In the center of the island of Jamaica, a virtually inaccessible 372-mile forest remains under the protection of the Forestry Department – not just because there are over a dozen trees that grow nowhere else in the world, and not just because it’s the country’s largest remaining contiguous rainforest, but because it’s really, really, really old.
Ten-foot snakes and centuries of indigenous Maroon history aside, the Karst mountains have a very steady way of forming sinkholes over millions of years, which gives them their unique appearance. In fact, this odd landscape is how the place got its name; that is, it resembles a cluster of arenas for cockfighting (blame the Brits for the label if you don’t approve).
It also includes a district with one of the coolest names of all time: the Land of Look Behind, deemed as such because Spaniards were so afraid of rogue Maroons that they rode on horses back-to-back, with a buddy keeping an eye out behind.
For obvious reasons, it’s quite dangerous to hike on your own. Possibly the best option for taking a peek at the area is a visit to the Windsor Research Center, which facilitates Natural Science development and strives to protect the biological treasures of Cockpit Country. It offers “Meet the Biologist” dinners, during which you’ll dine on local cuisine, drink, and learn about current research projects from the guys and gals themselves. WRC also offers bed and breakfast accommodation.
The forest was even proposed to be a World Heritage Site a few years ago. Unfortunately, there are still threats like bauxite (aluminum ore) mining that threaten the area. Time will tell, but it’s hard to imagine that a place with such a naturally significant history as Cockpit Country’s will remain unrecognized for long.