The string hammock from the Yucatan is one of the absolute best souvenirs, particularly if you want comfort, authencitity, and help for indigenous communities. I have observed these colorful sleeping accommodations by peeking inside a Maya home, enjoying the gentle swaying on the balcony of a tourist condo, and relishing those in private gardens or restaurants that are tied between two balmy palm trees.; however, I was really intrigued when I observed Pablo Contreras actually weave one in his off hours.
Pablo, a worker in Akumal Norte, is from the town of Kantunil near Mérida and has engaged in this ritual string hammock making for many years–he estimated that he has made over 120 hammocks, and he learned the processs from his mother. Today he has his own “loom” and can buy the string locally. It is a tradition for families to get two new hammocks on the 28th of December each year.
My curiosity about string hammocks led me to go on line and there are several sites available–one of which is “Cielo”, a fair-trade company that describes itself as a socially responsible organization committed to sustainable development of indigerous communities in the Yucatan–well, good enough for me–I found lots of information to share with you.
The string hammock is not an original creation from the Yucatan; it is believed that the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean were the first to make these and introduced them to Maya traders 200 years before the Spanish came–so over 700 years of experience! The first hammocks were from tree barks, then the weavers progressed to using the henequen plant which grows naturally in the Yucatan. Henequen is also called sisal–a prime rope-making material. Modern materials like cotton and nylon are used in today’s string hammocks–cotton is considered more comfortable while the nylon ones are good for the heavy humidity of southern countries. And if someone offers to sell you a silk hammock–it isn’t; it’s nylon! The skilled artisans of the Yucatan have perfected many different designs and the diamond weave they use allows the hammock to adjust perfectly to your weight and shape. Interestingly, the best position for sleeping in a hammock is a diagonal one–your body weight is distributed evenly, and the ventilation is great. The support removes pressure points and allows the body’s muscles to relax–some say it is “like floating on a cloud.”
Most of the population of the Yucatan still sleep in string hammocks because they are cooler than mattresses and are easily removed during the day. In the Yucatan these hammocks are mainly produced by women who usually work from home–very family-friendly working conditions. “Cielo” works with over 200 families who are like small entrepreneurs, and the weavers do not have to invest any money. They receive the materials and get paid when the hammock is finished. So when you buy a hammock in the Yucatan, you are helping an incredible people to earn a decent living and to raise their family with honor and respect.
Maya hammocks are decorative with strong tropical colors to create a relaxing, exotic atmosphere that will forever remind you of your vacation happiness. The artisan herself (or himself) chooses the combination of colors–think of a rainbow–and this hand made creation will be unique as no two will be exactly alike.
Many artisan outlets will be available driving to Mérida, and also in our own Riviera Maya. One local shop, the Akumal Store, is relatively new to Akumal and is located next to Cueva de Pescadores Restaurant. Owner, Tony, shared with me that his hammocks are genuine Yucatan creations, and he has prices ranging from $35.00-$100.00 usd.
What you do need to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a hammock is size. Size is determined by the quantity of yarn used to weave it… the more material used, the bigger the hammock and the time needed to create it. When referring to size, we are mainly talking about width as length is almost the same for each size. The wider the hammock, the more confortable it will feel–remember you want to use it diagonally, so a rule of thumb is to get the largest one you can reasonably afford. Hammock retailers describe their hammock size in various ways–but weight is a good determination and asking how many spools of string were used in the creation:
- One adult or two kids, 4 spools of yarn; good for camping and easy handling, Medium
- One person or a cozy twosome, 5 spools of yarn–often called a Matrimonial or Queen
- Two or three people, 6 spools of yarn–Family or King (can hold up to 770 lbs.)
- Family size for sure-7 spools of yarn–Jumbo-(can hold up to 880 lbs.)
Happy hammock shopping!