Cusco Haircuts: The Best and the Worst

One of the things that I did not have time to do prior to leaving for South America was get a haircut; there were just too many things to do, plus I figured that I could always get a cheap one in Peru. Right about the time we arrived in Peru in late April, I noticed a brand-new hair salon two doors down from our Spanish school. It had 3 barber chairs, a full accompaniment of hair paraphernalia and a large poster with Brad Pitt and Megan Fox grinning and showing off their well-coifed hair. The proprietor was a woman in her late 20’s and when she wasn’t standing in front of the door waiting for customers, she was in the back room taking care of two small kids. I’d walked by each day for a week before impulsively deciding to go for it. I plopped down in the chair and said “Quiero aparacer como Brad Pitt.” (I want to look like Brad Pitt)

Sometimes an impulsive decision in Cusco turns out to be a great story: a chance visit to a non-descript panaderia reveals their awesome onion bread rolls or extreme thirst makes me enter a “hole in the wall” restaurant that serves outstanding chicha morada. This was not going to be one of those stories. She nervously started cutting one side of my head and I could feel her hands shaking while my daughter was documenting the experience with her new camera. I started to wonder whether she had ever given a haircut before. Once the ordeal was over, I surveyed the damage in the mirror: on the left side of my head the hair stood straight up and only copious amounts of water would make it lay down. I left thinking that it was the worst haircut I’ve ever received.

Usually my hair grows back pretty quickly and I often make the following joke “What’s the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut? About 2-3 weeks.” Well, three weeks and then four weeks went by and it still looked bad. After about 6 weeks I stopped thinking about it. A few months later we returned from our vacation in Bolivia and it was time for another haircut. My son accompanied me to a busy barber shop a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas and as we walked in the next available barber motioned me over. Romulo was one of 10 barbers working in the shop and he sat me in his chair and started snipping at my hair. The first things I noticed about him were his severe limp and his forceful way of positioning my head while cutting hair. He grabbed my chin and moved my head to the right while snipping away with dull scissors. The scissors pulled on my hair a bit and I had flashbacks to my earlier experience, but as I watched him at work, I gradually began to realize that he really knew what he was doing. He was very thorough and the haircut took almost 30 minutes. My son was so impressed that he decided to get a haircut as well. I gave Romulo a big tip and my son and I left thinking that we’d just had our best haircuts ever. I found it amusing that both my best and worst haircuts were both here in Cusco. It was no surprise to me that the hair salon run by the woman who butchered my hair was no longer in business.

About a month later, at a point where I had a 3 week growth of beard, I decided I would go back and get a shave from Romulo. I walked in, sat down and made eye contact with Romulo. He let me know that he’d be with me shortly by holding up one finger so I leaned back in my chair and looked around the barber shop. I looked at each barber in the shop and then my eyes rested on the barber working the chair next to Romulo and …yes… it was the woman who gave me my worst haircut. Not only were my best and worst haircuts given in the same South American town, the barbers were now working 2 feet from one another.

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