One feature you are sure to notice in Playa del Carmen is the ubiquitous hammock. The beautiful Yucatecan hammock is a fantastic souvenir to bring home and one that will bring back that vacation feeling for years to come. Not only is it pretty and easy to transport, it is also extremely comfortable. Before you know it, you'll be putting up hooks in your living room back home! In this article we'll talk about materials, how to buy a hammock, how to use it and how to take care of it.
The hammock has been used for thousands of years in many different cultures across the world. It is just one of those useful household items, like the pot or the basket. Here in the Yucatan peninsula the hammock is a given in every home. Many people prefer to sleep in a hammock rather than a bed because of its comfort and coolness on a hot summer night. A hammock also saves valuable domestic space; it only takes seconds to put away and the room is all yours. In fact, the hammock is so common that hammock hooks are cemented into the walls as the house goes up. Hammock ropes are always in stock in our supermarket here; the same supermarket that doesn't always have butter or black pepper. One has to get one's priorities straight!
The Yucatecan hammock is very much a family business. They are made in huts all over the peninsula and gathered by a wholesaler before they find their final owner. Using two special needles and a frame, it will take several weeks to make a decent sized hammock. Merida, Yucatan's state capital, is the center for hammock manufacturing and a city with hammock shops in every corner. The villages of Tixkokob, Chumayel and Teabo are particularly famous for their hammocks. They are the source, so it's pretty hard to beat their variety and price, but you can still find a nice hammock right here in Playa del Carmen! If you know what to look for, you can steer clear of a rip-off.
The first thing you need to do is to decide which material to go with. While they sometimes are made of a sisal (from the henequen cactus) or silk, you are more likely to find nylon and cotton here in Playa. Beware of shiny nylon being presented as silk. Nylon is a good choice if you plan to hang your hammock outside, as it holds up to weather and wind better than cotton. However, it is not as comfortable a material. The manmade fibers do not stretch or conform as well as the supple cotton. Cotton, being a natural fiber, has a much nicer feel to it and with the right care it can last for many years. The end strings are always made of strong nylon. Each hammock is an individual piece of art and they don't come in any standard colors. The colors of the cotton hammock tend to be more pleasing to the eye, whereas the colors of the nylon threads are bright and shiny. There are un dyed natural hammocks, hammocks of one solid color and the exuberant multi-colored hammocks.
When shopping for a hammock you will hear different sizes being thrown around. People talk about single, double and matrimonial. They will also say it's for one, two or three people. This is a simplified way to refer to size, and it doesn't really mean anything. Even though the hammock certainly is strong enough to hold more than one person, you will most probably be alone in your hammock, simply because that's the comfortable way. The correct but less employed way to measure a hammock's size is by numbers 1 through 9. But all this doesn't really matter. You only need to know one thing about size - get the biggest one you can find! This is a case when size really does matter. The bigger the hammock, the more thread you have, and the tighter the mesh will be. Many thin threads makes a more comfortable hammock than fewer thick threads. It's simple physics. When you stretch out in a single or a double the weave will be pulled further apart and you will have fewer threads under you. Using the different measurements, we strongly suggest to get at least a number 5, matrimonial or a three-man hammock. Weight is often used as a reference to judge a hammock. Anything under one kilo (2,2 pounds) is out of the question if you want quality.
First of all, never buy a packed hammock without checking it. They are handmade and the craftsmanship can vary in quality. Besides, you want to make sure you are getting what you are paying for. To judge the quality, hold the hammock out by its loops and run your hand over the weave, pushing down slightly. The weave should then close under your hand in a firm fashion. If it's flimsy and your fingers slip between the threads too easily, the work isn't up to standard. The end strings can also be counted to judge the quality; a good size hammock should have at least 200 pairs of end strings. The end hanging-loop should be thick and firm, not thin and bendy.
The Yucatecan hammock may not look like the hammocks you've seen before. Some people's first reaction is that it looks like an uncomfortable banana and that it will kill your back, when in fact it is the exact opposite. Once you figured out how to use it, you might be surprised just how easy it is. It is more stable than the canvas hammocks that, because of their spread bar, tend to flip. Flexible and strong, it supports your body evenly, and many have given evidence to how good their backs feel after a siesta or a night in a Yucatecan hammock. You will see hammocks with spread bars here, but they are not traditional Yucatecan, but made for the tourist market. The traditional Yucatecan hammock has a tight mesh of fine threads, which makes it look more sack-like. But here is the beauty – you lie in it perpendicular to the threads, not along them. Here's how you do it. Find the middle of the hammock and sit in it, end loops to your sides. Grab the edge of the hammock behind you and pull it over your head, spreading the weave. Lie back until your back is comfortably supported. Now lift your legs, bend your knees and put your feet on the other edge. Stretch out, relax and get comfortable. The weave closes under you and provides a stable and almost flat resting place, perfectly shaped after your body. One warning is called for. If you want a book or a pillow, remember it from the start, because once you're in, you won't want to get up!
Your Yucatecan hammock will last for years if you take good care of it. Here are some basic tips. Don't keep it outdoors, especially if it's cotton. Watch out for your buttons! They are the number one snag culprit, and it might be difficult to find a hammock repair shop in Kansas or Belgium. No shoes of course. Avoid tangling the end-strings when not in use. The way to do that, is to make sure that the loops are always kept away from the rest of the hammock, so to speak. When you need to store the hammock, just hold it by the loops and make a knot close to the loops. Do the same when you need to wash it. Just swish it around in a bucket with lukewarm water and mild soap, rinse and hang. Always make sure your hammock is completely dry before you store it.
You will see hammocks with spread bars here, but they are not traditionally Yucatecan. Some are beautiful with tassles and thick natural colored threads. Although nice to look at, they are not as comfortable nor as durable. They lose their shape more easily than a traditional Yucatecan hammock. They are made for the tourist market, as many people are new to the concept of the Yucatecan hammock. The hammock chair, though made of thicker thread and a bar, is one hybrid that works very well. It's especially handy when space is an object, like on a boat or in the corner of your living room.