We had a couple of days in between Palenque and when we needed to be in Cancún to meet Tim’s friend, Anna, so with little research and the promise of “a lovely colonial town” we booked an overnight bus to Mérida. We killed several hours in Palenque, wandering around, eating, and playing cards before our 11 p.m. bus departed. In Mérida, we wandered a bit before tracking down some nice accommodation close to the main square, which happened to include an amazing breakfast (and, as an added bonus, we got breakfast on arrival because it was still morning when we checked in.)
Mérida was the first city we visited on the Yucatan Peninsula, and it has a strong Maya population. This was immediately noticeable: people of Maya descent look markedly different than the rest of the people we have seen in Mexico. The food we encountered in Mérida was different again, and included Yucatan specialties such as stuffed cheese, turkey and lime soup, and a type of cornbread stuffed with meat and cooked in banana leaves. We also encountered the intense world of hammock sales.
Everyone in Mérida wants to sell you a hammock. And they “don’t buy to sell,” they will most often tell you they make their selection of hammocks themselves, in the small village they live in outside of the city. A number of Maya co-ops also exist, selling a selection of wares including, of course, the famous hammock.
Hammocks come in a number of sizes: single, double, matrimonial, and “family size.” These are designed to fit different numbers of people, of course, and the number of people depends entirely if you’re working on “Maya size” or “European size.” For example, we were told that a family size hammock could fit up to eight Mayas, and probably closer to three Europeans. Tim and I played with the idea of getting a hammock, because if you are going to buy one, this is the place. There would be no option but to get family size, just for comfort’s sake. In general, it’s a good idea to take any salesperson’s words here with a grain of salt. We were told that we should be after sisal hammocks, and were then shown many hammocks that were apparently sisal, as this natural agave fibre was traditionally used and creates the strongest and most comfortable hammocks. Upon further research, I’ve found that sisal hammocks are apparently very rare to nonexistent nowadays, and are also quite uncomfortable: sisal feels more like rope than anything. Most natural fibre hammocks are now made of cotton. There are also nylon hammocks that are popular and less expensive. We were also told numerous times about a days-long Maya festival that would be starting that evening, and closing off the entire street. All of the shops were closing early for it. Well, the shops never closed, the street was never blocked up, and no festival atmosphere emerged. The same story was heard the following day, though this time it did actually eventuate with a street closure and an outdoor concert. Along with the hammock research, I found similar stories of festivals and early shutting hours – generally, I imagine, just to make the timeline to buy a bit shorter to add a bit of pressure.
These are most certainly transactions you should be bargaining on, as most salespeople ended up at about 1/4 of the initial price they quoted us, and we weren’t even that serious about shopping. Do not buy at the first place you find, make sure to try out your hammock, and make sure you’re comfortable with the price. Some hammocks were being quoted prices of 4000 pesos initially (400 USD) while others started at 1000 pesos. I wouldn’t want to pay more than about 300-400 pesos for a family-sized, cotton hammock. In the end, we decided to avoid the temptation of owning one of the beautiful, colourful, and comfortable hammocks, as it would be months before we saw it again and who knows when and where we’d have occasion to hang it up. One day, when a backyard or a balcony is a solidi presence in my life, I’ll have to make a trip back to Mérida, the epicentre of hammocks.
The rest of Mérida passed without much incidence as we wandered the streets, browsed the markets, and sampled the food. Lovely but not captivating, we were excited to move on to the coast and meet up with Anna.