Familiarity. Confidence. Sometimes you have to let go. Now try incompatibility and uncertainty. Transitions aren’t always easy. That’s what I told myself when I decided to crop my hair shoooort before travelling sola to Ecuador and Peru for three months.
The locks fell away and I was smitten. Why did I ever have long hair?
External self-discovery before setting off backpacking for the first time — now that’s rare. I didn’t wonder what more my hair could teach me; although, in hindsight, being told that I looked like a teenage boy by the grumpy owner of our small town convenience store should have foreshadowed some of my nomadic encounters…
In Ecuador, wandering the streets of Quito with hardly any Spanish to speak of (or with), two guys on Calle Guayaquil made eye contact with me, gestured to their own heads, and smiled. I took it as a compliment, although I still wonder if that’s how they really intended it.
Weeks later, imbibing the spectacular views on the bus zipping towards the border town of Piura, Peru, I met a pair of German travellers. Jakob had a way cooler ‘do than I did: an afro! Pia warned me what would happen but I had my doubts. No one’s that rude.
Wrong again. Walking along the streets, people would stare, point, and laugh at Jakob! Wow… Then it happened again. And again. Unbelievable! But their laughter was so good-natured it was contagious. I left town with a grin and a heads-up.
Eventually, my turn came. A botched trim in Puerto Maldonado, a jungle town in Peru’s Amazon Basin, did it for me.
The hairdresser didn’t believe I actually neededa haircut and reminded me that I already had short hair. However, a slave to the jungle heat, I was undeterred.
Engrossed in conversation with Sonia, who was sitting next to me, I didn’t notice anything amiss until the hairdresser opened her drawer. I glanced in the mirror and realised it was too late. It would have to be a buzz cut! I was stunned, but hey, accidents happen.
Still, I reddened when, between bursts of laughter, Sonia invited me to the discoteca that night. Throughout my journey southward, I found that local women were intimidated by me. I conversed mostly with men but I missed female companionship. Turns out that hair disasters are truly rewarding — they unite women all over the world!
Minutes after leaving the salon, as I ambled towards Plaza de Armas rubbing my head in amazement, I-don’t-know-how-many people pointed and laughed at my fuzz. Sonia’s mirth had assured me. I welcomed the opportunity to try something different and chuckled along with them.
Later, hangin’ out with some Peruvian friends, I was immensely gratified by Gabriel when, laughing of course, he said that I must be a very strong woman to have a haircut like that.
I came away from South America with adaptability and insouciance.
This article originally appeared in Tango Diva.
Tango Diva placed this article in its Wellness section since it serves to inspire female travellers who might be facing their own particular cultural barriers. I’m a short-haired young woman with no hair cares, after all (winky face).