By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler and soon-to-be expat, currently living in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you ever had your hair cut and in the middle of it screamed, “Nooooooo!!!” and you knew, in that moment, that it was just too late? Me too. Mine happened in a small town on the Amazon River, just over the border of Peru, in Colombia. May I say right now that my spontaneity and impulsiveness can sometimes get me into trouble. This was one of those times.
I was living in Iquitos, Peru, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, about 4 hours from the river’s source. I needed to get a new stamp in my passport to be able to stay in Peru for another 6 months and heard that all you needed to do was take a “rapido,” a speed boat, down the river to Leticia, just over the Peruvian border in Colombia, where the countries of Peru, Colombia and Brazil meet. I could have flown to a larger city in Ecuador or Chile, and looking back that probably would have been a better choice, but I decided that a ride on the river would be fun. I bought a ticket and planned to be at the Embarcadero, where the boats, fish and bananas arrived to Iquitos, early the next morning.
I walked through the vendors that had their bananas and fish on the cement floor for sale to locate the boat. The stench of fish first thing is the morning caused my stomach to churn, so I held my bandana over my nose, as I moved quickly through the busy merchants, trying not to slip on the fish fluids that covered the floor. I arrived to the other side of the dimly lit cement building to the river side where fish and banana were being grilled and sold to locals and workers for breakfast.
Locating the boat, a battered mess that I wasn’t sure would hold up for this long trip, I climbed on board, found a seat about 3 rows back from the driver, and settled in for a long ride. The boat had a somewhat tattered canvas roof, which I thought would be good protection from the sun or rain and there was also plastic sheeting rolled up on each side, held up with rope, that would be dropped down in the event of bad weather. With my fruit, cheese and a couple of freshly made rolls from the local bakery tucked carefully away in my backpack, I was ready to go.
10 hours of a constant churning engine, hot wind burning my face and drying my eyes
The rest of the passengers arrived, found their seats, and after waiting and waiting and waiting in the heat of sun, we took off down the river. Waiting is a way of life on the river, a different pace in the jungle. I had been on a speed boat before, back home on the lake, and preparing to venture out on this adventure brought back memories of the wind racing through my hair and the lift off the seat when the boat hit a wave, but I had no idea what that would feel like for 10 straight hours. Yes, 10 hours of a constant churning engine, hot wind burning my face and drying my eyes, and the ongoing assault to my back and my body, as the boat attempted to maneuver the river’s everchanging mood.
Our second stop enroute was a small town on the Peruvian side of the border, before we entered Colombian and Brazilian waters, about 9 hours into the trip. Passports were stamped as we exited the country.
I wanted to kiss the ground I was standing on. It wasn’t moving, bumping or spraying water in my face, but back into the boat we reluctantly climbed, knowing there was only a small distance to cover before arriving to the small river town of Leticia, Colombia.
We finally pulled up to the dock in Leticia. I was worse for the wear, exhausted and feeling a little more than grimey. The heat of the day, the whipping of the wind and the river splashing on me for 10 hours had made me crave a shower. Needless to say, I was feeling less than my best. I wandered town for a while before finding a tiny and somewhat rundown little hotel to stay at the for night. Just a bed, that’s all I needed. As I moved through the streets of Leticia trying to get my barrings, I noticed a little storefront offering haircuts. Feeling less than optimal, I considered getting my hair groomed. A shampoo and cut would make me feel refreshed, I thought. After checking into my hotel and enjoying a lovely meal, my mind kept returning to that little store where the woman was cutting hair. I wandered the streets, until I came across the same sign that had grabbed my attention earlier. To my surprise they were still open for business and I went in to inquire about a cut.
She dropped the scissors in her hand, grabbed the now buzzing shears that moved from counter to neck at lightening speed.
“No Tocar” Means Do Not Touch
As I sat in the chair, in my best Spanish, I explained to the woman with scissors in hand that I wanted my hair cut to the length of my ear lobes, a nice bob of sorts. She nodded. I assumed she understood.
I told her that I have a cowlick at the nape of my neck and this absolutely must not be cut, trimmed, or in anyway touched. I pulled up my hair that was down to the middle of my back and said, “No tocar, no tocar.” Do not touch. She must not have heard the word no, because within a split second she dropped the scissors in her hand, grabbed the now buzzing shears that moved from counter to neck at lightening speed. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And, in the blink of an eye, the hair that was not to be touched was gone. “Nooooooooooo!”
She finished the haircut, shaving both sides at the nape equally, creating a bob with bangs and a neck that reached up almost to the top of my ears. I learned that getting a haircut on a little obscure side street in a small town, in a developing country, with my limited language skills was probably not the best decision I had ever made.
As I bowed my head to count my money to pay her, I could feel the movement of air on my newly shaved head. This, I said to myself, is not a good look.
Have you ever done something impulsively on your travels that you immediately regretted?
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