Salon Therapy? A Tale of Travel in Peru


This one’s for those wondering what foreign salons are like.


For me, spending more than three hours at a salon ruins all the good the experience is supposed to leave behind. To ensure this, my visits include one– at most two– treatments. A massage and eyebrows perhaps, or hair cut and style. And to preempt the salon gossip or idle chat sure to ensue, I bring along reading material. One experience surely defied the rulebook.
In April I stumbled onto F&M Salon. Ironically, it happened on the way to one a massage appointment was awaiting me. I went inside and discovered excellent prices and a young woman who spoke fluent English. However, not one to hold a lot of stamps on my Little Diva salon card, three months passed before I entered F&M again.


Finally, it was July and a haircut was in order. Lucille Ball’s wine-stomping toes had more pulchritude than mine, so it was time for a pedicure too. But simply scheduling a spa appointment when living abroad reminds expats of how easy life is in our own countries, where we know how these simple things work. Here, despite posted hours of business posted at F&M and other salons, my repeated calls and visits yielded nothing.


At last, I stumbled across F&M again. Practicing carpe diem, I scheduled a mani/pedi and hair cut/style. The next day English-speaking Gabriella conducted the manicure. Her cousin performed the pedicure. Surely with both of them doing these tasks simultaneously, three hours would be more than plenty of time.


“We’re working on songs from La Traviata.” Gabriella was telling me about her upcoming choir performance, words pouring out so fast I could hardly keep up. “La Traviata is easier. Well, not easy, but not as hard as the others. Do you know songs three, six, and eight?”


I shook my head, snatching my foot from Gabriella’s cousin who’d dug a little too deeply into my toe.


“I think those are the right ones.” I’d just started to relax from the cousin’s brief foot massage when Gabriella switched the topic. She had trepidations about her upcoming move to England, where she’ll study business at University of Manchester.


“You can’t leave. I only just found you!” I teased her.


“Well…Do you think my accent is OK?”


She sounded like she’d just stepped out of an American news caster’s seat, I told her. She’d have it easier there than I do in Peru because her English is better than my Spanish.


“But I can’t do the British accent.” She truly worries about this, she said, demonstrating with a few words.


I laughed. Then I laughed again. To speak and laugh in English, with someone unrelated to my residential or professional lives lifted my day with levity. I told her not to worry about accent because it will come to her easily as osmosis. That’s something to be expected when living abroad. Plus, her years of studying English instilled her speech with an American accent. The English will tease you for that, yet they’ll also accept you faster than if you’d arrived with a northern Peruvian Spanish accent.

“You’re already halfway assimilated.”


Our conversation ping ponged like a Wimbledon match until she lobbed the conversation ball out of bounds, saying she had to leave for choir practice now, leaving me with two non-English speaking women. My rule against salon talk came back into play and I lay back to enjoy the remainder of the pedicure foot massage.


The minutes suddenly slowed, reminding me: you’re in Latin America. Three hours in and no one had even glimpsed my hair yet. I’d just finished reading an issue of New Ohio Review and was kicking myself for not bringing more. But that was unfair. How could I have known I’d spend half a day at the spa?


On the other side of the white, faux- leather couch, Gabriella’s mother was cutting a Columbian woman’s hair. This was no chop chop, snip snip, fluff fluff of a veteran stylist. She was as timid as a woman on her first day beauty school. Only Pinky Tuscadero was slower and less confident. Then, I heard a snippet of their salon talk: the mother had been an abogada, or attorney, in Lima. I reclined on the love seat at the pedicurist’s suggestion, drifting off picturing scenarios that might have brought the family from Lima to live on the second story of a house above their ground-level salon.


Four hours in, the mother seated me on a black leather styling chair that tipped to the right. Images of Pinky Tuscadero again flashed through my mind. The Columbian had opted to leave her hair wet and unstyled after the mother was unfinished, so there was no telling…. Meanwhile she engrossed herself in my hair, fingering it until it stopped halfway down my back.


Gabriella had instructed her of what to do: keep the length, make sure the layers are pronounced. As she piddled and plotzed, a cadence rang through my mind: I wish I had a book, wish I had a book, wish I had a book. The dunk dunk dunk of the wall clock before me took over. Four and a half hours. I shifted mental gears again, silently trying to learn new Spanish words from the dubbed Finding Nemo playing on the television. 


Five hours in, Gabriella returned.

“I was just at choir practice an the…what do you call him… the main guy, the one who leads the choir?” She was hyper when she raced up to my chair, where her mother was combing out my washed hair.

“The director?”

“Yes! Well, the director from the ch– choir…” she stumbled across the ch as most Latinos do: like church, rather than kite.”He was listening to us sing, you know, because he’s going to do a song with us later this month when we have a perf. What’s that word?”


“Yes! Well, he’s doing a song with us and he wants me to do a solo! For Peru’s National Choir at Piura’s Teatro Municipál!”

I congratulated her. Conversation ensued as she began helping her cousin on the Columbiana‘s mani/pedi, and the fat minutes gained speed as they continued their passage through time.

Half hour and 41 soles (US $15) later, some salon therapy had restored my femininity. Shiny, trimmed hair radiated down my back. Fresh nail polish brightened my hands.

I’ll go again to F&M. Next time I’ll bring a thicker book. And schedule one salon treatment.



Let’s have a salon conversation of our own. What was your longest or weirdest day at the spa? What countries have you experienced salons in?

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