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Consider the Hammock, Señor

"More than 100 million people of diverse cultures and countries use hammocks as beds or furniture every day."

Michel Janicot

Think of those master Mayans out there a long time ago - extraordinary astronomers and mathematicians, those who produced the most accurate calendar, built awesome pyramids and stone palaces and created their own writing system - they also left us with one of man's best friends, the hammock. About a thousand years ago the earliest hammocks were woven from the bark of the hammock tree but the sisal plant later replaced the bark as the material of choice because it was more abundant and its fibers could be softened by rubbing them against the thigh. The use of cotton in today's hammocks is a relatively new material, introduced only in the last 50 years or so. Because of the extensive trade routes which were established between the Indian nations of Central and South America, the hammock soon evolved into a multitude of styles, from the classic cloth/fabric typical of Brazil to cord and rope hammocks similar to today's styles. It is related that after Columbus dropped anchor in the "New World" hoping to find shiploads of gold, gems, spices and fine silks, he found instead: "that natives were lounging in hammocks for their afternoon siesta and demonstrating their genetically superior disdain for time." Columbus returned to Spain with a load of hammocks. Soon after its introduction to Europe, the hammocks became a standard fixture aboard ships, particularly those from England and France. The British Navy adopted the hammock as its standard sleeping apparatus because of its space saving qualities. The loop ends were hung on two large hooks securely fastened to opposite walls and could be taken down and folded up or hung off one hook for storage to create instant space, a technique commonly used indoors. These 'naval' hammocks were used for three centuries.

In the18th century hammocks in North America were still viewed as a novelty. Most were narrow with wood staves and demanded agility and balance. It wasn't until the1880's that the hammock became popular when a wider version was introduced. Today it is estimated that some two million hammocks are sold worldwide. More than 100 million people of diverse cultures and countries use hammocks as beds or furniture every day, including Africa, China, the Philippines, South Pacific, and of course Central and South America.

In Mexico the best "hamacas" are made in the Yucatan where the most expensive models can be purchased in Merida. The best hammocks are pure cotton. Nylon end strings are common but they are inferior to natural fibers. The thinner the thread, the better, as thin thread is longer fibered, wears better and is more comfortable than thick threads. Cotton also resists stretching and is more colorfast (firme). Also, the tighter the weave, the more resilient and comfortable the hammock will be. A good hammock will be double or triple woven and when one person is in a matrimonial (marriage sized) which is designed to hold two people, the weave looks solid, like cloth. A matrimonial is said to require five miles of thread, and a medium three miles.

The hammocks sold here in Zihuatanejo are made in San Geronimo, about 2 1/2 hours south on the Acapulco highway. You can get better deals there and we believe these hammocks to be of a much better quality than those available in Puerto Vallarta. If you do intend to buy a hammock, remember that they are sold by weight - a 16 foot matrimonial should weigh 4.5 to 5.5 pounds; a medium size for one adult or two kids, 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.

Learning to hang your hammock properly is as important as learning how to buy one. Both ends should be the same distance from the ground and the middle of the hammock should be lower than the ends. Once the hammock is hanging properly, you are ready to enjoy it. The proper position is to lie at a 30-45 degree angle to the axis of the hammock. This prevents the hammock from sagging and stretching and gives the body the type of support needed for comfortable sleeping. If you haven't tried a hammock, you're missing out on a unique treat, nay, a daily necessity in Mexico!

We've been told many times that making love in a hammock is a most unique experience. Make certain that the ropes and whatever your hammock is tied to will take the strain.

January 2001

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