Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cusco Culture Shock

From the amount of disorientation I experienced today arriving in the hectic hub of Cusco, Peru, you would think I had lived in the remote Andean town of Patacancha all my life! (Yes, that's me and my Patacancha family from my overnight visit last weekend.)

Cusco is a wonderful place, but it's also a very busy city. Lines of cars scrape by me so closely that I swear the drivers play, "Who Can Hit the Tourist." Then again, tourists are the taxis' livelihood and tourist dollars, (oops, I mean euros), fuel the economy.

Rarely have I been bombarded with so many aggressive sales pitches. As soon as I step out of my hotel and head to the central Plaza de Armas, I am propositioned so many times: "Senorita, massage? artwork? poncho? bracelet?" that I grow weary. "No, gracias," I say with a smile, at first. Then I reply more curtly. Finally, I don't say anything and keep walking, feeling slightly guilty.

To overcome my culture shock at the urban noise, traffic and hordes of tourists, I did what any red-blooded, experienced travel journalist would do: I got my eyebrows waxed.

I imagined some urban grooming would help me feel more like a city sophisticate, despite my multiple layers of fleece, dirty jeans and mud-encrusted hiking shoes. And I knew the expense would be under $5 U.S.

While others set off for adventures to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon, I set out on a mission to find a salon in Cusco.

It was easy: there was a "Massage and Waxing" sign just steps away from the plaza. I wandered through a marketplace filled with trinkets before I found the set of stairs leading to the room where Maria worked. I was concerned about how dark it was - bright light is the best bet for any hair removal process!

I gestured to my eyebrows that were in need of taming after weeks of trekking, mountain bike and horse travel. Maria smiled at me and then slathered most of my face from the mouth down with hot, golden wax that looked like dried-up honey. There was no time to protest. Maybe she thought my natural peach fuzz looked more like a goatee.

A moment later, she was slowly peeling off bits of wax - ouch! I tried to indicate that ripping off the wax faster was better for this painful process. When she left the room to reheat the plastic tub of wax, I wondered what the correct word for "eyebrows" was in Spanish. She returned and did my brows. She suggested I return for a massage and I declined. I paid and left her a nice tip.

I strode into the street and joined the throngs on Avendia Sol, with a new bounce in my step. I was Happy and Hair Free. Back at the hotel, I examined her handiwork in the light and noticed my brows were still full of golden wax.