First World Bodies: Third World Furnishings in the Yucatan — By Jennifer Shipp
Mexico North America Yucatan Hotel

First World Bodies: Third World Furnishings in the Yucatan — By Jennifer Shipp

I bought an air mattress before we left on this trip to Mexico, thinking that we were actually going to Guatemala. With the memory of Costa Rica’s various discomforts still fresh in my mind, I decided to scour the Denver REI for air furniture, hoping to find something that would cushion our delicate first-world bodies for the upcoming month in yet another third world country.

I ended up in the camping section, which seemed appropriate. Living in Costa Rica had been similar to camping in many ways, though we lived in a hard cement shell with glass windows.  But, I’ve been on a number of camping trips that involved a lot fewer bugs than the ones that inhabited our dwelling  spaces in Costa Rica. Indeed, sleeping on the ground may have been more comfortable than the beds, especially in Atenas. But despite the interesting technologies in camping furniture, I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for at REI.

ThermaRest Air Mattress
Our ThermaRest Air Mattress made into a futon.

Years ago, John and I liquidated everything in order to move away out of the small town where I grew up. We sold everything: the kitchen table, our bed, our couch, the washing machine. We packed what was left of our belongings into an RV and took off one day, without telling anyone that we were leaving. We bought some air furniture for what became our living room and bedroom. Lydian was still a baby and we kept her crib and all of the baby paraphernalia, but otherwise, we sat and slept on air.

The air chairs left a lot to be desired. John fell over backwards after dozing off in one of them accidentally in the middle of the night while watching TV. We could sit in or on the chairs, but we couldn’t really relax unless we propped them carefully against the wall and braced them on both sides with books. They weren’t stylish, but they were cheap and it was better to sit in the air chairs than on the floor. We lived with those air chairs for about 6 months before graduating to futons.

We slept on one of those super-cheap WalMart air mattresses for over a year. We splurged and bought ourselves one that was king-sized and congratulated ourselves every time we had to move (22 times over 10 years of our marriage, not including 2 years living in an RV all over the U.S.). But every night we slept on the air mattress, it would slowly leak air. By morning, our bony hips and elbows were on the floor.

Air mattress technology has apparently come a long way since that time. On Amazon, I bought myself a Thermarest air mattress that was about 1 ½ inches thick, but rugged and all business. We didn’t get dizzy blowing it up and once inflated, our hips and elbows didn’t touch the floor at all. It rolls up into a little cylinder just slightly larger than a can of pop for packing.

The problem of comfy seating in uncomfortable living situations, however, still eludes me. Camping is one thing. Camping trips usually don’t last

for a month or two, first of all. Secondly, when you’re camping, you usually don’t have to log onto the Internet and work every day. Having to keep a foothold in our American lives makes it harder to cope with chronic pain and discomfort. And unfortunately, the days of air chairs have come and gone, probably because of the problems mentioned above. Who wants to spend their night in the wilderness huffing air into a big padded air chair that will blow away in the night and end up in the river? There are some little contraptions at REI that allow campers to contort their innovative and technologically-advanced air mattresses into different configurations to make different seating options, but nothing that’s comfortable enough to sit in for a month at a time while working 30-40 hours a week at a computer. I bought one of these contraptions to make my new air mattress into an ottoman. It isn’t safe to use it as a chair, but we have used it a lot on this trip to rest our feet. On a camping trip the contraption would be worthless.

Hammocks are awesome. I wish there were hammocks everywhere in the world. You can sit in a hammock and sleep in a hammock. You can

Hammocks are awesome.
John relaxing in hammock #2 as I covertly take his picture.

even buy hammocks that double as tents and zip up overhead to keep out the rain. Our house in Progreso this year is the first to have hammock hooks that we can actually use and of course I left our travel hammock at home (I’ve taken it on every trip we’ve gone on and never been able to use it). A travel hammock can fit into a small purse. We went and bought some woven hammocks at the malecon so we’d have a place to sit in the living room here. Though I’d probably opt to sleep on my camping air mattress, if I had to sleep in a hammock for a couple of months, I could definitely do it and I wouldn’t complain about it (at first, anyway).

Still, I’m searching for the perfect “inflatable chair” that I could bring with us on our travels. Then we could rent unfurnished apartments, which would be cheaper and easier to negotiate. It seems like a silly thing to want, but a comfy couch is one of those basic needs that Maslow forgot to mention. Food, shelter, and clothing, are without a doubt, more important, but without comfort, life is really exhausting. That’s why people living second and third world countries lives don’t tend to live as long. Arguably, lots of third world people eat more healthfully than Americans (they may be starving, but at least they don’t eat the sugars and trans fats that Americans consume in great quantities), but the surfaces where they place their bodies to sleep, eat, fornicate, and sit are hard and unforgiving.

I wish that I could be more like water and conform to the hardness of third world life, but my first world body is more like ceramic unfortunately.  Air furniture seems silly until you’ve had to find rest and cope with the harsh realities of earth or wood. After a day of speaking in a different language and dealing with culture shock, it’s hard to come home to furniture that’s only as clean, comfortable, and welcoming as the sidewalk outside.

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