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The Dynamics and Finer Points of Sleeping in a Yucatecan Hammock

Feb 5, 2008
For Gringos, hammocks are for putting up in the backyard at siesta time. Cartoons show a sleeping hammocker getting spun up into his backyard hammock. But for millions of people living in the tropics, hammocks are a way of life. And a way of rest and sleep.

In my earlier years in Veracruz we used hammocks but not nearly as much as we do on the Yucatan peninsula. Here every house has one and usually many; even the most pretentious rich have hammocks since they are so restful and cool.

In Campeche when we stayed with our aunt she had beds for us but they weren't used; everyone preferred the hammock. In Escarcega, our cousin has one in every room just in case he needs a nap. In Cancun, our hotel worker friends sleep in hammocks because their family of six can't fit beds into a 250 square foot apartment. Do the math and you will determine that six beds would leave them with no place to walk.

In many rooms, not just bedrooms on the Yucatan, hooks are embedded on opposite sides of the walls. A hammock can be hung in a matter of seconds if you know what you are doing; if not, better be careful. There is no safety net under a hammock and even dirt floors can be painfully hard.

Taking a siesta in a hammock in one's back yard is one thing, living with one is another. Some Mexican tractor trailer drivers carry hammocks to string under their trailers when they get sleepy. It's cooler; they can watch their truck and save money on hotels. In our Maya village most of our neighbors sleep in hammocks. We do too...but not before literally learning the ropes...hammock ropes that is.

But there are issues. In a hammock a pillow is awkward but a blanket impossible. In Quintana Roo we have an occasional 'norte' blow in and with it cold air from the north. If it's cold forget the hammock; blankets don't stay in place and you most likely will wake up freezing. Or sleep like those hillbilly cartoons with your feet sticking out...so be sure to wear socks.

And if it's cold, don't forget there is no padding or insulation in a hammock. If you have three blankets on top but none underneath, you will still freeze.

That's if it's cold but it's usually hot in the tropics which is ideal for hammocks and mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can bite you on any exposed skin and that includes the skin lying directly against the hammock. In a hammock, the pests can attack below as well as above. Nothing can be more miserable than getting bitten on all sides at once.

And then there is the somewhat delicate issue of more than one person sleeping in a hammock. Tropical lovers claim that they can easily fit into a hammock in many different positions. Later, after the baby arrives, the baby can sleep there too. The key to multiple hammock occupancy is to sleep crosswise, not longwise. Otherwise the hammock starts spinning and everyone ends up on the floor or ground.

In Chiapas we saw whole extended families stringing up their hammocks all in a row. I guess the family that sleeps in hammocks stays together or something like that. If campesinos or field workers are sent out to work in the rancherias, they sometimes hang as many hammocks as possible in a palapa hut to stay out of the rain. So in a number of ways hammocks work.

True natives will say they can sleep on their stomachs but I don't believe them...unless they can curve their spine backwards, which is intellectually a challenge. Still, whenever we're at our ranch in Felipe Carrillo Puerto and get a bit sleepy, it's right into the Yucatecan hammock. Yucatan hammocks are considered the world's finest.

Hammocks are portable but they do require two places fairly close together where it can be hung. A good Yucatecan hammock can be rolled up and stuck in a small bag. For that reason hammocks are used by poorer folk since they don't have to buy a bed and beds take up a lot of floor space. The Gringo versions with a frame to hang it on are ridiculous...lazy Gringos can't find a tree.

The hammocks are also used as cradles and cribs. Newborns are layed crosswise and swung gently just like a cradle. If one literally grows up in a hammock then hammocks become second nature and for many preferable to a bed.

With a good mosquito net the bugs stay out and sometimes in the jungle that's the most important thing. A good mosquito net can also prevent critters like scorpions and small snakes from paying an unwelcome hammock visit.

In the jungle anything is better than the ground.
About the Author
Jack Deal sleeps in hammocks and is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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