rum to ward off any cold virus thinking of infecting us. Jamaicans believe white rum is a cure for everything...works for me!
After washing my head and face with white rum (and having a sip or two) we headed to Burwood Public Beach where there was a huge crowd seeing that it was Easter Monday and a public holiday. This is one of the nicest beaches on the north cost for families and kids. The water is very shallow and you can walk out quite far and be in waist deep turquoise water.
The next day my time in Trelawny and Cockpit Country came to an end. I bid my farewell to my hosts and new friends in the community and was off to my next destination and adventure in Westmorland Parish.