Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures.
Most people make sure they get a haircut before going on a long trip. But for me, haircuts are right up there with street food and local transportation as take-aways from foreign travels.
When I visit an overseas barber, I don't just want a little off the top – I want surprise and excitement. (I also know that the only difference between a good and bad haircut is three weeks.) Plus, Sam, my regular barber in Ottawa, doesn't mind that I get clipped whenever I travel.
In Cuba, when my follicle clock told me it was time, I found a Santiago barber who had an occupied chair and two people waiting, both good signs. However, when I pointed to myself as I pretend-cut my hair, he tore of his customer's bib and almost forcibly sat me down in the still very warm seat. I protested that I didn't want special treatment, but he was proud of his international client, and proceeded to ply me with juice and candies while he went about his business. Word spread quickly that Ignacio had hit the big time and soon onlookers were inside and outside the shop hanging on every snip. When it was over, he was reluctant to take my money, preferring instead to have a photo taken and a solemn promise that a print would be sent to him.
While in Shiraz about six years ago, my Iranian cut was professional and my visit was a source of great amusement for the barber. He kept shaking his head as if to say, "Why do you trust me with this sharp metal in my hand? Do you not know I represent the Axis of Evil?" At the end, and in true Persian fashion, he refused to accept payment. I eventually gave up and dropped a quantity of rials in his basin before running off down the street.
In Lusaka, I couldn't understand why customers were all arriving with their own scissors. "AIDS," the Zambian barber informed me.
But the ultimate hair treatment took place recently in Salalah, Oman. We were at the tail end of a three-week trip to the Arabian Peninsula, and found ourselves in the market of this town located close to the Yemen border. The barber section had maybe 10 stalls. I found a young friendly face at the door of a clean-looking shop with a curtain at the back, suggesting a more private experience, so I walked in.
He immediately took me to the back, opened the curtain to reveal a nice seating area, and brought a chair for my wife. For the next hour, he performed silent magic: a wash, a hair treatment and a complete, careful cut. By the time that was over, I was hooked, and he knew he had me.
"Like a shave, sir?"
I nodded, and the royal treatment continued: a close shave, a full steam, a special "Snow White" skin-lightening application, moisturizer and threading out any hairs still left on my face. Then he lowered the chair back and finished with an intense massage on my neck, arms and shoulders.
When I gestured "how much?" he held out three fingers, or the equivalent of $3. I responded with double that amount, and he cupped his hands in a religious gesture I took for a prayer for my safe travel home.
I may start going overseas for all my haircuts.
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