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Mexico Guru

Hammocks R Us

Think of a Venn diagram. Not all hammocks are beds, and not all beds are hammocks. The place where beds and hammocks intersect is Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Why sleep in a hammock? Isn’t it uncomfortable for a human being to sleep in a banana-shaped bed? Not if you’re Maya and under five feet tall. But even gangly gringos can be comfortable in a hammock if they adopt the traditional position, lying diagonally across the strings woven of silk, cotton, or nylon. Possibly you’ll be uncomfortable in any position if you choose a scratchy sisal (hemp) hammock, but these are rare today. And even then you can wrap yourself in a sheet, like a butterfly about to emerge from its cocoon. This has the added benefit of protecting against mosquitoes.

Hammocks are still the sleep scene of choice for many yucatecos, who prefer swaying free to moldering away in a Western-style bed swathed in sweaty bedclothes. Hamacas are also portable. If your partner snores, you can easily relocate to the living room or even the porch. Homes in the Yucatan peninsula have hammock hooks imbedded at precise intervals in the walls, making slinging your sleep-place easy and convenient. You can buy these pairs of metal discs, called hamaqueros, at any hardware store in the Yucatan.

The next time you travel to the Yucatan, consider purchasing one of these colorful cuties to install in your living room or office. Before making the transition to overnighting in your hammock, you can start by using it for short siestas. If you’re not committed enough to bash holes in your plaster for hammock hooks, two trees outside provide shade as well as easy installation.

Available in a range of sizes as well as a plethora of colors, hammocks can accommodate the entire family, giving new meaning to the phrase “quality time together.” A single hammock (sencillo) might be large enough for the average Maya, but even solitary gringos should spring for a doble (double) at the very least. Matrimonial is large enough for a couple, ostensibly with room enough to produce the need for a familiar, or family-size hammock. Let the good times roll, or at least swing freely.

Nylon hammocks retain their colors best, while cotton hammocks fade more quickly but also evaporate moisture and heat: two important qualities in the humid Yucatan region. Twice as expensive, silk hammocks represent the Cadillac of Maya sleep science---at least for those who normally sleep in their cars. Silk hammocks are beautiful and long-wearing, although somewhat slippery.

For an authentic look, make sure the hammock salesman includes two pieces of sisal rope with your hammock, and ask to see how the knot is tied. Novice hammock shoppers will do best in a hammock store, where a highly trained expert can explain this and other vital information. For example, it’s important to note how the hammock is folded when you first unwrap it, and if you take it down, to always retie the hammock this way to prevent tangles. Also, your hammock can be washed on the gentle cycle of the washing machine, tied in a big loose knot. Hang it up in the usual fashion to air dry.

You can purchase an authentic Yucatan hammock in Cancun, Cozumel, or the Riviera Maya, where you’ll also find highrise and boutique hotels and the white sand beaches of Quintana Roo state. Or, if you decide to go a little bit native and funky, travel to neighboring Yucatan state, for which the peninsula is named. You can buy “factory direct” in the town of Tixcocob, which has been dedicated to hammock making for generations, or in other old colonial towns such as Izamal, Valladolid, and the state capital, Merida. Which sort of vacation is right for you? Sleep on it! And don’t forget to try the hammock.